Cucalorus 24 preview: Highlighting UNCW students and staff talents



Veronica Wernicke, Opinion Editor

Since 1994, filmmakers, movie buffs and artists alike have gathered each November in Downtown Wilmington to celebrate art and screen films from all over the world. Cucalorus is a non-competitive film festival that stands on supporting the creation and exchanging of art. This year Cucalorus 24 will run from Nov. 7 to 11 and will feature over 200 films, shorts and stage performances. 

Of those 200, four come from UNCW students and staff.

Despite having had attended Cucalorus before, during her time at UNCW, this will be the first time Lizzie Bankowski has a piece in the film festival. Bankowski’s documentary “Dead in the Water” will be screening at the festival on Friday at 10:45 AM in Thalian Black.

According to the Cucalorus website, “Dead in the Water” is about the fact that “over 2,000 hog and poultry CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) litter southeastern North Carolina. The animal waste from these farms is improperly managed and runs into the Cape Fear River, creating a threat to water quality and public health. These farms are hidden in rural counties where neighboring residents have little political voice or economic clout. Residents are subject to the odor and raw waste polluted from the farms. ‘Dead in the Water’ exposes the stories, science, and solutions behind these unsustainable, industrial farms. If we are to mitigate environmental damage, we need to start with the monster in our own backyard.”

Bankowski is especially looking forward to the screening of her film given the fact it will be the world premiere of her documentary, which took a year to complete.

“We’ll be able to return to the place where it all started to share it with the world,” said Bankowski. “I can’t think of a better place for the crew and [me] to celebrate that. In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, I know a lot of people are still struggling, and I hope this film will help everyone heal and rise together.” 

The inspiration for the film struck Bankowski during her junior year at UNCW when she was interning with Cape Fear River Watch — a local non-profit that focuses on improving and maintaining better water and air quality in the Cape Fear River — and learning about CAFOs and their impact in the nearby region.

“The following semester, I pitched this story as a short documentary idea in my documentary production class and it got picked. So I worked with three other crew members to make a short version of the documentary with the same topic,” said Bankowski. “By the end, I had learned a lot, but I knew I could do more and go deeper. So for my senior production class, I worked with the same DP but a new producer and sound mixer to build on the short and make ‘Dead in the Water.’”

Her goal throughout this entire process was and still is to educate.

“I remember so clearly the feeling I had when I first learned about CAFOs in southeastern NC,” she said. “I want everyone to have that awakening that I had. Here in southeastern NC, I think sometimes we get complacent in this small, coastal town fairytale. We don’t realize that these terrible things are happening in our own backyard. That’s exactly what large corporations want. So more than anything, I want to educate people.” 

Between the interviewing, directing and editing process, Bankowski will never forget the experience of creating ‘Dead in the Water.’

“We had the tremendous honor of interviewing Mr. Don Webb, a former hog farmer, for the film. He invited us to his home, introduced us to his family, and gave us such an empowered interview. I’m sad to say he passed away Saturday, October 27th. He was a great friend and supporter to us, and a fierce voice in this fight,” said Bankowski. “Our mentor Georg Koszulinski always says that the relationships you create while making a documentary are so sacred because your participant is giving you a gift that you can’t possibly return. Don gave us a great gift and he won’t be forgotten.”

UNCW Associate Professor of Film Studies Shannon Silva will also be showcasing her talents with the screening of her featured short “Shoot the Duck.” Her short will be playing on Saturday at 9:45 AM in the Connect Theatre.

Although, Silva is not new to Cucalorus. In fact, she has already had seven pieces shown in previous years.

“Having your film in a festival is a real gift because you get to attend other screenings, panels, parties, and meet [and] reconnect with filmmakers from around the world,” said Silva. “The energy is fun, positive and contagiously upbeat at Cucalorus. I always leave inspired to get to work on my next project.” 

The Cucalorus website describes the plot of “Shoot the Duck” by saying, “Mia has set her sight on winning her local skating rinks 8th Annual ‘Shoot the Duck’ skate contest, but she must keep her cool under pressure or lose the competition before it even begins. With the help of her two best friends, and a strong belief in her own skillzzz, she might just take home the grand prize (brand new skates) and show everyone that strong girls really do skate fast.” 

When Silva began this project back in the fall of 2017, her goal was to continue telling stories about women and girls, but this time she wanted to challenge herself by directing a larger core cast.

“’Baby Oil,’ our previous film, had featured three lead actors and maybe six supporting characters. ‘Shoot the Duck’ allowed us six core cast members, roughly 10 additional featured extras, plus 50 more extras within the space to create the atmosphere. On top of that, our crew of 20 was in the space as well,” Silva said. “It was so much fun figuring out the logistics of managing so many people in one space. It was especially challenging for the competition scenes which required action choreography — another new challenge that we loved.”

In addition, Silva also wanted to create a piece that steered away from the typical roles and situations that female actors find themselves in.

“Finally, and maybe most importantly, I wanted to create a film that was almost exclusively acted by female actors and did not focus on any romantic stories or ‘mean girls’ situations,” she said. “‘Shoot the Duck’ is a story about friendship, determination, believing in yourself and enjoying healthy competition.”

Like many of her films, Silva says the idea for this short was inspired by her own life.

“I lived in a small Texas town for most of my life. As a middle school kid, the big place to be on weekends was the skating rink. I was a pretty strong skater, so from about ages 10-13 my friends and I were constantly working to win the Shoot the Duck contest,” she said. “I like this idea that no matter who you are at school during the week, that changes when you’re at the rink. It doesn’t matter if you’re popular, shy, whatever…When you skate you have this chance, just like everyone else, to be the best at this thing you’re good at. You get this moment to shine.”

To check out these great films and many others like them, make sure to get your tickets for Cucalorus 24 which are available online at