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November Executive Spotlight: Dan Brawley, Chief Instigating Officer - Cucalorus

November Executive Spotlight: Dan Brawley, Chief Instigating Officer - Cucalorus

Dan Brawley is the Chief Instigating Officer with Cucalorus. 

The 24th annual Cucalorus Festival takes place November 7-11, 2018 in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina.

Cucalorus was founded in 1994 by the underground filmmaking collective Twinkle Doon. At the inaugural event, crowds wrapped around the block to see 16 local films screening at Water Street restaurant by the Cape Fear River. These days Cucalorus takes place every November, celebrating independent and international film for five days in historic downtown Wilmington, NC. MovieMaker Magazine has recognized it as “One of the Coolest Film Festivals in the World” for three years in a row.

Cucalorus is a multi-disciplinary arts organization supporting emerging and innovative creative professionals through our annual film festival, a residency program, a summer camp for teen filmmakers, a community cinema, and an extensive community engagement program. More than 20 years in the making, Cucalorus has since grown into one of the largest film festivals in the South. More than 300 films screen each year at venues all over downtown Wilmington, attracting a large number of participating artists (350+) and thousands of fans and industry professionals (accumulated attendance in 2017 was 19,069). Festival programs focus on dance, music videos, emerging artists, social justice, works-in-progress, and international cinema. Cucalorus education and outreach programs include Global Perspectives, Works-in-Progress Lab, Latino Lens, Media Literacy, and Racial Rewind. Cucalorus is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that relies on funds from individuals, businesses, and grants to fund its annual celebration.

Cucalorus dove into the world of venture capital and entrepreneurship again in 2017 during the 3rd annual Cucalorus Connect conference. Integrated into the overall film festival, Connect had 50+ events from keynotes, to panels, workshops and endless parties.

Career Lessons Learned

I learned the value of hard work from my dad. As a trial attorney, my dad has always been able to focus intensely on a single goal and charge forward to get the job done and to exhaust every resource. And then my mom was a school teacher and real estate agent before becoming a Presbyterian minister. My mom really was able to show me how play and discovery and a sense of wonder are essential to enjoying that work. For me, that has resulted in a special mix of laser-focused periods of hard work that are accented by humor and play.

What led you to this current career path?

I got a job working on one of the Muppet movies when I came back to Wilmington from Duke in the late 90s. Brent Watkins, one of the founders and an original Twinkle Dooner, dropped by our shop one day looking for volunteers for the Cucalorus Film Festival. I just started showing up and eventually I was showing up every day. There wasn't a lot of formal structure back then. I even joke sometimes that I got a call at the office one day, and they asked who was in charge. I looked around and was the only person there, so I said I was. 20 years later, I'm still showing up.

Your greatest achievement          

The Cucalorus community is a fascinating network of creative and visionary people. I can visit just about any city in the world and there is almost always someone there who has been a part of the festival in some way. Its nice to know that the work we do from our little building in downtown Wilmington touches people's lives around the world.

The next big thing

The 24th annual Cucalorus Festival starts next week - with three great programs: Film, Stage and Connect.

Professional Development

I go to film festivals!! As the curator of an international film festival and the President of the Film Festival Alliance, I get to travel around the world to attend film festivals, sometimes as a speaker or jury member but often to research new work and discover new artists. I have an ongoing connection with friends in a lot of those places like Toronto and Edinburgh.

Advice to those pursuing STEM careers

WORK HARD, PLAY HARD             


I like to hang out. And surf.

Favorite movie or television program

Haha. That's a tricky one for me!! One of the most inspiring films I've seen recently is "The Biggest Little Farm." It’s a documentary about a couple who get evicted from their LA apartment because of their barking dog, so they decide to move to the countryside and start a traditional farm. The film is full of incredible examples of nature's magical puzzle, how all the parts fit together and work together if we have the patience to sit back and watch. Come check it out at Cucalorus!!

What books are you currently (or have just finished) reading?

"Making Rent in Bed-Stuy: A Memoir of Trying to Make it in New York City" by Brandon Harris. It's a great book about being a young artist and being caught up in the complicated racial politics of living in Brooklyn. And Brandon is a great guy too!

What is your favorite thing about living and working in NC?

I think Wilmington has a special combination that is really rare, a 250 year-old historic downtown port that just happens to be 15 minutes from a few of the best beaches in the world. That special combo has really shaped and informed who I am as a human.

Favorite vacation spot


What do most people not know about you that would surprise them?   

I was an Academic All-American on the Duke Golf team. And spent a good deal of my childhood traveling across the US playing with Tiger, Phil and a long list of others who joined the tour. Golf is such a creative exercise and requires a kind of visioning that is similar to being an artist. I would have played forever but just had so many other things that I wanted to do, especially as an artist and performer.


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