Festival Profile: Executive Director Steve Schroeder
Festival Profiles is a new blog series that brings you into the lives of the film festival staff and volunteers that dedicate their time and passion to put this festival on. Whether they've been with us since the beginning or are new to the team, these are the people that work year-round to make the festival happen.
Next up is our fearless leader at the helm of the ship, Executive Director Steve Schroeder.
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m incredibly lucky to come to work at my dream job each day as executive director of the Calgary International Film Festival. It challenges and stretches me literally every day. But nothing can beat the joy in helping share the visions of local and global filmmakers with audiences, and to meet and interact with so many fascinating people.
I’ve been here at Calgary Film for just over six years, but my entire 22-year adult working career has been in the not-for-profit arts sector here in Calgary, and has almost always been directly or indirectly about festivals. Prior to working on the film festival side, I was a theatre producer. My longest running job, 11 years, was as executive director of One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre, which included its flagship festival, the High Performance Rodeo.
The centre of my life is my nine-year-old son, Kohl. An active engagement with art is definitely a huge part of our family. His mom is a choreographer, so between his two parents, he’s been taken to a huge range of film, theatre, dance, music and exhibitions ever since he was a toddler. Kohl spends as much of his spare time on his own video creations, drawings and music mixes.
I’ve lived in Calgary almost my entire life, and am extremely proud to call this city home. Calgary is far more culturally vibrant than it gets credit for, although that is changing.
2) Name a film that's changed your life and why it's important to you.
There are probably too many to name, but almost everything Stanley Kubrick has done has deeply impacted my imagination. It’s hard to think of a filmmaker whose creative vision has been so iconic, from DR. STRANGELOVE to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. They’re towering achievements.
3) How did you first get involved in the Calgary arts scene?
After finishing my English Literature degree at the University of Toronto, I moved back to Calgary for what I thought would be only a few months. Some of my old rock bandmates had formed a new group, but were short a drummer. So I made what I thought would be a temporary move back to help them out while figuring out my next move. However, within a couple of weeks, I ended up landing a job as the administrative assistant at One Yellow Rabbit and realized very quickly that the theatre was the exact right place for me to be. I went from having very little idea of what I should do to a very strong sense of having found my career within just a few short weeks. It was one of the most fortunate things that has ever happened to me, and I’m still grateful for it. And by the way, the English degree has served me extremely well over the years, so don’t ever let anyone tell you they’re not worth it!
4) Working in the arts is a labour of love, what makes it all worth it?
So many things. Filmmakers and artists are hugely diverse, and yet what they have in common is being fascinating, determined, brilliant and resourceful people. The older I get, the more I realize that having a rich inner life is indispensable to happiness. To be surrounded by such people is a great blessing in helping in developing one's own inner life. Artists are brave and honest, and look at the world from different perspectives. I’m incredibly fortunate that my career has introduced me to so many wonderful people who have helped inspire me to be that way as much as I can as well. I’m blessed to never have felt a lack of meaning to my work; not only because it’s meaningful to m personally (though it is), but because it is so meaningful to the artists and audience who are able to engage with each other through the festival.
5) What’s the strangest/most interesting/funny/moving thing that’s ever happened to you on the job?
During my time with One Yellow Rabbit we produced a show about the liberation of Holland from the Nazis by Canadian soldiers in World War II. We were fortunate to be able to tour it to Amsterdam and Maastricht on the 50th anniversary of the liberation, and the show as attended by both Canadian veterans and Dutch citizens who still remember the war and what Canadians had done. It was an incredibly powerful experience, and one of which I remain very proud.
6) What's been your best festival moment?
At the 2015 festival I had the honour of moderating the post-screening Q&A for following GUANTANAMO’S CHILD, the award-winning documentary about Omar Khadr. Omar attended the screening, but his presence was kept secret for security reasons until he appeared on stage with us for the Q&A. It was his first public appearance following his house arrest in Edmonton, and his presence was both electric and deeply moving for the audience. I remember being incredibly impressed and moved by his intelligence, gentleness and kindness, which were in such stark contrast to the way he has been portrayed by some in the media. Helping to be part of sharing his story was a deep honour.
7) What do you do for fun when you're not working?
I play in a rock band called The Finites, and we just released our debut album! Recording our original songs and playing live are just about my favourite things to do. But when I’m not hanging out with my son, working on the film festival, or playing with band, and if it’s winter, you can usually find me on the slopes. I’m a huge downhill ski freak.
8) What are you looking forward to the most about this year's festival?
Launching our new Generation Next program! This new film series will be curated by local high school students, and comprised of the six films they feel are the most important to share with their peers. We’ve been developing it for the past two years in partnership with the Calgary Board of Education, and I’m thrilled to see it finally coming to fruition. Generation Next is a ground-breaking program that engages high school students directly in the film selection process for a new teen section of the festival to be attended by 1,200 high school students for special daytime class screenings. The films will also be available to the public as part of our separate public screenings.