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Festival Profile: Programming Admin Gillian McKercher

Festival Profiles is a 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 we chat with Programming Administrator Gillian McKercher. Gillian joined the Calgary International Film Festival team last year and is our in-house film guru. Gillian oversees all submissions to the festival, works with a team of volunteer previewers, has a significant role in the development of our new Generation Next youth series, and is a key member of the festival's programming team. When she isn't in the office crunching numbers and overseeing details of the films coming to the festival, Gillian is pursuing her other passion: directing her first feature film. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

My life took a long time to settle on film. I was a competitive Alpine Racer in high school and coached U16 athletes for five years throughout university, where I studied Chemical Engineering. I worked as an engineer for about four years. Between all of that, I was working towards being a full-time filmmaker, my ultimate goal. In the past year, I’ve had a lot of changes in my life: I was laid off from my oil and gas engineering job, I started working at the festival, I co-created a film production company, Kino Sum, and I got funded for my upcoming feature film debut CIRCLE OF STEEL. The transition has been wild - sometimes, it feels like my grip’s about to slip from a racehorse - but I’ve never been more professionally satisfied in my life.

Name a film that's changed your life and why it's important to you.

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and BAD TIMING hugely impacted my views of cinema, but it was LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER that changed my life to film. In retrospect, the film is still amazing: Angelina Jolie is perfect, the ensemble cast is perfect, the practical effects take precedence over CGI, and the film has one of the best soundtracks ever. I wanted to be Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft in any way I could. At first, I thought I could be a stunt woman since I loved sports, but then I decided I’d rather be an actor who did their own stunts. In researching moviemaking, I learned that screenwriting and directing were often where the visionary power originated, and so I began to watch as many films as I could to learn the craft. And so began my lifelong, passionate and torid relationship with movies. Team Angie all the way.

How did you first get involved in the Calgary arts scene?

When I was 17 years old I saw an ad in Tubby Dog for the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers’ (CSIF) Summer Media Arts Camp. I was about to enter my first year of university for Engineering, and I thought, “this camp might be my last chance to become a filmmaker”. I told my parents that I wasn’t going to go on our concurrent family vacation so that I could attend the camp. They were really great about it: at camp we made a 10 minute short on 16mm film and I got to live on my own for the first time in my life. I also had a really ill-planned, extremely well-attended house party where everyone got sick on the furniture. After the camp, I wrote a review of my experiences for CSIF’s newsletter and then I became a member of the organization. I currently sit on CSIF’s Board of Directors.

Working in the arts is a labour of love, what makes it all worth it? 

I love and am deeply passionate about film and community. I also believe that to work in the arts is an intense privilege and I take the responsibility seriously. That I can meet people as crazy as me to work this industry, as well as to have incredible support from my friends, family, and partner, make my work worthwhile.

What’s the strangest/most interesting/funny/moving thing that’s ever happened to you on the job?

I worked the casino for the Calgary Cinematheque and I was in the count room with a few people. There’s a lot of time to talk during the late hours, so the conversation turned to movies. Eventually, the talk was dominated by two people: myself and this nice guy who was devoted to film. I was feeling egotistical and was trying to one-up him on everything, but he’d throw out these comments like “oh, I went to an Academy screening of JACKIE”, or “when I was in Berlin I saw this and that”. I was like, “who is this guy”? When I left I told my partner that I was refreshed to meet a true cinephile. Once I started working at the film festival, I learned that I was talking to Sachin Gandhi, our World Cinema programmer! He really is one of my favourite people to listen to about cinema. 

What's been your best festival moment?

My best festival moment last year was to meet Cody Bown, the director of GREGOIRE. Cody is a fellow Albertan and has been a great support to my partner and I as we pursue our filmmaking dreams. We share a lot of the same film philosophy, and I can’t wait to see what he makes next.

What do you do for fun when you're not working? 

I’m trying to figure out what I like to do when I’m not working because my extra-curricular life used to be devoted to film. I love to do outdoor activities like cross-country ski, hike, and camp. I think that I throw a good party and I love going to live shows. If there’s enough time, my favourite thing to do is to visit my friends who live in other parts of the world. My partner and I have done road trips down to LA, across France, and to Toronto and Montreal to visit our friends, and we really want to go through the Southern American States where one of my best friends and some of my cousins live.

What are you looking forward to the most about this year's festival? 

I am most looking forward to our Canadian and World cinema programs. I believe that the inclusivity and gender parity that North American audiences crave can be found in the highest tiers of world cinema. I can’t wait to see who submits to us! I’m also intensely excited for our new Youth Program - more details will be announced soon.

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