With the 16th annual Calgary International Film Festival in progress, the Calgary Journal grabbed 10 minutes with executive director, Steve Schroeder.
The recent opening of Calgary’s first Film Centre shows that the province is on its way to becoming a force to be reckoned with in the film industry
CIFF has stood by local talent since day one, helping to carve the path for Alberta filmmakers. This is something that Schroeder says is a large part of the festival’s “core mission”.
Read on for more of what Schroeder has to say about homegrown talent, Iggy Pop, and why CIFF is unlike the others.
1. CIFF shuns snobbery.
“There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of film festivals in North America. They’re all a little different. Sometimes in the public perception some of the really big festivals like TIFF or Cannes or Sundance can define in the public imagination what a film festival should be like. We view that the Calgary International Film Festival as a reflection of the city. So for us, we really strive to bring as many of the filmmakers involved with the films to the festival as possible — both the directors,the artists and the actors. At a lot of film festivals it’s really hard to connect with the artists behind the movies and there are a lot of VIP events and private things — things the general public can’t get into. Our whole philosophy is the fundamental aspect of the audience’s experience should be as much interaction with and connection with and unrestricted dialogue with the filmmakers and the artists who are here making films.”
2. One of Schroeder’s favourite films feeds his love of Iggy Pop, the other his penchant for weird movies.
“There are a lot of movies I’m excited about and maybe I could name a couple. Honestly, the one I’m most excited to see sometimes changes day to day by my mood. I’m like anybody else. I’m really looking forward to a film called Gimme Danger which is Jim Jarmusch’s new documentary about a really famous punk band called Iggy and the Stooges, where Iggy Pop first became famous. I’m a fan of that band so I’m personally really interested in that. I’d say that we really have a very great sheen this year of amazing films about music in the festival. So I’m excited about the whole music on the screen series. I like strange films. I like great horror, sort of the unusual or weird movies. There’s one called The Greasy Strangler that I’m really excited about. It looks really funny and kind of demented.”
3. Schroeder’s reaction to big special effects and car chases? Meh.
“I don’t mind action movies. I do like movies that have a lot of action and are really visually exciting, but that’s not what draws me in. What draws me in is really great stories and great characters, and intelligent writing in the script — great dialogue. Especially when it’s well-performed by a really interesting character. So for me, it’s all about character and story and dialogue. You know, there’s only so many stories out there in the world. How many thousands and thousands and thousands of movies are made over the years? It’s hard to have something that feels really original. Sometimes a film is also shot in an interesting visual style. But if it doesn’t have a great story and great character that’s being well-performed, it’s hard for anything else — no matter how good it is — to make up the difference for me. A lot of people like big movies with a lot of action and superheroes — I love that stuff too, don’t get me wrong — but I think there are more people than generally Hollywood gives us credit for who actually like intelligent stories.”
4. CIFF has been a launch pad for at least one director. Anyone heard of Whiplash?
“More than once, we’ve championed new directors who nobody’s ever heard of and then they go on to actually be really well known. The most recent example I can think of is the director, Damien Chazelle, who we had back in, I’m going to say 2009. Just a young director from the States, nobody had ever heard of him or his movie. The year before last, he had his film Whiplash which was about the young drummer and the really, really difficult relationship he has with his music instructor. That film went on to be nominated for several Oscars. He had one of the most successful films at the Toronto International Film Festival a couple weeks ago called La La Land starring Ryan Gosling, and it won the TIFF people’s choice award. And unfortunately that film is not at our festival this year, so that’s the part of my story I wish was different. But in any case, now he is one of the most acclaimed young directors in Hollywood, people know his movies, and he’s got major stars in his movies. We were one of the festivals who first saw his talent and programmed one of his earliest films.”
5. Two artists on Schroeder’s radar? Kurt Harder and Kristian Jackson.
“There are some local people — there’s a guy called Kurt Harder. We actually had his first feature back in 2012 called Cody Fitz, and it was a beautiful, really neat low budget independent film he shot here in Calgary and I loved it. It really showed quite a talent that he has. Now he’s back with his second feature film called Incontrol here at this year’s festival. I have big expectations for him as a director for sure.
There’s a young guy named Kristian Jackson, and he’s the star of another local movie in the festival this year called A Miracle on Christmas Lake. He’s somebody else who a number of people have remarked — like nobody knows this actor but he’s so talented and he’s really good on screen. So there are people who in the festival, and you can’t necessarily pick in advance which one they’ll be. If we knew that we’d all be millionaires. But mark my words, if you look at this year’s festival lineup and you get in your time machine and go five years in the future, you will see some people who are getting really successful and you know, they’re not known today. That’s one of the fun things about a film festival — discovering those people and following their careers.”
CIFF runs from now through October 2.
Editor’s note: Some answers edited for brevity and clarity
The editor responsible for this piece is Katherine Huitema and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.