Transcript: Helga Stephenson | Feb 12, 1998

(Rhythmic string and wind music plays)

In animation, a word in pink slides by against a gray background as hands paint strokes using paintbrushes, play a piano, and touch as in a ballet performance.

The title of the show reads “Dialogue.”

The title of the episode pops up against an image of Richard Ouzounian and a guest sitting in a living room: “Helga Stephenson. Chair, Viacom Canada.”

Then, Richard appears facing the screen. He's in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short side-parted blond hair. He's wearing rounded glasses, a dark gray suit, and a mandarin-collared blue shirt.

He says I'M RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
WELCOME TO
DIALOGUE.
YOU'VE HEARD ABOUT PEOPLE
WHO LIVE THEIR LIVES
IN A SPOTLIGHT.
THAT'S TOO THEATRICAL
FOR MY NEXT GUEST.
A KLIEG LIGHT IS
MORE APPROPRIATE.
AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF
FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS, OR AS
CHAIR OF VIACOM CANADA.
ALWAYS, IN THE KLIEG LIGHT.
THIS
DIALOGUE
IS WITH
HELGA STEPHENSON.

Helga is in her late thirties, with shoulder-length wavy brown hair. She’s wearing a black polo shirt, silver hoop earrings, and a black and white hairband.

Richard continues HELGA, I WANT TO START WITH
SOMETHING I REMEMBER OH, ABOUT
EIGHT YEARS AGO, I WAS PEOPLE
WATCHING DOWNTOWN, DURING THE
FESTIVAL, AND I STOOD OUTSIDE
ONE OF THE THEATRES, AND
THERE WAS THIS 16-YEAR-OLD
GIRL IN FRONT OF ME, WHO WAS
DOING RUNNING COMMENTARY
ON EVERYBODY WHO WALKED BY.
SHE'D SAY, OH, THAT'S NORMAN
JEWISON, OF COURSE,
HE DIRECTED THIS
AND THIS AND THIS.
AND THAT'S ROGER EBERT, HE
DID THIS AND THIS AND THIS.
AND YOU FINALLY BREEZED IN, IN
YOUR GLOWING FESTIVAL MODE,
AND SHE SAID, THAT'S
HELGA STEPHENSON.
I WONDER WHAT SHE WAS
LIKE WHEN SHE WAS MY AGE.

Helga chuckles and says OH.
SHE WAS 16?

Richard says YEAH.
DID THE 16-YEAR-OLD HELGA
STEPHENSON EVER THINK SHE
WOULD BE WHERE SHE IS NOW?

Helga says YES, SHE DID.
I ALWAYS HAD BIG DREAMS.
I WAS ONE OF THOSE KIDS
THAT DREAMED A LOT.
ME AND MY FRIENDS, WE
WERE GOING TO BROADWAY.
WE WERE GOING TO BE ON STAGE.
I ALWAYS LOVED THE STAGE.
I ALWAYS LOVED THE PUBLIC,
I LOVED THE AUDIENCE.
I'VE ALWAYS LOVED THAT PART.

Richard says NOW, YOU'RE TALKING
ABOUT STAGE AND BROADWAY.
WHEN DID IT START TO
SHIFT TO THE MOVIES?

Helga says WELL, YOU SEE, I
GREW UP IN QUEBEC.
AND IN QUEBEC, YOU WEREN'T
ALLOWED TO GO TO THE MOVIES
UNTIL YOU WERE 16 BECAUSE THEY
HAD SOME KIND OF TERRIBLE
FIRE WHERE A LOT
OF KIDS GOT KILLED.
SO MOVIES ALWAYS HAD A TABOO
AND FORBIDDEN ASPECT TO THEM
THAT MADE THEM SO DELICIOUS,
THAT YOU DID EVERYTHING
THAT YOU COULD TO
GET INTO THE MOVIES.
AND THEY ALWAYS HAD AN ALLURE
FOR ME THAT NOTHING ELSE DID.
SO AS SOON AS I COULD START
SNEAKING INTO THEATRES, I DID.
AND THEY REMAIN MY
FAVOURITE PASTIME.

Richard says FANTASY TIME.
WAS THERE A PERSON
YOU WANTED TO BE?

Helga says NO.
I ALWAYS WANTED
TO BE EVERYBODY.
I WANTED TO BE A
MISSIONARY NUN.
I WANTED TO BE PRESIDENT
OF THE UNITED STATES.
I WANTED TO BE PRIME
MINISTER OF CANADA.
I WANTED TO BE A
STAR ON BROADWAY.
I WANTED TO BE AUDREY HEPBURN,
ESPECIALLY IN THE NUN STORY,
IF YOU REMEMBER THAT.

Richard says THAT'S THE MISSIONARY STORY.

Helga says I WANTED TO BE TAMMY.
I WANTED TO BE EVERYBODY.

Richard says NOW, SEEMS TO BE SOMETHING
YOU'VE BEEN WORKING AT EVER
SINCE THEM.
I REMEMBER FIRST ENCOUNTERING
YOU IN THE LATE '70s WHEN YOU
WERE WORKING IN PUBLIC
RELATIONS WITH BOB RAMSAY.
BUT I'M VAGUE ON YOUR
LIFE BEFORE THAT.
I KNOW THERE WAS A STINT IN
OTTAWA FOR A WHILE, WAS THERE?

Helga says OH, YEAH.
THERE WAS A STINT IN OTTAWA
AT THE NATIONAL ART CENTRE,
IN THE GOLDEN YEARS OF THE ART
CENTRE WHEN THEY HAD EVERYTHING.
THEY HAD ALL OF THE CANADIAN
SHOWS, AND THEY HAD ALL OF THE
GREAT INTERNATIONAL SHOWS.
IN THE DAYS WHEN THERE
WAS MONEY TO TOUR.
SO I MEAN, I HAD A CRASH
COURSE OF CULTURE
THAT WAS SPECTACULAR.
BECAUSE, ACTUALLY, EVERYTHING
ENDED UP AT THE ART CENTRE.
SO IT WAS WONDERFUL.
AND BEFORE THAT, I HAD BEEN
WANDERING AROUND THE WORLD
BEING A HIPPY.

Richard says NOW, TRAVEL HAS
STILL STAYED WITH YOU.

Helga says OH YEAH.

Richard says I'M TRYING TO MAKE
THIS EQUATION FROM THE LADY
WHO WANTED TO BE TAMMY AND
AUDREY HEPBURN, TO THE LADY
WHO KIND OF WENT ALL OVER
EUROPE WITH THE RUCKSACK
AND EVERYTHING.
WHAT MADE THAT LEAP HAPPEN?

Helga says WELL, I MEAN, I'VE
ALWAYS BEEN VERY CURIOUS.
CURIOSITY.
SO I GRADUATED FROM MCGILL IN
'69, NOT KNOWING WHAT TO DO.
I DIDN'T HAVE A CLUE.
THEN SOMEBODY SAID THEY WERE
HIRING HOSTESSES FOR THE
CANADIAN PAVILION IN JAPAN.
SO I SAID, OH, NOW THAT
SOUNDS INTERESTING.
SO I WENT RACING OFF TO OTTAWA
TO FIND OUT HOW WE DID THAT.
SO THEY SAID, WELL, YOU
HAVE TO LEARN JAPANESE.
SO I SAID, WELL, FINE,
I'LL LEARN JAPANESE.
SO I RACED BACK TO MONTREAL,
AND I SIGNED UP AT BERLITZ.
AND I BECAME A JAPANESE NERD.
I WALKED, TALKED, ATE, SLEPT,
DID EVERYTHING IN JAPANESE.
TURNED UP THREE MONTHS LATER,
AND HAD A JAPANESE TEST.
AND THEY GAVE ME THE JOB.
SIX MONTHS LATER AFTER I HAD
TO GO THROUGH ANOTHER JAPANESE
TEST WHERE I HAD
TO DO SUBJUNCTIVE.

Richard says OOH.
OOH, THAT WAS HARD.

Helga says THAT WAS TERRIBLE.
THAT WAS HARD.

Richard says BUT YOU DID GO.

Helga says OH, YEAH.

Richard says AND WHAT WAS
THAT LIKE?

Helga says OH, IT WAS FANTASTIC.
I WAS OFF TO SEE THE WORLD.
SO I WAS IN JAPAN.
I WORKED AT THE
CANADIAN PAVILION.
THEN I RAN INTO A GROUP CALLED
THE ROSEWOOD DAYDREAM,
WHICH SNEEZEY WATERS WAS IN.

Richard says OKAY.

Helga says AND THEN I COULDN'T PLAY,
SO I BECAME THE MANAGER.

Richard says YOU WEREN'T THE GIRL
WITH THE TAMBOURINE.

Helga says NO, NO.

Richard says THAT'S USUALLY WHAT HAPPENS.

Helga says I KNOW.
BUT I COULDN'T SING, AND THERE
WAS A GIRL WITH A TAMBOURINE.
I THINK SHE WOULD HAVE
BOPPED ME ON THE HEAD WITH A
TAMBOURINE IF I'D TRIED.
SO THEN WE WENT SAILING OFF
IN A FREIGHTER TO HONG KONG,
AND I GOT THEM A GIG.
AND THEN WE USED TO DO SHOWS
FOR ORPHANS AND OLD PEOPLE,
AND ALL KINDS OF THINGS, ALL
DURING THE DAY, AND THEN WE
JUMPED ON A PLANE
AND WENT TO BANGKOK.
THEN I ENDED UP IN LAOS.
AND THEN THE BAND BROKE UP SO
I ENDED UP TEACHING SCHOOL
AND RUNNING A BAR
FOR AIR AMERICA.

Richard says I WAS GOING TO SAY, WHEN
YOU SAW THE MEL GIBSON MOVIE
LATER, DID THAT
RING ANY BELLS?

Helga says OH, YEAH.
THERE'S LOTS OF
THOSE MOVIES THAT DO.

Richard says IT WAS ACCURATE?

Helga says OH, YEAH.
IT WAS THE DAYS OF THE
DISPATCH NEWS AGENCY GUYS.
SO THERE WAS JOHN
STEINBECK'S SONS THERE.
ONE OF THEM WAS THERE.
THE OTHER ONE HAD -- NO,
ACTUALLY, THEY WERE THERE
LOOKING FOR ERROL FLYNN'S
SON, WHO HAD DISAPPEARED
IN THE JUNGLE IN CAMBODIA.
AND THOSE WERE THE DAYS THEY
RAN AROUND ON MOTORCYCLES, AND
THEY WENT INTO ALL KINDS OF
PLACES THEY WEREN'T SUPPOSED
TO GO, AND THEY HAD A TAB OF
ACID FOR WHEN THEY GOT CAUGHT.
BECAUSE THEY WERE
GOING OUT IN STYLE.

Richard says AGAIN, ERROL FLYNN, IT
COMES BACK TO THE MOVIES.
IT ALL EVENTUALLY SEEMS
TO BE BUILDING UP HERE.
FESTIVAL OF FESTIVALS
STARTED IN TORONTO IN '76?
YEAH, BILL MARSHALL
STARTED IT.

Helga says YEAH.

Richard says AND ORIGINALLY, I REMEMBER IT
BEING PRESENTED TO THE WORLD
AS THERE WAS GOING TO BE THIS
GREAT SMORGASBORD OF FILMS,
AND IT WAS GOING TO BE MORE
LIKE THE FILM BUFF'S DREAM,
RATHER THAN THE FILM
INDUSTRY'S DREAM.
IS THAT ACCURATE?

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Helga Stephenson. Chair, Viacom Canada."

Helga says WELL, THERE WERE TWO
THINGS THAT HAPPENED.
ONE WAS HE HAD JUST BECOME A
MOVIE PRODUCER, AND HE'D BEEN
TO CAAN.
AND HE DECIDED WHAT HE NEEDED
WAS A PROMOTIONAL VEHICLE
FOR HIS MOVIES.
AND CANADIAN MOVIES.
AND MOVIES IN GENERAL.
SO HE STARTED IT WITH AN OLD
BASHED UP AMERICAN EXPRESS
CARD, AND OFF THEY WENT.

Richard says WERE YOU WITH IT FROM
THE VERY BEGINNING?

Helga says NO, I WAS AT THE
FIRST ONE, THOUGH.
I WENT.
BECAUSE I HAD A ROMANCE WITH
A MOVIE CRITIC IN OTTAWA.
WELL, FIRST OF ALL IN
THE '60s, IN UNIVERSITY,
MOVIES WERE EVERYTHING.
IF IT FLICKERED ON A
SCREEN, IT WAS FABULOUS.
SECONDLY, HAVING TRAVELLED
AROUND THE WORLD, THE ONLY --
I HAD A GREAT APPETITE
FOR THE WORLD.
AND THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN SEE THE
WORLD RIGHT NOW IS IN MOVIES.
ESPECIALLY MOVIES FROM THE
COUNTRY, DONE BY PEOPLE FROM
THOSE COUNTRIES, THEN YOU GET
THEIR POINT OF VIEW, WHICH IS
ALWAYS TO ME MUCH MORE
FASCINATING THAN AN AMERICAN
POINT OF VIEW OF WHAT'S GOING
ON THERE, OR A CANADIAN POINT
OF VIEW.
THEN I WENT TO, WHEN I WAS IN
CUBA BECAUSE I DID A STINT IN
CUBA, I MOVED FROM
HAVANA TO TORONTO IN '76.
AND I ENDED UP HANGING AROUND
THE MOVIE GANG DOWN IN
HAVANA, WHICH INTRODUCED ME
ALL TO THE LATIN AMERICAN FILMS.
AND OF COURSE, CUBANS, APART
FROM BEING BASEBALL NUTS ARE
MOVIE NUTS.
IT'S THE MOST MOVIE LITERATE
NATION ON EARTH, I THINK.
SO I SAW A LOT OF MOVIES THERE
BECAUSE THEY WERE DOMINATED
BY THE RUSSIANS THEN, AND THE
RUSSIANS HAD ALL THE EASTERN
EUROPEAN MOVIES.
THEY CAME EVERY WEEK.
ALL THE TIME.

Richard says I CAN'T PICTURE FIDEL CASTRO
GOING TWO THUMBS UP, YOU KNOW?

Helga says OH, HE DOES, THOUGH.
HE'S A FIEND.
WHEN JULIE CHRISTIE WAS WITH
ONE OF THE FESTIVALS, I WAS
WITH HER, AND WE WERE DRAGGED
OFF TO MEET FIDEL, AND HE WAS
JUST GAGA.
HE WAS THRILLED
TO MEET JULIE.

Richard says ANYWAY, THIS FIRST
FESTIVAL, WHAT WAS IT LIKE?

Helga says IT WAS WONDERFUL.
THE ONE THING ABOUT THE FILM
FESTIVAL IN TORONTO IS THAT
IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN
BRILLIANTLY PROGRAMMED.
THEY ALWAYS WENT AND GOT
EXPERTS IN CERTAIN FIELDS.
SO RIGHT FROM DAY ONE, THERE
WAS A SENSE OF QUALITY TO THIS
FILM FESTIVAL THAT
A LOT OF OTHER
FILM FESTIVALS DIDN'T HAVE.
BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T HAVE
PEOPLE WHO JUST LIKED MOVIES
PICK THE MOVIES, THEY HAD
PEOPLE WHO
KNEW
THE MOVIES.

Richard says I REMEMBER SOMETHING I READ
YOU SAID ONCE IN AN INTERVIEW
IS THE REASON THIS FESTIVAL IS
SUCCESSFUL IS THAT IT DOESN'T
WORK BY CONSENSUS.
IT'S THAT YOU GET PEOPLE WHO
KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING,
AND THEY DO IT.

Helga says AND IT'S LITTLE PARTS.
SOME PEOPLE ARE FANATICS FOR
THIS PROGRAMMER, WOULDN'T BE
CAUGHT DEAD AT THAT
PROGRAMMER'S MOVIES,
AND SO ON AND SO FORTH,
BUT IT'S THE ECLECTIC MIX
THAT MAKES IT STRONG.

Richard says THAT'S WHY YOU COULD COME
UP WITH THINGS LIKE, WHAT,
I REMEMBER THERE WERE 15
IRANIAN FILMS ONE YEAR.

Helga says OH YEAH, TOTALLY.
COMPLETELY.

Richard says SO ALREADY THAT WAS STARTING.

Helga says THEN, YOU SEE, AS IT TURNS OUT,
TORONTO IS A MOVIE MAD TOWN.

Richard says SO HOW DID YOU FINALLY
GET INTO THE FESTIVAL?

Helga says WELL, BEING VERY PASSIONATE
ABOUT IT, I USED TO GO.
SOMETIMES THERE WOULDN'T
BE VERY MANY PEOPLE IN THE
THEATRE, BUT I'D BE THERE
WATCHING SOME WEIRD BRAZILIAN
COMEDY OR SOMETHING.

Richard says AND THE ONLY ONE
GETTING THE JOKES, RIGHT?

Helga says YEAH.
THE ONLY ONE WHO
THOUGHT IT WAS FUNNY.
BUT, ANYWAY, SO I LIKED IT.
BUT THERE WAS NO WAY TO MAKE
A LIVING OFF IT AT THAT TIME.
THEN, WHEN THE FESTIVAL
STARTED TO EXPAND, AND I WAS IN
THE PR COMPANY WITH
BOB, WE ALL DECIDED
LET'S GO GET THAT ACCOUNT.
SO WE GOT THE ACCOUNT,
FINALLY, AND WE BECAME
THEIR PR PEOPLE.
AND I BECAME MORE
AND MORE INVOLVED.
THEN, AS I BECAME MORE
INVOLVED, I DECIDED THAT THEY
NEEDED HELP WITH
SOME FUNDRAISING.
SO I JUMPED IN, FOR FREE,
AND DID FUNDRAISING.
THEN I WOULD HELP THEM,
OBVIOUSLY IN A PROFESSIONAL
SENSE, WITH THE PRESS, AND
THEN, OF COURSE, IT WAS SO
SMALL AT THAT POINT, THAT YOU
BECAME PART OF THE, WHAT YOU
WOULD CALL THE BRAIN TRUST.
AND THEN WAYNE WANTED
ME TO GO AND WORK THERE.

Richard says WAYNE CLARKSON.

Helga says WAYNE CLARKSON, YEAH.
AND I SAID, WELL, BUT YOU
DON'T HAVE ANY MONEY TO PAY ME.
AND I HAVE TO EAT.
AND HE SAID, THAT'S RIGHT.
SO I SAID, WELL, LET ME
FIGURE OUT HOW I CAN DO THIS.
SO I EVENTUALLY, I HAD A
LITTLE STINT PRODUCING MOVIES
WHICH I HATED.
VERY BORING.

Richard says ISN'T THAT FUNNY.
STAY WITH THAT FOR A SECOND.
WHY DID YOU HATE PRODUCING
THEM WHEN YOU FINALLY GOT --

Helga says TAKES TOO LONG.

Richard says SEEING THEM IS GREAT.

Helga says SEEING THEM IS GREAT.
I LIKE THE BEGINNING PART.
I LIKE THE SORT OF IDEA
PACKAGING PART OF IT,
AND I LIKE THE END
MARKETING PART OF IT.
THE IN BETWEEN, THE MAKING
OF IT, I FOUND EXCRUCIATING.

Richard says BUT YOU DECIDED TO GO BACK
WHERE YOU COULD SEE HUNDREDS
OF THEM IN A YEAR INSTEAD.

Helga says YES.
SO THEN I HAD -- I WAS
BECOMING MORE AND MORE INVOLVED.
THEN OBVIOUSLY YOU GET
INVOLVED IN THE DIRECTION OF
IT BECAUSE THERE
WAS SO FEW PEOPLE.
AND FINALLY I FIGURED OUT THAT
IT WAS WHERE I WANTED TO BE.
AND SO I HAD TO GO AND GET A
LOT OF FREELANCE GIGS ON THE
SIDE, SO I COULD LIVE, SO THEY
COULD PAY ME THEIR PITIFUL
AMOUNT SO I COULD BE THERE.

Richard says NOW, AT THIS POINT, WHEN DO
YOU THINK THE FESTIVAL
STARTED TO ERUPT?
LIKE, WAS THERE A PLACE WHERE,
A YEAR OR TWO YEAR PERIOD
WHEN IT JUST KIND OF BROKE
THROUGH AND BECAME THAT
MEGA EVENT EVERYBODY NOW KNOWS?

Helga says I WOULD SAY IT
GREW EVERY YEAR.
IT GREW ABSOLUTELY EVERY YEAR.
AS PEOPLE BEGAN TO TRUST THEY
WOULD BRING IN GOOD MOVIES.
I MEAN, IT WAS VERY
FASCINATING, WHEN I WAS
DIRECTOR, THEY'D SAY, OH,
ARE YOU GETTING REALLY GOOD
MOVIES THIS YEAR?
AND I'D LOOK AT THEM, AND
NO, THIS YEAR, WE'RE GETTING
REALLY BAD MOVIES, YOU KNOW?
OF COURSE WE'RE
GETTING GOOD MOVIES.
WHAT ELSE DO WE DO?
BUT THEN PEOPLE
BEGAN TO TRUST THAT.
AND I WOULD SAY THE BIG
BREAKTHROUGH YEAR WAS YEAR TEN.

Richard says WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN '85.

Helga says I THINK THAT WAS WHEN WARREN
BEATTY CAME, AND JACK, AND HE
AND THE GANG WERE WANDERING
AROUND TOWN, AND EVERYBODY WAS
VERY EXCITED.

Richard says THAT'S WHAT EVERYBODY WAS
WAITING FOR, WASN'T IT?
THE MOVIES HAD ALWAYS BEEN
GOOD, BUT THE HOLLYWOOD STARS
HADN'T BEEN HERE.
I REMEMBER, WASN'T JACK
NICHOLSON WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE
COME THE FIRST YEAR, AND HE
DIDN'T, AND THAT WAS A
BIG DISAPPOINTMENT.

Helga says YEAH, YEAH.
AND WHEN DE NIRO CAME
FOR MARTIN SCORSESE.
THOSE TRIBUTES WE DID WITH
ROGER EBERT AND GENE SISKEL.
THOSE SORT OF, YOU KNOW, MADE
IT TAKE OFF A LITTLE BIT.
AND THEN WHEN THE STUDIOS
BEGAN TO REALIZE THEY COULD,
YOU KNOW, RELEASE MOVIES
REALLY WELL THROUGH THIS
FESTIVAL, AND THEY SENT UP
THE BIG CHILL
AND STUFF THAT
BECAME REAL BONA FIDE HITS,
THAT'S WHEN IT STARTED
TO TAKE OFF.
THE YEAR THE BRAZILIANS CAME,
AND EVERYBODY WENT CRAZY ON
BRAZILIAN FILMS, IT
ALL CAME TOGETHER.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE FESTIVAL
IS IT ONLY HAPPENS ONCE A YEAR.
SO WHATEVER GAINS YOU MAKE,
YOU HAVE TO WAIT A WHOLE OTHER
YEAR BEFORE YOU SEE THEM.
IT'S NOT LIKE A PLAY THAT, YOU
KNOW, YOU CAN EITHER EXTEND
IT OR YOU CAN HAVE A HIT RUN,
AND IT CAN GO ON AND ON AND
ON AND ON.
WE DON'T HAVE THAT LUXURY.
YOU HAVE TO WAIT NEXT YEAR TO
SEE IF LAST YEAR WAS SO GOOD
THAT THIS YEAR YOU
ARE GOING TO GROW.
AND WE JUST GREW
AND GREW AND GREW.
AND THEN THE CANADIAN FILM
INDUSTRY GREW AT THE SAME TIME.
SO THERE WAS A LOT OF
HYPE AND FUN AROUND THAT.

Richard says WAY BACK, AT THE BEGINNING,
BILL MARSHALL THOUGHT IT WOULD
BE KIND OF A GREAT JUMPING
OFF, A LAUNCHING PAD FOR
CANADIAN FILMS, AS WELL.

Helga says FOR
OUTRAGEOUS,
TO
BE COMPLETELY CLEAR.

Richard says THAT WOULD BE IT.
IT WAS THE
OUTRAGEOUS
FESTIVAL.
HAS THE FESTIVAL HELPED
CANADIAN FILMS A LOT?

Helga says OH, HUGE.
UNBELIEVABLY SO.
FIRST OF ALL, THEY PUT A
LOT OF THEIR REPUTATION
ON CANADIAN FILM.
THEY OPEN WITH A CANADIAN
FILM, THEY STARTED
PERSPECTIVES CANADA WHICH IS
A BIG, BIG, BIG DEAL NOW.
AND WHAT THEY DID WAS
THEY HELPED CAREERS.
THEY WOULD LAUNCH SOME
FILMS, BUT THEY WOULD ALSO
HELP CAREERS.
SO THAT WHEN AN ATOM EGOYAN
CAME ALONG, OR A BRUCE
MCDONALD, OR WHATEVER, THESE
PEOPLE WOULD PROBABLY BE
SUCCESSFUL ANYWAY.
WHAT THE FESTIVAL DID, WITH
ITS BUSINESS SIDE, WHICH IS
WHAT I DEVELOPED, IS THAT THEY
HURRIED UP THEIR CAREERS BY
ABOUT TEN YEARS.
SO THEY GOT TO MAKE MORE
MOVIES, BIGGER BUDGETS, FASTER.

Richard says WERE THERE DECISIONS YOU
MADE, LIKE THIS IS SOMEONE
WHO LOOKS LIKE A WINNER,
I'M GONNA BACK THEM?

Helga says OF COURSE.
WELL, I MEAN, DON'T FORGET
IN THE EARLY DAYS WE DID A
CRONENBERG RETROSPECTIVE, AND
THERE WAS A LOT OF HEMMING
ABOUT THAT.
I MEAN, EXCUSE ME.

Richard says WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO,
SHOW
SHIVERS
FIVE TIMES?

Helga says HELLO?
BUT YOU SEE, WAYNE, HAVING
HAD THE FILM BACKGROUND, YOU
KNOW, DECIDED DAVID WAS A
MAJOR FILMMAKER PERIOD.
WORKED IN THIS KIND
OF GENRE, FINE.
BUT HE WAS A MAJOR FILMMAKER.
SO WE GOT BEHIND
DAVID CRONENBERG.
AND WE WERE THE FIRST TIME
IN NORTH AMERICA THAT HAD
CELEBRATED HIM.
MEANWHILE, IN EUROPE,
HE WAS A BIG STAR.
BUT HAD NOT BEEN
RECOGNIZED HERE.

Richard says ANY TIMES YOU'VE
MISCALCULATED WITH PEOPLE?

Helga says OH, YEAH.
OH, YEAH.
BUT YOU DON'T REGRET
THEM, YOU KNOW?
SOMETIMES PEOPLE HAVE -- IT'S
ALWAYS INTERESTING TO SEE IF
PEOPLE HAVE MORE THAN
A FEW MOVIES IN THEM.

Richard says WHAT ABOUT, YOU TALKED ABOUT
YOUR PASSION THAT HAPPENED,
AND OBVIOUSLY, YOU STILL CARE
ABOUT THE MOVIES, BUT WOULD
THERE BE HIGH POINTS FOR YOU
EVERY YEAR WHEN YOU'D BE
LOOKING AT FILMS, PICKING
THEM, SELECTING THEM, WHEN
YOU'D START TO JUMP UP
AND DOWN AGAIN AND SAY,
THIS IS WHY I'M DOING IT?

Helga says OH, ABSOLUTELY.
OH, YEAH.

Richard says SOMETHING IN PARTICULAR?
A MOMENT WHERE YOU
WERE GOING, 'YES, YES'.

Helga says NO, THERE WERE LOTS OF THEM.
THERE WERE LOTS OF THEM.
I CAN'T PICK OUT ONE.
WHEN WE DID THE LATIN AMERICAN
RETROSPECTIVE, I MEAN,
THAT FOR ME WAS HUGE.
I LOVED THAT.
BECAUSE I GOT TO GO
BACK TO MY SECOND HOME.

Richard says RIGHT.

Helga says AND GET ALL MY FRIENDS, AND
GET THEM ORGANIZED, AND GET
THEM UP HERE, AND GET THE
LATIN AMERICAN STUFF LAUNCHED.
AND IT'S INTERESTING, OUT OF
THAT YEAR, THERE ARE A COUPLE
OF YOUNG MEXICAN FILMMAKERS
THAT ARE NOW BIG DEALS
IN HOLLYWOOD.
ALFONSO CUARON,
AND LUIS MANDOKI.
THEY GOT LAUNCHED OUT OF HERE.

Richard says THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS,
WHEN I GO BACK AND LOOK AT
PEOPLE WHO WERE FIRST TOUTED
IN THE FESTIVAL A LONG TIME
AGO, AND NOW YOU SAY, OH,
LOOK WHERE THEY ARE NOW.

Helga says PAUL VERHOEVEN WAS A
LONELY LITTLE DUTCH GUY
WANDERING AROUND.
THERE WERE LOTS
OF THEM, ACTUALLY.
JOHN WOO, I GUESS, IS
THE LATEST BIG ONE.

Richard says SO YOU ARE IN THERE, YOU'RE
WORKING ALONG, YOU'RE PART OF
A BRAIN TRUST, AS YOU SAID.
WAYNE CLARKSON LEAVES.

Helga says I WAS SHOCKED
WHEN HE DID THAT.

Richard says YOU REALLY WERE?

Helga says YEAH.
HE KEPT IT VERY SECRET.
HE HINTED, BUT HE KEPT
IT SORT OF SECRET.

Richard says NOW, WHAT HAPPENED, I GATHER
THERE WAS QUITE A BIT OF
POLITICS WENT ON
AROUND THIS POINT.

Helga says OOH.

Richard says AND EVERYONE KIND OF THOUGHT
HELGA WOULD BE USHERED IN,
AND YOU WEREN'T.

Helga says OH, NO.

Richard says THEY BROUGHT IN AN OUTSIDER.

Helga says YEAH.

Richard says FROM YOUR HOME PROVINCE.

Helga says NO.
FROM B.C.

Richard says FROM B.C.

Helga says FROM B.C., YEAH.

Richard says WHAT HAPPENED WITH IT?

Helga says WELL, WHAT HAPPENED IS THEY
BROUGHT IN LEONARD SCHEIN.
AND LEONARD SCHEIN IS A VERY
BRILLIANT MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
ART HOUSE EXHIBITOR.
I MEAN, THIS GUY CAN TAKE A
MOVIE, IN FACT, TORONTO WOULD
DIE TO HAVE LEONARD SCHEIN
OPERATING A THEATRE HERE.
HE'S VERY, VERY GOOD AT IT.
HE DOES SORT OF THE
CARLTON TIMES TEN.
HE CREATES MARKETS.
HE KNOWS HOW TO MARKET FILMS.
AND THE FESTIVAL, AT THIS
POINT, HAD A VERY SOLID GROUP
OF PROGRAMMERS.
AND WE ALWAYS FELT THAT OUR
JOB WAS NOT TO PLAY TO THE
MIDDLE, BUT TO
PUSH THE ENVELOPE.
AND HE WAS A BIT OF A
PLAY TO THE MIDDLE GUY.
SO THERE WAS SOME
RUMBLING IN THERE.
THE BOARD DIDN'T WANT TO GIVE
IT TO ME PARTLY BECAUSE
I WAS A WOMAN, AND THEY
THOUGHT GIRLS DIDN'T DO THAT
KIND OF JOB.

Richard says THAT WAS STILL THERE, REALLY?

Helga says YEAH, IT WAS.
I NEVER PAID A LOT
OF ATTENTION TO THAT
IN MY LIFE, BUT
IT WAS THERE.
AND THEY ALSO, WE WERE SUCH
A TEAM, THAT THEY NEVER
UNDERSTOOD EXACTLY
WHO DID WHAT.
AND, THEREFORE, THEY THOUGHT
I DIDN'T HAVE THE BUSINESS
SENSE, OR THE
CONTACTS TO DO IT.
THEY THOUGHT I WAS A
GOOD PUBLICITY GIRL.

Richard says RIGHT.

Helga says SO I WAS IN A BOX.
AND I HAD TO JUMP
OUT OF THE BOX.

Richard says HOW DID YOU DO IT?

Helga says WELL, I DIDN'T.
I MEAN, LEONARD'S EXPERIENCE
HERE WAS NOT THAT HAPPY.
AND SO NO MATTER WHAT ADVICE
WE GAVE HIM, THIS IS HOW IT
WORKS HERE, HE KIND OF
WAS VERY ANXIOUS TO PROVE
SOMETHING ON HIS OWN TERMS,
AND SORT OF DIDN'T MESH WITH
HOW THINGS WORK HERE.
I MEAN, EVERY TIME YOU GO
ANYWHERE, THERE IS A SYSTEM,
YOU KNOW?
THERE'S A SYSTEM, THERE'S A
WAY OF DOING THINGS, AND IT IS
ALWAYS BETTER TO GO ALONG THAT
WAY BECAUSE THAT'S HOW EVERY
COMMUNITY WORKS.
AND LEONARD WAS VERY KEEN ON
BRINGING TOO MUCH NEW STUFF IN,
TOO FAST.

Richard says SO HE FINALLY DEPARTED.

Helga says SO HE FINALLY DEPARTED.
AND I THINK, BY THAT POINT, IF
I'D HAD GREEN SCALES ON ME,
THEY WOULD HAVE
THOUGHT I WAS OKAY.
BUT THEN THEY STILL WENT
AND DID A HEAD SEARCH.

Richard says BUT THEY DID DECIDE --

Helga says AND I WAS LIKE, MIFFED.
I WAS GOING, 'EXCUSE ME'.

Richard says WERE YOU EVER TEMPTED TO JUST
SAY, BUMP YOU AND THE HORSE
YOU ROAD IN ON, AND WALK AWAY?

Helga says NO.
I LIKE THE FESTIVAL TOO MUCH.
SO I SAID, OKAY, I'LL
BE PART OF THIS SEARCH.
I'LL BE A CANDIDATE AND ALL
THAT KIND OF STUFF, BUT UNLESS
YOU HIRE SOMEBODY THAT I TRULY
RESPECT, AND I TRULY THINK
WILL BE BETTER THAN ME AT
THIS JOB, I'M NOT STAYING.

Richard says SO YOU CALLED THEIR
BLUFF, IN EFFECT.

Helga says NO.
THEY WENT AND DID
A MAJOR SEARCH.
THEY GOT A HEADHUNTER,
THEY DID THE WHOLE THING.

Richard says BUT THEY CAME TO ME.

Helga says BUT, FINALLY,
THEY CAME TO ME.
WHICH WAS PROBABLY BETTER
BECAUSE THEN, AT THAT POINT,
THEY HAD TO BUY INTO ME.
BECAUSE IT'S ALWAYS DIFFICULT
WHEN YOU JUMP OUT OF A CAREER
BOX, TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
AS ANYTHING ELSE.

Richard says NOW, THE YEARS I GUESS A LOT
OF PEOPLE THINK OF AS THE
DEFINING ONES ARE WHEN
YOU TOOK OVER IN '87?

Helga says YEAH.

Richard says THE FESTIVAL WAS ENTRENCHED.
IT'S A MAJOR PART OF THE CITY.
EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT IT.
THERE WERE OCCASIONAL
GRUMBLINGS.
AS YOU KNOW, PEOPLE WOULD
ALWAYS SAY, WELL, IT COSTS
3.5 MILLION dollars, AND IT LASTS FOR
TWO WEEKS, OR WHATEVER, BUT
WHAT WOULD YOUR ARGUMENT
BE TO THOSE PEOPLE BACK?

Helga says OH, IT COST MORE THAN THAT.

Richard says THAT'S WHAT THE
FIGURES WERE THEN?

Helga says NOW, IT'S MORE
FIVE AND A HALF.

Richard says BUT IN THE EARLY '90s, AND
STUFF, YOU WERE DOING THAT.

Helga says YEAH, YEAH, YEAH.
WELL, I WOULD SAY IT
DOES A LOT FOR THE CITY.
FIRST OF ALL, NOBODY HAS
TO PAY ONE BIG CHUNK.
THE WAY THE FUNDING GROWS,
AND THE WAY THE FUNDING HAS
ALWAYS BEEN ESTABLISHED,
IF EVERYBODY DOES A PART,
IT GETS DONE.

Richard says THERE REALLY ISN'T THAT
MUCH GOVERNMENT FUNDING.

Helga says NO.
IT USED TO BE A THIRD, A
THIRD, A THIRD, AND OF COURSE,
LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE, THE
THIRD, THE GOVERNMENT SIDE,
IS GOING DOWN, AND THE
CORPORATE SIDE IS GOING UP.
BUT WE HAD TO SELL OURSELVES
TO THE CORPORATIONS.
AND IT WAS TRICKY AT
THE BEGINNING BECAUSE
WE WEREN'T
CULTURE.

Richard says REALLY?

Helga says WE WEREN'T THE BALLET.
NO, NO, THE MINISTRY OF
CULTURE TRIED TO THROW US OUT
BECAUSE THEY SAID, YOU'RE
NOT CULTURE, YOU'RE MOVIES.
AND MOVIES ARE ENTERTAINMENT,
AND ENTERTAINMENT IS BUSINESS,
SO WHY ARE YOU
HERE FOR A GRANT?

Richard says AND EVERYBODY LOVES TO GO
TO IRANIAN FILM FESTIVALS,
THEY MAKE A FORTUNE.

Helga says THEY MAKE A FORTUNE.
SO THEY TRIED TO THROW US OUT.
SO THERE WAS ALWAYS HERE THE
FIGHT TO MAKE FILM CULTURE, AS
OPPOSED TO STRAIGHT BUSINESS.
BECAUSE THERE IS A BIG
BUSINESS PART TO IT.
BUT, NONETHELESS, WE HAD TO
FIGHT VERY HARD FOR THAT.
WITH THE CORPORATIONS, THEY
WOULD GO, WELL, LIKE, WHY?
SO WE BECAME ONE OF THE FIRST
ORGANIZATIONS TO HAVE TO GO
IN THROUGH THE
MARKETING SIDE.
SAYING, IF YOU WANT TO TALK TO
SOMEBODY LIKE ME, ABOUT YOUR
CIGARETTES, YOUR BEER, YOUR
VOLVO, YOUR CLOTHES, YOUR
WHATEVER, THIS IS A
GOOD PLACE TO DO IT.
BECAUSE WE COULD NEVER GET
IN ON THE DONATION SIDE.

Richard says NOW, IT'S AMAZING --

Helga says WE WEREN'T BLACK TIE.

Richard says THAT'S IT.

Helga says WE WEREN'T BLACK TIE.
WE WEREN'T SMART.
WE WERE STREET.
WE WERE MESSY.
WE WERE POLITICALLY, ALL OVER
THE PLACE, DEPENDING ON, YOU
KNOW, THE LATIN AMERICAN FILMS
WERE NOT RIGHT WING FILMS.
AND THEY GOT SUPPORTED, ODDLY
ENOUGH, BY THE ROYAL BANK.
THAT WAS THEIR SPONSOR.

Richard says BUT THE IRONY IS, JOE PUBLIC
SITS AT HOME WATCHES ABOUT
THE FESTIVAL ON TV, AND
THINKS IT'S THIS GALA.
IT'S ALL ABOUT LIMOUSINES AND
GOWNS, AND HOLLYWOOD STARS.

Helga says WELL, THAT'S THE
MEDIA, ISN'T IT?
DRIVES ME CRAZY.

Richard says IT DOES?

Helga says YEAH, BUT THAT TOO IS
PART OF MOVIES, RIGHT?
THAT TOO IS PART OF
MOVIES EVERYWHERE.
WHETHER IT'S A BRAZILIAN
STAR, YOU KNOW, A BRAZILIAN
STAR ROLLING UP IN THE LIMO,
OR WHETHER IT'S A FRENCH STAR,
OR WHETHER IT'S A HOLLYWOOD
STAR, THAT'S ALL PART OF
THE PACKAGE.
AND WE'VE ALWAYS INSISTED
SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY.
AND WE WANT THE
ENTIRE PACKAGE.
SO WE WANT THE SNAZZY STAR, IN
THE SNAZZY LIMO, AND WE WANT
THE BRILLIANT, AVANT-GARDE,
EXPERIMENTAL GUY IN HIS PURPLE
HAIR, AND WE WANT THE BLUE
JEANS, AND WE WANT IT ALL.

Richard says BUT IF THE MEDIA CONCENTRATES
ON THE GLAM MORE TO GIVE YOU
THE ATTENTION, IT'S A TRADE
OFF YOU HAVE TO MAKE.

Helga says IT'S A TRADE OFF.

Richard says I OFTEN SAID I THOUGHT
OF YOU AS EDWARD VII.

Helga says WHY?

Richard says BECAUSE HE GAVE UP HIS CROWN
FOR THE WOMAN HE LOVED.
YOU DID THE SAME THING,
EXCEPT IT'S YOUR DAUGHTER.

Helga says OH, YES.

Richard says YOU FINALLY DECIDED TO WALK
AWAY FROM THE FESTIVAL WHEN
IT'S TREMENDOUSLY SUCCESSFUL,
AND IT WAS GOING JUST THE WAY
YOU WANTED IT, TO SPEND MORE
TIME WITH YOUR DAUGHTER.

Helga says YES.

Richard says I COULD UNDERSTAND WHY, BUT IT
MUST HAVE BEEN A HARD DECISION.

Helga says NO.

Richard says NO?

Helga says UH-UNH.
NO, I'D BEEN INVOLVED WITH
THE FESTIVAL, I THINK,
FOR 17 YEARS.
I MEAN, A VERY,
VERY LONG TIME.
AND I THINK THAT
LIVES ARE CHAPTERS.
AND I FELT I HAD GIVEN THE
FESTIVAL EVERYTHING THAT I
HAD, AND THAT NOW IT NEEDED
TO STABILIZE AND HAVE A MORE
LUCID AND SORT OF LESS
CRAZY, AND LESS DRIVEN
KIND OF MANAGEMENT.
AND ONE WHERE IT GETS TO
CONSOLIDATE AND BECOME
INSTITUTIONALIZED NOW.
AND WE HAD A BIG STAFF.
I GOT IT FUNDED PROPERLY WITH
A LOT OF HELP, OBVIOUSLY,
I MEAN, I DIDN'T DO IT
BY MYSELF, GOD KNOWS.
BECAUSE IT'S COLLABORATION.
ALL THIS STUFF IS
COLLABORATION.
AND I FELT MY LIFE HAD
CHANGED, AND THE CHAPTER
HAD COME TO AN END.

Richard says AND IT WAS TIME TO MOVE ON.

Helga says AND IT WAS TIME TO MOVE ON.

Richard says NOW, YOU'RE CHAIR
OF VIACOM CANADA.

They both laugh.

Helga says YEAH.

Richard says HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT,
AND HOW DOES IT FEEL?

Helga says IT FEELS GREAT, ACTUALLY.
BECAUSE ONE OF THE THINGS THAT
FASCINATED ME -- ONE OF THE
THINGS THAT HAS DOMINATED MY
LIFE, AND ONE OF THE THINGS
THAT HAS ALWAYS FASCINATED ME
IS I'M NOT A GREAT RESPECTER
OF BORDERS.
I LOVE TO GO -- BUT ON
THE OTHER HAND, I LOVE
NATIONAL CULTURES.
AND IT'S VERY INTERESTING, AS
THIS BUSINESS DEVELOPED IN
THE 20 YEARS, ON THE
INTERNATIONAL SCENE WHERE
I WAS, YOU WATCHED THE BORDERS
JUST MELT AWAY, AND YOU
WATCHED THE TECHNOLOGY
JUST DISSOLVE THE BORDERS.
AND YOU REALIZE, ACTUALLY,
WITH THE TECHNOLOGY THAT IS
AROUND, I DON'T HAVE
TO GO TO MEXICO
TO GET MEXICAN TELEVISION.
I DON'T HAVE TO GO TO BRAZIL
TO GET BRAZILIAN TELEVISION.
I COULD GET IT HERE.
THE WORLD IS BECOMING
POSSIBLE FOR ME TO GET THAT.

Richard says THAT'S THE GOOD SIDE.
BUT ISN'T THE BAD SIDE, THE
BIGGEST KID ON THE BLOCK,
WHO IS --

Helga says IS AMERICA.

Richard says AND YOU'VE GOT JACK VALENTI
MAKING NOISE, ISN'T THERE A
DANGER TO THIS NOW?

Helga says WELL, THERE IS A DANGER, BUT
I GUESS I'M SORT OF LIKE
KIM CAMPBELL.
WHAT DID SHE SAY THE OTHER
DAY, THAT SHE WAS A
FREE TRADER, BUT A
CULTURAL NATIONALIST?
I FALL INTO THAT POCKET.
I THINK THE BORDERS SHOULD BE
FAR MORE OPEN THAN THEY ARE,
BUT THAT THE CANADIAN CULTURE,
FILM, TELEVISION, BOOKS,
ALL OF IT, SHOULD BE VERY
PROTECTED, VERY NICHED,
AND VERY SUBSIDIZED.

Richard says SO WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN YOUR
CURRENT POSITION, VIS-A-VIS
THESE FEELINGS OF YOURS?

Helga says WELL, IN MY CURRENT POSITION,
I REPRESENT VIACOM CANADA,
WHICH IS A HUGE MULTINATIONAL,
THAT WANTS TO GO EVERYWHERE,
AND DO EVERYTHING,
WHICH IS NORMAL.
SO WHAT I DO IS ON THE ONE
HAND, I REPRESENT VIACOM, ON
THE OTHER HAND, I GET VERY
INVOLVED IN THE FILM FESTIVAL,
IN THE LITERARY FESTIVALS, IN
THIS FIGHT TO SAVE THE CBC.
THAT'S WHERE I PUT A LOT OF
TIME, WHILE I AM VIACOM.
AND I CONSULT, IF I CAN, IF
THEY ASK ME, TO THE VARIOUS
GOVERNMENTS ABOUT SAYING,
NO, YOU HAVE TO PROTECT WHAT
YOU'VE GOT HERE.
YOU CAN'T JUST LET IT GO,
OR THERE WILL BE NO VOICE.
AND AT THE END OF THE DAY,
THERE WILL BE NO PRODUCT
BECAUSE THERE IS NO
PRODUCT WITHOUT A VOICE.
DO I WANT TO SEE A BRAZILIAN
FILM MADE BY AN AMERICAN?
NO, I DON'T.
I WANT TO SEE A BRAZILIAN
FILM DONE BY A BRAZILIAN.

Richard says AND YOU'LL ALSO TRY TO MAKE
SURE THAT A CANADIAN FILM
MADE BY A CANADIAN
WILL GET SEEN.

Helga says ABSOLUTELY.
MAYBE I DON'T DO IT SO MUCH IN
MY DAY-TO-DAY, ALTHOUGH WITH
THE TOING AND FROING THAT IS
GOING BACK AND FORTH, YOU
KNOW, THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
IS SO FASCINATING NOW.
THE DOMINANCE, THERE WAS A
PROTECTION IN CANADA THAT
ALLOWED SOMETHING TO PUT IN
ROOTS AND GET THE TENDRILS
GROWING, AND GET THE PLANT
GROWING, AND NOW THEY ARE
DOMINATING THE OTHER WAY.
I THINK MORE OF
THAT COULD HAPPEN.

Richard says AND WHERE ELSE ARE
YOU GOING TO BE?
ARE YOU STILL THE GIRL WHO
WANTS TO BE THE MISSIONARY STAR?

Helga says I'D LOVE TO RUN OFF TO
SHANGHAI FOR FIVE YEARS.
I STILL HAVE THAT WANDERLUST.
IT HASN'T ENDED FOR ME.
AND, YOU SEE, THE WANDERLUST
FOR ME GETS SATISFIED,
TO SOME EXTENT, THROUGH
THOSE FOREIGN FILMS.
I LOVE THEM.

Richard says I WAS GOING TO SAY, WE'LL
EITHER SEE YOU SOMEWHERE IN
THE WORLD, OR AT THE MOVIES.

Helga says NO, I'LL BE AT THE MOVIES
ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.
SO I'LL ALWAYS
BE AT THE MOVIES.
BUT, YOU KNOW, MAYBE
HERE, MAYBE SHANGHAI.
I DON'T KNOW.

Richard says WE'LL SEE YOU THERE.

Helga says YEAH, I HOPE SO.

Richard says THANK YOU, HELGA.

He faces the screen and concludes
FOR
DIALOGUE, I'M
RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
GOOD-BYE FOR NOW.

Music plays as the end slate reads “Dialogue.”

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 1997, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Helga Stephenson