At APAC, we showcase amazing Aboriginal leaders through our Recognizing Excellence program. In May 2014, we recognize Jesse Wente, Director of Film Programmes for TIFF Bell Lightbox. Jesse is Ojibwe from Toronto, ON.
Connect with Jesse on Twitter: @jessewente.
Describe your job in just under four sentences.
I oversee the on-screen programming at the Toronto International Film Festival’s year round venue, including theatrical releases, TIFF Cinematheque and series programming. I also oversee Film Circuit, TIFF’s national outreach programme which assists with screenings in more than 170 communities, coast to coast. I have also worked for the CBC as a broadcaster for 18 years, currently as the pop culture critic on Metro Morning in Toronto.
Why did you start working in your industry? What sparked your interest in this area?
I’ve always loved movies. My first memories are of movies. I knew I wanted a career that was in movies, or at least connected to them, and it’s somehow worked out that way.
What do you enjoy most about your job? What aspect makes you learn the most while on the job?
The best part of my job is sharing movies I love or find interesting with an audience. The audience is also who teaches me the most – when I go into the theatres and a new movie is playing, I don’t watch the screen, I watch the audience, as they’ll tell me so much about how well the movie is working and will even allow me to see the movie through their eyes.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In a movie theatre, basking in the flickering light.
What does success look like to you?
Smiles on the faces of my children.
What has been the most outstanding moment thus far in your career?
Sharing a stage with Jackie Chan, or Tim Burton, or John Landis or Woody Harrelson…Actually, it was curating the show First Peoples Cinema: 1500 Nations, One Tradition in 2012, which brought the history of Indigenous cinema from around the world to one place for the first time ever. It was a long time coming and very proud to have been able to make it happen.
Do you volunteer? If so, where and why is that important to you?
I have spent many years volunteering for various organizations, mostly recently within the arts community. It’s important to share your skills with others in order to make good things happen, and I’ve been privileged in so many ways that it’s vital to share as much of that as I can with my community.
Do you have any advice for other Aboriginal professionals in Canada?
Listen to A Tribe Called Red in the office. Just because.
What do you think is the most unique challenge for an Aboriginal person in your industry?
Gaining entry into the movie business is probably the single hardest thing to do, as it often is in other industries. But once you’re inside, the challenge becomes finding your creative freedom and the space to tell the stories you want to tell, in the way you want to tell them.
What made you interested in joining the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada and why would you encourage others to join?
Because there’s strength in numbers.