I Want Your Job finds Torontonians who make a living doing exactly what they love to do, in any field, and for any salary, and asks them how they made it.
Name: Andréa Picard
Job: Curator, Wavelengths Series, Toronto International Film Festival; Programmer, TIFF Cinematheque
In her tidy, dimly lit office at the Toronto International Film Festival, two things about Andréa Picard become clear: she is a mega-achiever, and, despite her cool reservedness and bobo-chic style, she is a closet geek.
A quick review of her CV affirms the former. She completed an Hons. BA (specialist, film studies; major, French Literature) and an MA (art history) at the University of Toronto. She was hired by TIFF before graduation in 1999, and, in six years, rapidly ascended its ranks, starting out as an entry-level coordinator, and working as a researcher and assistant programmer, before landing her dual role as programmer of TIFF Cinematheque and curator of Wavelengths, TIFF’s widely renowned avant-garde and experimental film programme, in 2005.
In her spare time, she writes a regular column for Cinema Scope magazine (a publication she helped to launch), and sits on the jury of at least one prominent international film festival every year.
Yes, this is a woman who gets things done. Fast.
Her geekiness, though, is harder to detect. On first impression, Picard assumes the character of a prickly intellectual; her gaze is direct, her manner aloof, and her tone confrontational. As we sit down, she pours herself some Perrier into a chic plastic cup (I didn’t know such a thing existed either, until I saw this one), and when I ask if she has any questions before we begin, she stares at me. “No. You have the questions.”
She maintains this distance as long as we discuss the details of her own biography, but once the conversation turns to film, her defensiveness dissipates. When we turn to her vision for Wavelengths, her eyes come to life.
“It’s not solely experimental cinema,” she says, her pace quickening, “and avant-garde is such an elusive term for some people, and the programme is not reserved for artists working in film and video. It tries to provide a comprehensive look at film as art, in its purest forms. There are fewer barriers than one would think.”
Picard’s inclusive vision extends to the structure of the programme within the larger festival. Films in the Wavelengths programme do not have separate press and industry screenings, and each film screens only once. That way, she explains, “we all watch and discuss the films together.”
Her inner geek (okay, passionate cinephile) surfaces when we talk about some of the filmmakers whose work the programme has featured—including, in 2009, Jean Luc Godard, Jean-Marie Straube, and Michael Snow. She grows emotional as she shares an anecdote about the late Swiss film artist Klaus Lutz, who died suddenly the night before his latest film was to open last year’s programme. She had worked closely with Lutz over the preceding summer as he prepared a special performance to coincide with the screening.
“I got that call [informing me of his death] the day before the festival was starting, and we scrambled to put together a presentation of the photographs and drawings he’d sent me.” At the screening, she says, “I got up and spoke about him, and we showed the presentation as if he’d been there and performed. And then we premiered his film, which in that context was very moving, because it’s an animation of him essentially flying through space.”
“It was one of those moments where everything came together, [and I thought,] ‘this is exactly why I’m doing it, to live these moments that are so poignant and meaningful, and to share it with two hundred people in a cinema space.’”
Her advice to aspiring programmers and curators is practical: get involved. She cites the numerous volunteer and internship opportunities with TIFF as strong starting points, noting that many of those opportunities lead to solid jobs, and recommends frequenting the Cinematheque, like she did, as a student, long before becoming one of its programmers.
I ask Picard if there’s something we hadn’t covered that she’d like to touch on, as our conversation reaches its close. The TIFF publicist chaperoning our interview is quick to interject with a reminder that both Wavelengths and the Cinematheque are celebrating big anniversaries this year (the former, its tenth; the latter, its twentieth) and that it is very important for me to mention this (so there it is). But Picard, by this time, is less direct, her mind wandering in realms of images and ideas.
“Just that I’m always discovering,” she responds. “Not only is there so much [great work] being made right now, so much has been made. And we go back to the canon often, but if you dig around, there are so many discoveries to be made—so many undergrounds that we don’t know about—and those moments are really beautiful too. To be able to discover is probably one of the most beautiful things about this job.”
The 2010 programme of TIFF’s Wavelengths series will be announced later this summer. TIFF Cinematheque runs year-round; schedules and tickets can be found here.
Photos by Miles Storey/Torontoist.
This article originally said that Picard “recommends frequenting the Cinematheque, like she did, as a student, long before becoming its programmer.” Picard is one of Cinematheque’s programmers, but not the programmer.