I’ve been a film fan since early childhood. Fast-forward to now, I still love movies and over the past year, I’ve come to appreciate one of Calgary’s local treasures that, thanks to the pandemic, is no longer a local-in-seats event but a streamed-farther and wider distribution/export from Calgary – a film festival focused on a Vision: guiding an age positive cultural shift, and a Mission: through film and film-based events, we offer an entertaining and educational experience that redefines the narrative around aging.
Meeting people and getting to know them is sometimes a chicken-egg kind of sequence that leaves me confused about what came first with what came next – this is one of those weavings. Along this path of meeting her until now, I did this interview with Mitzi and have had many interactions with her since; this interview is a bit of a hybrid, with a few tweaks. Suffice to say, this lady had a dream, and she has had an impact.
I first met Mitzi Murray, Executive Director of the THIRD ACTion Film Festival, last August, introduced by my friend June Read, THIRD ACTion board chair - because June believed Mitzi would be an excellent interview subject for FACILITYCalgary. She was right.
But there was more!
Along the way, I was invited to join the board of THIRD ACTion, where I happily now serve along with a great group of volunteer board members.
And the timing, waiting to publish this interview now, seems apropos because this weekend, Friday – Sunday, June 11 – 13, is the 2021 THIRD ACTion Film Festival; films, times/tickets/passes. Check it out!
Now, let me tell you the Mitzi Murray story …
Born in Zweibruken, Germany – a NATO Air Base, she describes herself as a military brat who returned to Canada at age two, getting her K-12 education in Shilo and Winnipeg. Mom and dad were both from Saskatchewan - they met in Quebec. Mitzi and her siblings, brother and sister, were raised in Shilo and Winnipeg. A straight-A student at Sturgeon Creek Collegiate, she was accepted by the University of Manitoba but didn’t go.
Mitzi opted instead for a career in the hospitality industry – starting at a 4-star hotel in Minaki, ON, then a two-year program in Hospitality Management at Red River College, and later, hospitality industryc career steps in Banff, Winnipeg, Minaki, Banff Park Lodge and the Rimrock Hotel. She described some stops along with that career-path movement as ‘following a boyfriend.’ But, as she told the story, she was also following a dream or two.
She met her future husband (Michell Apolon, they married in 2005) at the Rimrock. She thrived and loved hospitality industry work but wanted out of the world of one-off ‘transactional interactions.’
And reminding me, as if I wasn’t already convinced, “I’m a people person.”
Mitzi’s next moves no doubt set the stage for running a corporation, gaining corporate governance and honing administrative skills in start-up corporations and regulatory compliance in Calgary, and then hit her stride working in administration in the Bachelor of Health Sciences program in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary as a program manager and working in the office of the Associate Dean of Education.
Then, a year we might all envy – one year of ‘early retirement’ to travel the world (Miami, Spain, Turkey, Jordan, Cornwall, southern France, and Haiti) before returning to Calgary, where Mitzi found work, and a passion for concrete, in the flooring industry. “I get very excited about everything I do.”
And then everything changed.
Mitzi was recruited by Revera to work in sales at The Edgemont, but ended up at Chateau Renoir where she got seriously and passionately engaged in dealing with older adults, where she found the world of the retirement housing industry opened her eyes and engaged her mind to do so much more. Her idea, to create a film festival celebrating aging!
She found her initiatives weren’t gaining traction at Revera, she left their employ ...
She began the steps to establish THIRD ACTion as her not-for-profit dream beginning in 2017. That lead to the formation of the THIRD ACTion Film Festival – the name inspired by a TED Talk by Jane Fonda, doing so much in the ‘third act of life.’ Was it to be a charity, a business, a not-for-profit – “I was impatient, wanted to start it as a charity, but that takes time, and I wanted to launch the first festival in 2018, so it’s a lot like crossing a bridge while building it … ”
So, what is it? “It’s a 2 ½ day festival. It began in Calgary, but through streaming technology, our patrons can view our festival across Canada. We are one of five festivals in the world focused on ageing. We show films and have talks from recognized experts – to help people better understand and celebrate aging – to share knowledge and to celebrate resiliency.”
She explained that some films are ‘marquee’ showings – feature-length films with high entertainment value too, while others are re-cast shorter films, more documentary in nature, accompanied by speakers and Q+A sessions. The demographic is 55+, but the film audience is better described as 45+ - with substantial interest because so many people with aging parents are looking for resources to them to better understand issues and the reality of aging while thriving. Or is that thriving while aging? “Both!”
Why are you successful? “I’m doing something I love, and I’m loved. I live by the notion: she believed she could, so she did.”
What has held you back? “I’m sometimes my own worst roadblock and critic. Self-doubt has caused me to quit things or not pursue things … but not so much anymore.”
How do you see your business – a film festival that advocates for older adults – going forward over the next quarter?
… we found we could do it even better; our COVID-era streaming for our delayed 2020 festival (Oct 23-25/20) demonstrated we can build a broader audience more quickly than our traditional people-in-seats. So we’ve been very busy preparing for the new festival, getting some new board members and volunteers on-boarded, implementing our recently adopted Strategic Plan, growing our message, and growing our audience.
And over the next five years?
… the film festival will have more films, and I’ve had plans to take the festival to other places, but our COVID innovations and streaming are making that easier/quicker for us. Possibly working with and sharing with other small film festivals to leverage our learning.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I’m a bit of an analysis freak – but I’ve learned to live very intuitively, and that drives my choices. I’m a people person, not likely to switch quickly or easily, because loyalty matters. I want to work with people I like.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Mitzi Murray and THIRD ACTion, why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… people acknowledge that I’m a hard worker, dedicated – and driven, and perhaps some sort of charm, something people like.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I have always been taught that roles and titles aren’t always necessary – it’s about working together that gets the best result, I work with a lot of volunteers, a volunteer board, and contractors – I try to empower everyone.
… don’t have it. I’ve never had it – but I have a very understanding husband.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… family. Mom’s dementia. Dad, going through the difficulties of aging. And I worry about the film festival – the challenges of continuing growth in heft, growth of audience, working through COVID-times …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… when I was at the Banff Park Lodge, Frank Denouden taught me to carry for my own causes and passion – because nobody else will. My work in corporate compliance at Future Link was a steep learning curve – but has prepared me so well for skills I need today.
… kayaking, knit, read, work on my film festival, watch movies!
What do you read?
… books, not devices; sci-fi and fantasy for entertainment. My work reading is divided between reading and watching films.
FACILITYCalgarynewsletters may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without prior written permission. All rights reserved. PLANDflex Corporation - http://plandflex.com