November 01, 2011
With stints as actor, manager, producer and now film festival director,
Jody Kielbasa (Class of 1980) has had a 25-year career that is tough to summarize. It’s been an accomplished and star-studded couple of decades for the former Rollins history major who later earned a B.F.A. in theatre and M.F.A. in acting from Florida State University. Career highlights include spending a decade in Los Angeles working as a professional actor, founding the award-winning Tamarind Theatre in Hollywood where he produced more than 100 plays, and completing a 10-year appointment as executive director of the Sarasota Film Festival (SFF), which resulted in record-breaking attendance, recognition as one of the best film festivals in North America and the festival’s extension from three days to ten.
This year marks Kielbasa’s third year as director of the Virginia Film Festival (November 3-6), a highly acclaimed regional festival presented by the University of Virginia. Kielbasa has been credited for massive increases in attendance and sponsorship, the unveiling of new community programming, and for bringing an array of high-profile guests to the 24-year festival, including actor Matthew Broderick and director Norman Jewison.
Having started a professional acting career right out of college, what advice do you have for any current students pondering an acting career after graduation?
My advice to any actors thinking about a career as an actor is to get a sense of who you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are as an actor, and then think about what type of career you would like to have. That process will help point you in a direction, perhaps even a coast, to move toward. Finally, learn everything you can about the business. Learn every aspect of theater, television and film, not just acting, but behind the scenes. It led me to producing and a career that has given me a great sense of enjoyment and accomplishment over the years.
You’ve played a lot of different roles in show business – actor, producer, manager – through the years. Which role are you most passionate about and why?
Without a doubt, I enjoy being a producer much more than my prior work as an actor or manager. I consider myself to be a producer and that my work as a film festival director is really producing a large event or show. Interestingly enough, I still rely on my training as an actor because I am the spokesperson for the Film Festival and am fairly consistently interviewed on television or radio or called upon to address large crowds.
November 3 marks your third year as director of the Virginia Film Festival. What are you most anticipating about this year’s festival?
I'm really looking forward to the launch of our new film program "Turner Classic Movies and the Library of Congress Celebrates the National Film Registry" hosted by TCM's Ben Mankiewicz. This is a one-of-a-kind program with five great classic films. One of the selections is Badlands followed by a conversation with Sissy Spacek and Jack Fisk. National Velvet, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The General, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre round out the series and all will be shown at the Paramount Theater, a beautifully restored classic movie palace that opened in 1931.
How did you make the leap from the acting world to the film festival world?
I left acting behind when I opened a small, live professional theater in Hollywood, California. I thought the theater would provide an opportunity for me to showcase my acting talents, but I quickly learned I was running a business and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed producing theater, pulling together the creative teams and running the show. I found myself not having the time to act, and I never really missed it. I eventually moved back to Florida where I was hired as a managing director and then producing artistic director of American Stage in St. Petersburg before being tapped to serve as the founding executive director of the Sarasota Film Festival.
Is there any particular Rollins production you participated in that stands out in your memory as being particularly influential on your training?
The most influential Rollins College production was a show that I did not act in or work on. I organized and led the demonstration for Equus in 1979 when the College and its trustee/lawyer originally threatened to shut the performance down because of the nudity. I discovered that the lawyer was citing an outdated ordinance that said there could be no nudity or representation of nudity within the city limits of Winter Park.
Of course, that meant that every art textbook, the Cornell Museum, and every student who took a shower was breaking the law. I called a Rollins College Town Hall meeting to address the students and called on President Seymour to fire the school lawyer and let the show go on. He did the right thing and did just that. Of course, we marched on City Hall and I read a proclamation to the city manager. It was funny because there was a nude statue in front of City Hall that was in violation of the city ordinance. Some of the girls from the Annie Russell clothed the statue in bra and panties to protest. It was all a tempest in a teapot, but it got me committed to the arts for life.
What has been the hardest but most rewarding thing you’ve ever done?
The hardest, but by far the most rewarding thing, I have ever done is being a father to my three children Juliet (3), Luke (6), and Camille (9). Of course, it's also the most fun and sometimes the easiest thing to do as well, but I always feel like I should be doing more and that I should be better at it. It's the most important role I will ever play in my life and also the most enjoyable.