As Nashville continues to change, there are few sacred spots that remain constants in the city’s fabric. The Belcourt Theatre is one. Despite its 2016 reopening, with a brand new lobby and updated bathrooms, its mission remains the same: to engage, enrich and educate through innovative film programming in their historic theater, their community and beyond. One person manifesting this mission is The Belcourt Theatre’s Executive Director, Stephanie Silverman. Stephanie joined the theater’s team in 2007, and her dedication to this cultural institution is apparent to all who know her. If you haven’t already, meet Stephanie Silverman, today’s FACE of Nashville!
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska – the daughter of a symphony musician turned lawyer and family therapist. The arts were always a big part of our lives – my sister and I were at symphony concerts from a very early age. When I was younger I trained as a performer; as I entered the work world, I realized there was a rich and interesting career path in working for arts organizations, and I’ve been doing that ever since.
What drew you to the world of film?
Honestly, it was the job at the Belcourt. I have a degree in acting and have always loved movies, but I’d been more of your typical moviegoer before working at the Belcourt. My taste in movies always had a solid lean towards independents and documentaries, though. I wouldn’t have guessed my professional life would have brought me to the movies in this way but having started my arts administration career in contemporary dance, I’ve found lots of similarities around how you communicate with audiences and create a welcoming environment for sometimes challenging content. Like the work of great dance companies, our films tell important stories and are helmed by world-class artists who demonstrate remarkable craft and technique — but it takes institutions like the Belcourt to make the introduction, to serve as the bridge between the audience and the artists.
As the Belcourt Theatre’s Executive Director, what does your list of responsibilities entail?
I am responsible for the overall operations of the theater and, along with our excellent board of directors, the longer-term strategic direction. I work with an amazing group of colleagues who program the films, create education and engagement programs, raise funds, market everything we do and take fantastic care of our patrons.
What are the biggest challenges in your role?
The biggest challenges are very much reflective of the times we live in. As an institution, we want to make sure we are intentional in putting the underrepresented work of women and people of color on our screens, as well as making sure we create space for conversation about the unique challenges those communities face in the world of filmmaking. We also work in a sector with lots of interrupters. From streaming services to new admission models, we have to be responsive and agile to absorb and respond to new outlets based on their impact on our organization and their impact on our field.
What role does the Belcourt play in the Nashville community?
As a community based, mission-driven film center we are certainly a convenor; we’re a place you can come see remarkable filmmaking that makes you think, makes you laugh, moves you. We’re a place you can learn — you can take a class, participate in a post-screening discussion, dive into a world you didn’t know about before you sat in a dark theater. Though we all have more and varied access to films than we did a decade ago, it’s not all about access. Going to the movies is a way to engage with humanity, to have a shared experience. A film center like the Belcourt allows you to do that with a group, with a partner or just all by yourself.
It is hard to believe it has been two years since the Belcourt’s “reopening.” How do you see the Belcourt changing in the future?
The Belcourt will keep doing what we do best: programming great films and showing them in an environment that celebrates filmmakers and film lovers alike. Inside that work, we will continue to focus on bringing the work and stories of women and people of color to our screens. We’ll continue to grow our education and engagement programs, adding more discussions, classes and filmmaker conversations.
What is a recently seen movie you can’t stop talking about?
The documentary RBG about Ruth Bader Ginsburg is just fantastic.
Are there any upcoming screenings you are particularly excited about?
Won’t You Be My Neightbor, the documentary about Mr. Rogers, is one everyone should come to see. It opens at The Belcourt on June 15. Bring your tissues …
What goes into selecting a film?
The Belcourt’s film programming is driven by our programming director Toby Leonard. Toby watches everything that goes on the Belcourt’s screens. He goes to some of the major film festivals every year, including Sundance and the Toronto Film Festival, and then watches hours and hours of films via screener links week in and week out to bring the best films to Nashville.
As a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
There was a brief veterinarian moment, but I think that was just because I loved stuffed animals so much. From there, it was always something in the arts. I played the violin and have a degree in acting but love the work I get to do now. I’m not sure I could have anticipated this path, which is something I tell young people who are looking for lives in creative fields. There are lots of directions to go, you just have to get on the path and start walking.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received and from whom?
I’m not so good at pinpointing one piece of advice that’s hung with me, but my parents both taught me the key lessons of doing what you love and taking your own route.
Where can we find you when you aren’t working?
I love being at home, so right now, you’d likely find me working outside in our garden or in the kitchen.
What books are currently on your bedside table?
I’m in the middle of The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer but recently finished the remarkable memoir Educated by Tara Westover just before and am recommending it to everyone.
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Name three things you cannot live without (excluding faith, family and friends).
Morning coffee, good recipes and our screened in back porch (swapped for a fireplace in the winter).
Thank you, Stephanie. And thank you to Ashley Hylbert for the beautiful photos.
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