Vancouver International Film Festival founder recognized

Posted: October 9, 2014 3:45 p.m.

Leonard Schein (MA'73)
Leonard Schein (MA'73) Photo: U of R Photography

Leonard Schein built his career in the film industry in Vancouver but the seeds were sown when he was a student at the Regina campus of the University of Saskatchewan.

When Schein moved to Regina, he missed the independent and foreign films he had enjoyed as an undergraduate at Stanford University in California. In Regina, the theatres only showed Hollywood studio movies.

His solution was to start a film club, get use of an auditorium on campus and begin to show the kind of films he missed.  It was his first adventure in showing films, rather than simply being a movie patron.
In Vancouver, where he moved after graduating with a Master of Arts degree in psychology from the University of Regina, the situation repeated itself. There were more theatres but Hollywood movies dominated.

 “After a while, I thought why don’t I open my own movie theatre?” he says. “I’d had some experience in Regina and I enjoyed it.  Why not do it again?”

He purchased the lease to the Ridge Theatre in Kitsilano in 1977, gave up his job teaching psychology and began learning the skills needed to operate a movie theatre, everything from running a cash register to negotiating with movie distributors to popping corn and ordering concession supplies.

It was the beginning of a 35-year career that has seen him play a major role in cinema in Vancouver where he founded the Vancouver International Film Festival and nationally, as he lent his expertise to other major film festivals, and contributed time, money and resources to the community.

Schein is the 2014 recipient of the Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes an individual for a lifetime of achievement, for giving back to society on a regional, national or international basis and for being recognized as a leader in his or her field.

Early in his career, Schein also saw that there was sufficient interest in film in Vancouver to warrant a film festival and founded the Vancouver International Film Festival in 1982.  The Vancouver festival grew quickly and is now the second largest film festival in Canada, with approximately 140,000 admissions, 500 screenings and 341 films from 75 countries in 2013.

Of all his accomplishments, Schein says he is most proud of the film festival because he believes it will survive change.

His impact on the film industry has reached beyond Vancouver, including involvement in film festivals in Toronto and Montreal, the founding of the film distribution company Festival Films in 1989, and founding of Lumiere Cinemas in Ontario in 1997. Most significantly, from 1998 to 2001, he was founder and president of Alliance Atlantis Cinemas, an art/specialty cinema circuit with 32 screens in nine locations across Canada.
For Schein, film is more than entertainment. He sees it as a vehicle for education and cultural understanding because it gives people the opportunity to see what life is actually like in other countries, and to learn more about issues like feminism, racism the anti-war movement and climate change.

In the larger community, the Canadian Cancer Society holds a special place in his philanthropic work because he is a cancer survivor, and has watched several family members battle cancer.

Schein retired in 2013. He is currently working to lead a campaign to raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Centre. The centre, which would be staffed by researchers, along with advocacy and health promotion staff, would be the first of its kind in North America.

Schein will be awarded the Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2014 Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards Dinner on October 22, 2014. For more information about this event visit: