LA consulate’s culture guru bowing out
Roz Wolfe is retiring after 33 and a half years of talking up Canada in Tinseltown.
Published: Wednesday, 02/18/2015 12:00 am EST
So many Canadian diplomats toil in obscurity at Fort Pearson. Roz Wolfe is not one of them.
After 33 and a half years working for Canada’s consulate general in Los Angeles, California, she has made a bit of a name for herself in media and film circles. She’s known to help reporters when they come to Tinseltown. And she’s developed relationships with Canadian talent like David Steinberg and Norman Jewison—not to mention some of the famous faces that have come through the consulate’s door as consuls general over the years. She’s served 10, including former prime minister Kim Campbell and Colin Robertson.
Effervescent and enthusiastic about Canadian culture, she’s perhaps the perfect fit in her job as senior communications and advocacy officer at the consulate general. There will be big shoes to fill when she retires at the end of this month.
Ms. Wolfe, 61, still remembers the day she started: Sept. 23, 1981.
Having graduated from Concordia University in her hometown of Montreal and pursuing further studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, she and her husband decided to skip the sub-zero life for palm trees in California. She taught at Pepperdine University and later worked as a legislative analyst for then-LA mayor Tom Bradley and city council.
She was late to discover the vacant job in the consulate and officials were ready to give it to someone else. Deciding to work there, she said in a phone interview last week, was “the best decision I ever made.” Although she is Canadian, she is not a foreign service officer who rotates from post to post. She works as a locally engaged staff member of the consulate, which has a staff of about 62.
She started primarily as a media relations officer, trying to get Canada on the front page of the LA Times (for good things, of course). That part of the job has put her in close contact with Canadian bureau chiefs in the region and reporters passing through, journalists like Martin Knelman with the Toronto Star and Keith Boag with CBC TV.
Her job evolved into more cultural industry work, including revamping a talent directory that listed more than 2,000 Canadian actors, actresses, producers and others working in Hollywood. She realized an updated online version was needed when studios kept calling her and sending someone to fetch her Xerox copy from 1984.
Mr. Robertson, consul general from 2000 to 2004, said the talent guide, which was meant to match Canadians to productions in Canada, was a great success.
She also waged a victorious campaign (and campaign it was, Mr. Robertson recalled) to win Quebec’s Denys Arcand Canada’s first best-foreign-language Oscar in 2004 for his film, Barbarian Invasions.
Ms. Wolfe said half the job is getting the film in the can, and the other half is getting the word out: having screenings, getting the foreign-language committee members to see it, doing interviews and influencing potential voters.
“[Roz] has the best network of any diplomatic officer I have met, and to know her is to admire her for her energy and enthusiasm and ability to get it done,” wrote Mr. Robertson in an emailed statement last week. “She sets the standard for locally engaged officers around the world without whom no [foreign service officer] will be successful. And she is one of the most decent and giving human beings it has been my pleasure to meet.”
She’s also had to stick-handle some thorny issues over time, including that of “runaway productions,” in which films intended for first release or broadcast in the United States were being filmed in Canada, lured in by what critics said were cheaper, subsidized production costs. Some blamed a drop in LA productions on Canada.
Film is not just a day-job issue for Ms. Wolfe. She’s also a member of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. She spends her spare time watching foreign films (the German film Downfall is one of her favourites).
In her retirement, she said she hopes to work on more film award campaigns and on work with veterans and their families, such as through Wounded Warriors Canada, a non-profit that helps Canadian Armed Forces members who have been injured on the job.
She’s even toying with writing a book, which she’s already titled Locally Engaged, about her experiences in the diplomatic bubble.
After 33 years in the game, she has built up a bit of advice for the newbie diplomat: “Through relationships, everything else comes.”
Diplomacy is about getting to know people, what makes them tick, what makes them happy, asking about their spouses and knowing them meaningfully on a personal level. That kind of trust helps build networks that can be called upon when needed.
One well-known relationship Ms. Wolfe helped spark is between Ms. Campbell, the former PM, and her now-husband Hershey Felder. Ms. Wolfe doesn’t take credit as matchmaker, but she played a small role in bringing the two together while Ms. Campbell was consul general.
Mr. Felder, a musician and actor, was doing a play in LA’s west side and called up the consulate to let them know. He and Ms. Wolfe bonded over their commonalities (they’re both from Montreal’s Jewish community). She invited him to meet Ms. Campbell. The two met at her residence in the mid-1990s. Ms. Wolfe wasn’t there, but “apparently there were lightning bolts” because the two hit it off.
See also CBC documentary about the campaign for Denys Arcand’s Oscar
It’s Hollywood’s biggest night. The Academy Awards are the most important awards in the entertainment industry and one of the biggest TV events in the world. The stars strut down the red carpet in their finest in anticipation of seeing who’ll take home the coveted golden statuette — the Oscar. Since the awards were first handed out in 1929, Canada has enjoyed an impressive track record. CBC Archives pays tribute to a handful of Canadians whose Oscar recognition reverberated back home.
Program: The National Magazine
Broadcast Date: Feb. 27, 2004
Guest(s): Denys Arcand, Norman Jewison, Richard Stursberg, Roz Wolfe, Colin Robertson
Reporter: Sandra Abma
Credit: Barbarian Invasions: Cinémaginaire Inc.
Nomination footage: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.