For most, high school is an awkward time where you can’t really seem to find yourself, but for Justine Stevens it was a time of true self-discovery. She was never good at subjects like math, history or even writing, but a Grade 10 film class changed her life forever.
“I’ve always liked telling stories,” Stevens says, “but I wasn’t the best writer in English class and it wasn’t until I took film studies in Grade 10 that I was like, ‘Oh this is how I can tell stories.’”
“It made me realize that all these different parts of my brain could just click together, and it was fun and something I was fairly good at,” she adds. “I liked telling people stories and [film] was a good medium for me to do that.”
Justine carried her love of filmmaking throughout high school, even practicing and working on her skills at home. Immediately after she graduated she started taking jobs in the industry to try and gain experience.
Calgary’s film and television industry was very welcoming to Justine as she did a lot of documentary work with organizations like Shaw TV. Stevens loved Calgary, but knew that if she wanted to learn more she would have to spread her wings and leave the nest.
She developed the majority of her skills while attending the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus, followed by attending the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
After graduation she came back to the place where she grew up to seek inspiration from the mountains.
“I love Calgary as a city and I love the mountains, so that was a big part of it, and family being here was a big part of it as well.”
However, Stevens finds inspiration from more than just her surroundings. Her inspiration comes from inspiring others, or seeing a change in someone's life.
She first started to notice this after the creation of the web series The Girls Guide — a project aimed at helping kids discover and feel normal about their sexuality.
“The coolest part is I still get messages from people who discovered it on YouTube saying, ‘Thank you for making this content. Seeing someone like myself has made me accept my sexuality or (at) least I'm not alone even if I can’t come out to my family,’” Stevens says.
“So if it can make an impact and have someone feel better about their sexuality and who they are, what more could you ask for really?”
In recent years, Justine has concentrated her energy towards her film production company Spindle Films, focusing mainly on corporate videos. However, Spindle Films is only a small chapter of Justine Stevens’ story.
She is gearing up to start the next part of her journey towards her true passion, directing. To do so Stevens is headed for Toronto to push herself farther.
“I've been in Toronto, I’ve really been trying to push myself as a director, and so with the opportunities I've been getting it just seemed like the right next step.” Stevens is quick to defend her home city however, saying that nothing beats the Rockies but it was just time for her to move on.
“I think Calgary is an amazing place. The production value of the mountains and the Prairies is insane but I just think there are more opportunities in Toronto for me at this stage in my career,” Stevens says.
A guiding force in Justine’s life has always been fear; If she is not terrified then the chance is not worth it. Fear is what pushed her to become a director, to create edgy content and ultimately move to Toronto.
“I think when you go out of that ‘comfort box’ that people talk about is when the best work happens, because you are pushing yourself and if I was just content with where I was, then I think I would be very bored.”
Justine Stevens will never stop striving for greatness, pushing herself to do more and creating genuinely unique works of art that aim to inspire everyone, including herself.
“In five years I see myself constantly making movies that I care about. Because although I wouldn't turn down a movie with a big budget, that is not what it is about for me.”
- By Mackenzie Jaquish