Remembering Peter Steven
By Michael Baker
It was with sadness that FHASS learned over the winter holiday of the passing of our retired colleague, Peter Steven (1950-2023). Peter arrived to Sheridan in 2007 and was a Professor of Film Studies until his retirement in 2021.
Peter and I only knew each other from a distance before I arrived to Sheridan, though we were familiar with each other’s work, and he was twice on my hiring committee — but that’s a story for another day. We became fast friends when comparing screening lists for our courses and recognized a kindred spirit in each other. He mentored me upon my arrival, and we worked closely with one another as we revised the existing film studies curriculum and developed new courses which we felt served the needs of our students.
Peter was well-liked both within and without FHASS, and his contributions to Sheridan were many. From his time spent shepherding the academic quality of the institution’s programs on various committees and subcommittees, to his organization of community-focused events like Film for Thought, Home Movie Day, and so many others, Peter not only made a positive impact on students and curriculum but underscored the importance of Humanities education within the college context and the broader community.
We had many lunches and chats over coffee about our experiences in the classroom, the difficulty of teaching films with various degrees of cultural and political specificity to mixed audiences of students, and the need to challenge them and their understanding of the world by way of the materials we chose to bring into the classroom. We shared a love of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, Willie Dunn’s The Ballad of Crowfoot, and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir and worked together to make the film studies curriculum global in its orientation and diverse in its representation.
What many people did not know is that Peter arrived to Sheridan as something of a low-key star within the larger context of Canadian film and media studies. Graduating as he did with a PhD from Northwestern University’s film program in 1982, he was part of a cohort of scholars, makers, and activists that fundamentally shaped the trajectory of the discipline’s commitment to exploring the political and ideological dimensions of cinema. His stewardship of the pioneering film journal, Jump Cut Magazine, still resonates to this day and the publication remains on the leading edge of leftist, feminist, anti-imperialist analyses of the moving image. On the basis of his forty-plus year involvement with Jump Cut alone, Peter Steven’s name will continue to ring out across the discipline.
Shifting his focus to independent film distribution for much of the 80s and 90s before arriving to the world of scholarly and political publishing through the 90s and early aughts, Peter was at the centre of ensuring the political and activist potential of film and video remained at the forefront of the discipline. These passions shaped his personal life, too. He was an advocate for the rights of refugees both in his hometown of Toronto and across Canada through the Helping Hearts and Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture initiatives, an advocate for adult literacy by way of the Parkdale Project Read program, and he maintained his leftist commitments through to his final days.
However, film and political activist were only two of his passions. Peter loved music, sailing, cycling, good food, and a cold beer — by nearly every measure, he lived life to the fullest and was beloved by his family and friends. Sheridan is, quite frankly, a lesser place in Peter’s absence, but our loss pales to that experienced by those who called him family. We here in FHASS send our heartfelt condolences to Peter’s family and move forward carrying his memory as a blessing.