By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD
“Everything that I’ve started is an exercise in building a city that allows my children to think that this is a place they could come back to and live in.”
Those are interesting words coming from Gregory Kallenberg, who recently joined me for an incredible lunch at Frank’s Pizza Napoletana.
This is the same person who, when he left Shreveport in 1986, said he had no intention of ever coming back to his hometown.
And why would he? After graduating from the University of Texas and then attending the film production program at the University of Southern California, he became an award-winning film director and producer.
His talent and success in film and writing led him all over the world – Los Angeles, London, New York, Dallas, to name a few — and allowed him to choose anywhere he wanted to settle down and raise a family.
Prior to filmmaking, Kallenberg wrote for Esquire, The New York Times, Texas Monthly, Austin American Statesman’s XL magazines and other publications.
He and wife Heidi – a Texas native – made their home in Austin, where they had their two children and lived for 15 years.
“When I left here in 1986, I swore I would never come back,” he says.
Kallenberg did come back to Shreveport, but that was only occasionally to work on “Haynesville,” a documentary film he produced and directed. He would spend a few weeks here working on the film, then return to Austin.
Then, in 2008, something “drove” him to return home to stay.
Rather, someone “drove” him back to Shreveport.
“My grandmother, Betty Phillips, was still alive and I was super close with her,” explains Kallenberg. “That was the big driver in my coming back – my grandmother being alive and well. And I wanted my kids to know their grandparents (Sandi and Jeffrey Kallenberg).”
Still, Kallenberg wasn’t sure he would stay.
“When I got here, I’m not sure I liked it,” he says of the decision. “I wasn’t an easy person to be around the first 18 months I was here. I didn’t like the pace here. I was super cantankerous. Everything I know now I don’t think I knew at the time.
“But I’ll tell you who knew – my wife Heidi.”
Heidi, a schoolteacher (the two met when Gregory went to speak to her class), had never lived outside of her home state. For the Texas native, there was something special about Shreveport.
And Kallenberg would find out just how special it was to his wife.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever told this,” he begins, “but there was an interesting moment when something happened.”
A friend calls from Austin telling Kallenberg he has a directing job for him – a documentary about the building of the Formula One track in the state capital.
“That same week, I get a call from the guy who bought our house in Austin,” says Kallenberg. “He’s been relocated and is willing to sell our house back at the same price we had bought it. I had a job making a film in Austin, which was my dream. The old house, which Heidi loved, is for sale.
“The Fates were telling me something, right?”
In almost “cartoon-like fashion,” Kallenberg goes home excited about the opportunity.
“I’m throwing clothes in a suitcase when Heidi says, ‘What are you doing?’
“I told her, ‘We’re going home!’ Then she stopped me in my tracks.”
“Don’t you feel like you are home?” she said. “The things you rail against and bitch about – you’re not really seeing what’s in this town. There are really nice people here and they really seem to care about us.”
Kallenberg calls it a mini pep talk that changed him “in the sense that it opened my mind to start looking around me.”
What he saw was the opportunity to help build the kind of community where his children would want to return and live. His mission to transform Northwest Louisiana into a hotbed of innovative people and companies accomplishing incredible things began with the creation of the award-winning Louisiana Film Prize – a film competition and festival where filmmakers are invited to Shreveport and Bossier City to create short films.
When he first moved back to Shreveport, Kallenberg was approached by Mayor Cedric Glover about bringing a film festival like Austin’s South by Southwest to this area.
“I immediately told him, ‘That’s impossible. Shreveport will never support it,’” Kallenberg recalls of his response to Glover.
He then set out to prove himself wrong.
And, boy, has he succeeded.
Started by Kallenberg in 2012, the Film Prize Foundation – which now includes Louisiana Film Prize, Startup Prize, Music Prize, Food Prize, Fashion Prize, Comedy Prize, Film Prize Junior, and Taco Wars – has not only generated millions of dollars in positive impact for Northwest Louisiana but it has put Shreveport-Bossier City on the map as a destination for entrepreneurs, artists, and dreamers.
“There is so much good here,” Kallenberg says of his hometown, “and the good is embedded in the people. This place has a magical quality that is unlike any other place I’ve ever lived or visited.”
Yep, the place to which he swore he would never return.
That’s just one part of Kallenberg – the one he calls “Film Prize Gregory.” Next week, find out about “Rational Gregory” in Part II of this “Lunch with Harriet” feature.