French Film Festival celebrates 25th anniversary in Richmond

Richmond’s streets were filled with the presence of French flags, celebrities and filmmakers as the annual French Film Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary from Monday March 27 through Sunday April 2.

The Festival was founded by husband-wife duo Peter and Françoise Kirkpatrick in 1993 and is the largest festival of French film outside of the European country itself. This years festival featured a 78-member delegation, 14 feature-films, 11 short-films and 14 symposiums.

Every year, VCUarts Cinema students are heavily involved in filming the festival. While in previous years VCU students were solely responsible for filming interviews with the filmmakers, for the 25th anniversary they put in a bit more work.

In addition to the interviews, the crew of about 25 students filmed all the symposiums, Q&A sessions following all of the films, awards and closing ceremonies and a handful of “special

Byrd Theater hosts the 25th Annual French Film Festival

events” throughout the weekend.

This year’s festival was divided into two parts: Monday through Wednesday were lecture-style symposiums at the University of Richmond’s Ukrop Auditorium and VCU’s Grace Street Theater with each day focusing on a specific topic. For the second portion, films were shown Thursday through Sunday at the Byrd Theater.

Monday was dedicated to Humanitarian efforts in film, with several speakers presenting their research and work, including Professor Nicole Brenez who presented on the role of cinema in empowering formerly colonized subject. She discussed the works of Clément-Marie Bazin, (JUMP) who created paintings on Central and West African cultures and history.

The future of film and technology was discussed on Tuesday with one of the many lectures led by Stéphan Fauteux, who discussed whether or not cinema would benefit from virtual reality.

For Ashley Johnson, who attended various events throughout the week, Tuesday’s symposium was the most exciting.

“I’ve enjoyed a lot of the films, but learning about the technology transition in the film industry and how the choices to film one way or another is a debate in itself was intriguing,” Johnson said. “We see the final result and forget that it isn’t just, Let’s film something great!”

Wednesday ended the symposium series with a focus on the role of music in filmmaking which included the screening of, “In tracks of Bruno Coulais.”

Bruno Coulais was the composer for the film, “Coraline” which played Friday evening. Coulais and the film’s director Henry Selick worked in conjuction on the project.

Director Henry Selick, left, and Music composer, Bruno Coulais, right , worked on the 2009 film “Coraline”

Coulais told the French Film Festival, “A composer has to meet directors halfway, and enter their universe without abandoning his own.”

Thursday evening showcased Stéphanie Gillard’s “The Ride” as the first feature length film of the festival. The documentary followed members of the Lakota Sioux Native American tribe as they make an annual 300-mile trek across South Dakota to honor their ancestors who were massacred at Wounded Knee in 1890.

During the Q&A session, Gillard noted that many films about Native Americans focus heavily on socioeconomics struggles.

“I was aware of these issues, but I wanted to tell their stories,” Gillard said. “I spent time with (the tribe) , I got to know them and I knew there was more than just these situations.”

Before the film-screening, Peter Kirkpatrick announced that Richmond would host its inaugural film festival about Native Americans – “Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival” this year from Nov. 17 to 19 in conjunction with Native American actors and filmmakers, Chris Eyer, George Aguilar and Georgina Lightning,

“This is a subject that all of us as Americans need to embrace,” Peter Kirkpatrick said. “It’s about a conversation that we never had 400 years ago.” He then acknowledged members of Virginia’s several Native American tribes present in the audience.

This inclusive message was represented throughout the film festival with the diverse range of films shown.

“It isn’t just about French people and it isn’t just for adults” said long-time Richmond resident, Gary Steely. “It’s about a French tradition of filmmaking used to tell many stories so it’s not stuffy or traditional in anyway. ”

The film “Himalaya, l’enfance d’un chef”, or “Himalayan Childhood”, by Eric Valli is a fictional movie based on the dangerous annual track made by people living in the Himalayas from Tibet to Nepal to mine prized Pink Himalayan salt in exchange for grain.Sticking to an international theme, “Le Peuple Migrateur,” further explored nature when directors Jacques Perrin, Michel Debats and Jacques Cluzaud filmed the migration of birds in all seven continents over the span of three years.

Vincent Glenn’s film, “Finally, good news,” does take place in France. In the film a fictional Glenn becomes a social media platform billionaire who replaces the GDP index in favor of a “Vigi index” using an app that rates companies not solely on profit, but on environmentally-friendly policies and workplace fairness. It explores and pros and cons of a technology-based-upheaval of traditional systems.

Similarly, the film, “Rock’n’Roll…Of Corse!” takes place between London and Paris and focuses on famed guitarist and singer Henry Padovani, who was raised in francophone Algeria and Corsica. Padovani details his career from first joining The Police in 1976 to the release of his first solo-debut album À croire que c’était pour la vie (2007) and his strong, constant presence on the evolution of Rock n’ Roll since the “Punk” era of the 1970s and early 1980s.

After the film screening, Padovani answered a Q&A and performed a concert to a packed crowd.

The most anticipated event of the festival was the “Magic Lantern Show” by the Cinémathèque Français. Cinémathèque Français is a long-time partner of the French Film Festival and represented most of the the French delegation.

The show consists of a series of glass-stained slides creating images which are projected onto the walls as moving images. It was made during the 17th century and not only was the world’s first projection but also was a precursor to cinema as we know it. The arrival of the “Magic Lantern” in Richmond marks the first time it has left France since the 17th century.

The line for the “Magic Lanterns” snaked down Cary St., but people didn’t seem to mind despite the chilling weather.The he excitement was nearly-tangible among the mix of adults, college students and children.

“It’s cool to know that Richmond has an international presence,” VCU student Kenya Williams said. “If this has been around for 25 years, imagine where the festival will be in few decades.”


Siona Peterous, Spectrum Editor

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