WHAT. A. BLAST!
Six days, 40 films, and six highly-motivated team members. Without forgetting our “cousins” from the Festival du Film Francophone d’Angoulême, especially co-President Dominique Besnehard. For us, the FFA is our own kind of back to school: summer is–almost–over, let’s prepare next year’s Focus on French Cinema. One plane to Paris, one TGV to the lovely capital of Charente, and here we are!
Our mission–and we chose to accept it–was to see as many films as possible, meet all the actors, directors, producers and other movie professionals we could, and build relationships with partners, to make FFC 2017 even better than the previous festival. We went quickly to the various theaters around town, for movies such as Made in France, Nicolas Boukhrief’s thriller about jihadism in the Parisian suburbs, before a fantastic Opening Night, with the World Premiere of The Odyssey (L’Odyssée), an ambitious and gorgeous biopic about explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, with Lambert Wilson, Pierre Niney and Audrey Tautou. Of course, our own explorer, Luc Hardy (FFC 2015 The Pursuit of Endurance/A la poursuite de l’Endurance), had plenty to share with Mr. Wilson, who played the title character.
After sharing a dinner with French on-screen and on-stage actor Bernard Ménez (who had quite a funny scene with FFC 2016 Guest of Honor Nathalie Baye in François Truffaut’s Night and Day/La Nuit Américaine, by the way), we were up early the next morning to see up to 4 movies per person. One that definitely stuck with us that day is the thriller Toril, with 3-times Cesar Nominee Vincent Rottiers, who took some time to speak with our Communications guru, Marie-José Hunter.
Another extremely powerful movie was My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de courgette), a Swiss animated jewel of a film that is already getting some Oscars buzz… Director Claude Barras was extremely friendly and talkative. While we had separated to share the work, we also enjoyed the following films on that second day:
On Thursday, we got a boost from our very-own yoga teacher and Festival President, Renée Ketcham, who led the group in an energetic session, making sure we remained sharp and focused for another cinematic trek through the hills of the city. If many films caught our attention, one absolutely captivated our hearts and minds: Heaven Will Wait (Le Ciel attendra), by FFC 2015 guest Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar. The movie explores the mechanisms employed by ISIS to recruit teenage girls in western countries, and is already becoming one of the most important films of the year.
We arrived very quickly at the halfway point of the festival, which did not slow down one bit. While our head of Business Development, Laurence Teinturier, and other team members continued meeting with key partners, some of us watched films such as The Stopover (Voir du pays), an extremely interesting look at PTSD among French officers, through the eyes of two female soldiers. The audience also discovered two Lebanese movies that we were proud to have shown in Greenwich a few months earlier: Halal Love and The North Road (La Route du nord), by FFC 2016 Guest Carlos Chahine. We also discovered the latest Xavier Dolan film, It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde), this year’s Cannes Grand Prize Winner, with an amazing cast including FFC 2016 guest Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Gaspard Ulliel. It was also a pleasure to see FFC 2009 guest and French superstar Sophie Marceau, who presented Jailbirds (La Taularde).
A late Friday-night projection featured the brilliant, zany and highly original farce, Open at Night (Ouvert la nuit), by and with Edouard Baer; but Saturday was definitely Comedy Day, a welcome change as by then we had exhausted a good percentage of our intellectual capacity. Wits and smarts were in full display with Il a déjà tes yeux (translation: He Already Looks Like You), a comedy exploring what happens when a black couple adopts a white child, and Odd Job (Un petit bout), by and with Michel Blanc, alongside Romain Duris (who also played in the sensitive post-World War I drama, Ceasefire (Cessez le feu). Les Mauvaises herbes (tr. Bad Weeds), a fabulous comedy from Québec, was not the only great movie from our friends up North.
Indeed, on Sunday, during the Closing Ceremony, two Québécois movies were honored. Les Mauvaises herbes (tr. Bad Weeds) won the Best Screenplay and Audience awards, while 1:54, which tackles the issue of bullying, won the Students’ Jury and Best Actor prizes.
The rest of the Awards go as follows, and we certainly loved them all!
– Best Film: My Life as a Zucchini/Ma vie de courgette (France/Switzerland)
– Best Director: Sacha Wolff, Mercenary/Mercenaire (France)
– Best Actress: Lina El Arabi, Noces, a powerful drama from Belgium, with participation by Luxembourg, Pakistan and France
– Best Actor (co-winner): Sébastien Houbani, Noces
And we saw more wonderful films that we have no space to talk about here…
So, which ones are going to premiere at Focus on French Cinema 2017? Stay tuned for more news, and Save the Dates: Monday, March 27 to Sunday, April 2. The last week of March and first weekend of April will be all about Francophone films next year!
[black and white pictures: credit, (c) Christophe Brachet]