To start, we’d love to know where your love of film came from. Have you always had a passion for the moving image?
According to Jean-Luc Godard, cinema is an escape from reality. I always feel as though I'm living in a movie. My emotions often recall film clips that magically reappear in my memory. When it rains, I feel like I’m in a Jean Pierre Melville film, and when the weather is sunny, I sing along to the music of Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. Cinema has been an important backdrop to my life since my childhood.
You took on the role of artistic director of the Alliance Française French Film Festival last year – what are some goals you’ve set for your tenure in the position?
I would like to continue to offer Australian audiences the very best of French cinema and to demonstrate the vast diversity of films made in France, along with the French diaspora. Films such as The Man Who Sold His Skin, Arab Blues, Ibrahim, Gargarine, Fahim, the Little Chess Prince and Small Country: an African Childhood are just a few great examples of this. I am also keen to ensure that more French female filmmakers receive the recognition they deserve. This year over 20% of our films were made by female directors. Our 2021 line-up also includes a wide selection of films with strong ties to LGBTQ+ communities (Summer of 85, Miss, Little Girl), comedies (Bye, Bye Morons, The Godmother, Antoinette in the Cévennes, The Wedding Speech), historical/political films such as De Gaulle, movies for kids and, of course, films about love (Eiffel, Love Affair(s))! It’s my goal to continue to introduce Australians to the France that they love through its authors, directors and actors, who embody a funny, sparkling, human and sometimes irreverent cinema. I would also like to surprise them, to take them where they didn’t think they could go. I also want to draw the next generation into theatres, to share our stories and creativity, so that they too can recognise themselves and experience the wonder of the world, as to be curious, is to be alive.
Safe to say that running a film festival in 2021 would be more challenging than in previous years. What were some of the hurdles you had to overcome when assembling this year’s program?
With the first lock down, many films had to put their production on hold. Fortunately, during the summer, several shoots resumed and so films like Eiffel could be finished in time for the festival. Because of the closure of theatres and the cancellation of festivals, distributors were a bit reluctant to entrust us with films that could not be presented in France first. We spent many nights reassuring them. We are lucky to have a Festival with a long history, along with a public that loves and respects our cinema. Thus, thanks to the support of Australian and New Zealand distributors, we were able to offer a line-up of 37 films with nine world premieres!
We’d love to know more about the program you’ve assembled. Did you seek to curate the list with an overarching theme in mind or is there anything that you think tethers these films together, conceptually?
I follow my instincts and go with my heart. This year I wanted to propose a journey, especially since most of us cannot travel. I wanted to bring a little bit of the France that we love so much, which seems so far away for the moment. I also wanted to offer a breath of fresh air, and moments where, together, we can all laugh, cry, wonder, and dream in front of a big screen. I watched almost 100 films in France, during the Francophone Film Festival of Angouleme and from preview links – my selections were made naturally.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask for a highlight or two! If you could only pick a couple, which films do you think best represent the magic of contemporary French cinema?
I think Skies of Lebanon is a wonderful film that mixes animation and live actors. The animation is so delicate that it underlines the narration and the acting in a poetic way. It’s a wonderful first film from Chloé Mazlo. I would also say that the techniques of today’s cinema give great tools to directors. In Summer of 85, François Ozon takes us back to the heart of the 80s by shooting in 16mm, while Kaouther Ben Hania in The Man Who Sold His Skin uses light in such a beautiful way to underline the emotion of his character, even from behind.
How do you think more recent films stand up to the classics of French cinema?
I only see the continuation of a work initiated by les Frères Lumières. The fields, counter-fields, camera movements, the possibility of using hand-held cameras, the digital, and the agility therein allows filmmakers to free expression and magnify feelings. The most recent movies are bound to be the classics of tomorrow. Who could have foreseen that La Haine would become a classic?
Even before the events of 2020, the moviegoing experience was an opportunity to forget about the stresses of life. Do you feel the necessity of cinema as a method of escape has become more evident in the wake of recent happenings?
There are two things I notice. Cinema is a way to escape from your daily life, to live someone else’s life for a moment, but also to be able to vibrate in unison in a theatre with other people – often people you don’t know. It is a unique moment of sharing and humanity.
Finally, beyond this year’s program, what is one film you think everyone should watch once in their lifetime?
I am a lover of Claude Sautet’s films therefore I would say Les Choses de la Vie. I adore its every aspect – the long tracking shot at the beginning, the countdown, the moments of light and happiness, the beauty of Romy Schneider, and also the sublime music of Philippe Sarde. I love when cinema portrays elements of life with such tenderness and modesty.
The Alliance Française French Film Festival is now running until Tuesday April 13, with screenings taking place at Palace James Street and Palace Barracks. Click here for session times and tickets.