This year’s Focus on French Cinema festival will be screening 20 Francophone films — including six from Quebec — in New York, Stamford and Greenwich (Connecticut) from March 27 to April 2, 2017. Festival president Renée Ketcham talked us through this year’s selection.
France-Amérique: Can you tell us about your decision to showcase Quebecer cinema this year?
Renée Ketcham: Focus on French Cinema is a Francophone festival. Our goal is to offer a platform for films from Francophone countries such as Belgium, Haiti, Senegal and Switzerland. We always attend annual Francophone cinema festivals in Angouleme and Quebec to select the movies we want to screen the following year. Quebecer directors Xavier Dolan [It’s Only the End of the World], Yan England [1:54] and Louis Bélanger [Bad Seeds] won us over with the quality of their work, so much so that we decided to give Quebecer cinema a place in the spotlight.
Yan England’s movie, 1:54, will be screened at a special showing in partnership with the United Nations. Can you tell us why?
The film tells the tragic tale of Tim [Antoine Olivier Pilon, revealed in Xavier Dolan’s Mommy], a 16-year-old high school student driven to suicide after being bullied by his classmates. A similar, true story took place in a high school in Greenwich, when a bullied tenth-grade student, Bart Palosz, took his own life in August 2013. Needless to say, bullying at school is a burning topic. The film 1:54 is part of the Libres Ensemble (“Free Together”) social campaign led by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. The screening will take place on March 30 at the U.N. headquarters in New York, and will be followed by a discussion with a panel of experts.
What role does a festival like Focus on French Cinema play in the promotion of French culture in the United States?
The festival was launched during the “freedom fries” affair in 2004, and aimed to foster understanding between the United States and France. Cinema is an effective tool for reminding Americans that our cultures are complementary. Only a small number of French movies were shown in the U.S.A. a few years ago, but, French and Francophone film festivals are now multiplying in the United States. The future of French cinema is driven by these festivals and by young, American film buffs. And there’s certainly a demand! We have gone from 800 people in 2005 to 42,000 in 2016, and we hope to have more than 50,000 this year.
What are your favorite films this year?
Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar’s Heaven Will Wait follows the radicalization of a young girl from a good family. The film’s subject matter is more relevant than ever, and it’s an excellent educational tool against the risk of jihad. The Odyssey is Jérôme Salle’s homage to Jacques Cousteau, and takes the audience back to the 1960s and 1970s, when all Americans were hooked on the adventures of Captain Cousteau and the Calypso. And in Swagger, Olivier Babinet provides a platform for 11 high school students in the French projects, while offering a message of hope that breaks with the genre’s usual clichés.
Focus on French Cinema
From March 27 to April 2, 2017