An influx of francophones in and around the Byrd Theatre in Carytown this week (or just francophiles – or perhaps both) probably has Richmond’s 19th annual French Film Festival to thank.
The festival, which began in 1993 as an experiment exposing audiences in an average-sized American city to virtually unknown indie /cinéma/, is now well-known and well-talked about around the world as the largest French film festival in the United States – as in past years, many feature-length screenings at the Byrd this weekend will be international premieres.
As well as guests, speakers, film presenters, and masterclass lecturers, the festival regularly welcomes a delegation of directors, producers, actors, film scholars, critics, and French government officials.
Among the guests will be director, actor, author and producer Jacques Perrin, presenting two documentaries: “Oceans,” the winner of the French Cesar for best documentary, and “L’Empire du Milieu du Sud,” the summation of a decade-long project on the history of Vietnam using images, film and text from around the world.
Pre-festival masterclasses will include a class on two major cinema schools in France, Ecole Nationale Supérieure Louis Lumière and La Fémis, and a class on biodiversity and using cinematic images to address environmental issues. French director/author Jean-Paul Jaud will lead the biodiversity class and present his latest films, “Severn, the Voice of Our Children,” and “Food Beware.”
In addition to providing “a connection for the American public to the finest French cinema,” according to the festival’s website, the festival also gives attendants the opportunity to speak with the directors and actors who created the films.
The Festival’s founders and directors, Drs. Peter and Françoise Ravaux-Kirkpatrick of VCU’s French faculty, were decorated at the 2004 Festival as “Chevaliers de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres,” a high honor in French arts world.
David Kessler, director of the Centre National de la Cinématographie Française in Paris, acknowledged the festival’s far-reaching impact when he presented the award, saying, “France and the French film industry thank you for the unending passion and energy you give to (the festival),” calling it “the ultimate venue for the promotion of French film in the United States.”
Individual tickets for each film can be purchased at the Byrd Theatre box office, or passes for all weekend can be bought in advance – for students, $65.
This year’s festival begins at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 24 at the Byrd Theatre and end on Sunday, March 27. Check out a full schedule of films courtesy of the French Film Festival website at www.frenchfilmfestival.us/.