French Film Festival returns to Richmond

The French Film Festival will return to the Byrd Theater March 28, led by French actor Thierry Lhermitte. Photo by Gesser Santos-Lopez

Walter Chidozie Anyanwu, Contributing Writer

The French Film Festival, an annual event showcasing recent French films presented by their creators, will open its doors to visitors from all over for its 27th installment beginning March 28.  

The festival was created in 1993 by Peter Kirkpatrick and Françiose Ravaux-Kirkpatrick — professors of French and film studies at VCU and the University of Richmond, respectively. It was conceived out of a need to answer one question, Kirkpatrick said: “What could we create as an event that would attract more students to the French language and culture?”

“We thought about it for a while. We were debating whether to do a literary festival, a political festival where politicians from France would come, or a music festival … but that would have been too expensive,” Kirkpatrick said. “So we thought we’d test it with a French film festival.”

The first event took place at VCU, packing auditoriums and outgrowing the available space in the first year. The following year, the festival sought out new spaces, eventually renovating places like the old Grace Street Theater –– which became home to the now-closed Hyperlink Cafe. This space was used for the second and third festivals, until the numbers of attendees outgrew it.

Finally, for the fourth festival, they moved to the Byrd Theater.

“We went there because we know it had 1,400 seats and that we needed them in order to create a true cinema event where you have a large amount of people watching a film,” Kirkpatrick said. “And they can interact with the talent who comes to present the film afterwards.”

Since that fourth year, The Byrd has been the home of the French Film Festival. It was at this event in 1996 that Thierry Lhermitte, the beloved French actor and director, became the first guest to be physically present, paving the way for numerous French filmmakers and actors that would follow.

Lhermitte –– the French equivalent of George Clooney –– will lead the delegation of filmmakers attending this year’s event. The actor will also teach a masterclass at the Institute for Contemporary Art on March 28 at 2:30 p.m.

The festival’s reputation has grown over the years and is now the largest French film festival outside France, Kirkpatrick said. The festival has partnered with many different organizations within the film industry in France.

Kirkpatrick said the mission of the festival still remains the same — to create an authentic film festival that offers an immersive and distinctly French experience.

“Every year we have a staff of French students, who are interns, that come as part of their degree back home … helping from every possible angle to create this event,” Kirkpatrick said. “They are accompanied by students from the University of Richmond and VCU that come from a host of programs.”

The festival presents a unique learning experience for those who have worked to put it together and those who will attend the event this week.

“It’s still about the students,” Kirkpatrick said. “Not only the students who buy passes, but the students who work with us.”

For more information on the French Film Festival, visit frenchfilmfestival.us. Student and instructor passes are $65 and $115, respectively. Individual tickets are $15 and can be purchased 30 minutes before showtimes, if available. The festival runs until March 31.

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