Cinéfranco International Festival opens tomorrow and runs until Nov. 1st, and Founder/Artistic Director, Marcelle Lean couldn't be more excited to welcome you to the Francophone festival!
donna g: Cinéfranco (CF) is celebrating its 19th year, but it hasn't been an easy ride with funding. You could have given up. What keeps you going?
What keeps me going is my passion for cinema as well as my joy to share the films with other film lovers. I could not give up because when Cinéfranco was rejected for a major Ontario grant and had to cancel its general spring festival, people took the time to write letters to newspapers, to phone Francophone radio stations, to send emails. Over 300 people signed a petition spurred by an activist film lover. I felt energized by so much positivity and sincere emotions.
donna g: The screenings are at Spadina Theatre inside Alliance française de Toronto. What prompted the move to have screenings at this location?
Marcelle: I had been working with Alliance française de Toronto for a while now especially presenting films at the Spadina Theatre for the Thursday night screenings. More recently the Special Quebec edition took place at Spadina Theatre that was a full house for most of the screenings. AFT and Cinéfranco wanted to renew the experience.
donna g: With the #oscarsowhite hashtags pointing out the lack of diversity in films audiences are rightfully demanding that films include rather than exclude. How is Cinéfranco addressing this issue in its programming?
Marcelle: There is no such thing as a Francophone community in Toronto. We have to say it is fragmented into communities of diverse origins. As a Francophone festival that wants to federate all of these communities, it is important to reflect it in the film selection. As a programmer I have to be sensitive to all Francophones to project a vision of themselves and of what binds us all: the use of French language as a means of self-expression, a cultural and linguistic identity. This year the program centres around the theme of the identity in crisis and human rights in France, Quebec, Belgium, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, where the films come from…
If we look at 2 of Quebec films, Montréal la blanche /Montreal, White City deals with two Algerian immigrants roaming Montreal on Christmas Eve during Ramadan. They reflect on their past, on their values quite different from their new home where they feel excluded. They open up the wounds of most immigrants trying to fit in yet unable to let go of their past. In Avant les rues /Before the Streets filmmaker Chloé Leriche delves into the tragedy of First Nations youth through a story of crime. Acted by remarkable non-professional actors, the film depicts the loss of roots that brings self-loathing, the joblessness that brings boredom and apathy. This is the first film in Atikamekw language and French.
Films from France focus on its internal fractures and clashes. Jihadists trying to destroy the fabric of French society by placing a bomb on the Champs Elysées (Made in France by Nicolas Boukhrief) or Certifiée Halal/Certified Halal that starts with a French North African woman revolting against virginity certificates required from a woman before getting married. Both films ran into sad obstacles: Made in France deemed prophetic after the Bataclan terrorist attacks of November 2015, was not allowed to open in commercial theatres. Certifiée Halal/Certified Halal, a hilarious comedy, came right after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, which made it impossible for the film to play in Parisian theatres.
Chocolat by Roschdy Zem shows the intrinsic racism of the French society in the 1900s Belle époque. Footit (James Thiérrée), the White clown, does not hide the fact that he is exploiting Chocolat (Omar Sy) because he is black and looks like a “savage”. This film is not without reminding me of French director Abdellatif Kechiche’s film Vénus noire, the true, brutal story of Saartjie Baartman who followed her “owner” to Europe to find fame and fortune.
Exile from Iran and immigration to France put an Iranian family centre stage in Nous trois ou rien/ All Three of Us. It proves that immigrants fleeing dictatorship are capable of positively contributing to the society at large.
These are a few examples that illustrate the diversity of the Francophone diaspora against the grain of #oscarsowhite hashtags.
donna g: A francophone film festival may not be at the forefront of many youth even though many of them take French in school. What does CF have to offer them this year in terms of seeing themselves on screen?
Marcelle: This edition of Cinéfranco is not particularly dedicated to youth as is our Youth Film Festival. However, a few films in the program centre around the struggles of youth trying to fulfil their aspirations in a hostile environment. The dilemmas are intense as these youth are not happy with what the society they live in, offers. In Made in France for instance the young men forming the jihadist cells dream of an ideal world, but they have to commit evil violent acts before reaching their goals. But each of them has his interpretation of what he can or cannot do. The Quebecois film Avant les rues/Before the Streets deals in depth with the malaise of First Nations youth.
In Insoumise/Rebellious Girl, the same theme of youth refusing to accept injustice pops up in the relationships between seasonal workers and their bosses. Again the film portrays a will to fight unlike the previous generations working without any protests against the unjust exploitation of their labour.
With Certifiée Halal/Certified Halal Kenza Boukamache incites her “sisters” to reject the humiliating practice of showing a certificate of virginity before getting married. As a young woman, she fights the male dominated culture she is raised in. Kenza affirms her identity as a free woman like any French young woman.
In the closing film, As I Open My Eyes, the dictatorship of Ben Ali has spies everywhere to control and crush. Young Farah leaves school to enter a universe where she thinks she is free to sing her provocative songs. She does not realize that her “Music becomes a dangerous weapon”. This poignant story of the rude awakening of a muzzled youth symbolized by Farah emphasizes the clash of generations: those who know the consequences and those who may risk their lives for their ideals. Director Leyla Bouzid catches Tunisian society in 2010 at the eve of the Jasmine Revolution otherwise known as the Arab Spring. Her film received multiple awards from international festivals. It captures the will of a freedom hungry youth ready to sacrifice their lives. On December 17, 2010, news from all over the world, reported the desperate act of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi who, by setting himself on fire, triggered the revolt.
In all instances of films portraying youth, the message seems to encourage young people to express themselves, to find their roots that are so essential to their identities to fight alienation from the political, religious and societal environment.
More specifically to youth, from February 21st to March 7th, Cinéfranco organizes its annual youth Festival. Its angle is to inspire teachers to motivate their students to write reviews, to discuss about topics relevant to their lives. We offer the teachers an educational kit that covers a large range of topics, language exercises, themes for research and discussion. We also encourage the students to write a review of the film they screened. We give out prizes with gifts (books, cinema tickets, DVDs of French films, etc.) and certificates of merit for all who do not win a prize.
donna g: Thanks to CF, I've had the pleasure of seeing the work of Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine. Could you please introduce this duo to my readers?
Marcelle: The famous Isabelle Adjani once called Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine “cosmic twins”. They are satirists, actors, scriptwriters and filmmakers. Their work reflects their sense of poetry, nuttiness and offbeat humour. This creative pair shot zany films like the road movie Mammuth (Cinéfranco 2011showed it to a full house) with Gérard Depardieu or Le Grand soir with Benoît Poelvoorde and Albert Dupontel.
I love the way Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine blend humour with gravity in their deep observation of life and society. As you see their films you cannot help laughing at what appears to be absurd then when you think of it, you appreciate the truthfulness of their approach.
Gérard Depardieu defined them best. He said “Kervern is an actor, Delépine a lampoonist; their films, a kind of comic strip that is more cartoonish than realistic (…) Their pains and vulnerability hold them together. And that suffering belongs to the French society today where we are less and less uncertain of things to come. In Saint Amour few people know what to do, few people have goals in their lives. “Life is a field, you have to plough a furrow” that’s just what my character, a farmer, says. Benoît and Gustave have a prophetic sense of social realities. Their films feel real. They consist of stories never of “scenes”
Tickets: $10/$8 for students and seniors (60+) with ID
Venue: Spadina Theatre, 24 Spadina Road
Photos courtesy of Cinéfranco