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Breaking the language barrier with Lost in Frenchlation

Lost in Frenchlation breaks the language barrier and brings the best of French cinema to the international community in Paris. Hosting screenings of French films with English subtitles at independent Parisian cinemas, the team aims at opening up French Culture to foreigners living or visiting Paris.

In 2015, Manon Kerjean and Matt Bryan created Lost in Frenchlation, an organization that works with cinemas to screen French films with English subtitles. When Manon and Matt met they tried to go the movies together in Paris, but quickly became frustrated. Being a foreigner, Matt was missing out on so much great contemporary French Cinema because of the language barrier. Hence the idea of organized screenings for English-speaking audiences in Paris.

In doing so, Lost in Frenchlation opens up the world of French cinema to a new and broader audience. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for non-French speaking ex-patriates and tourists in Paris to immerse themselves in one of France’s great cultural contributions: cinema. Given that many films featured do not make their way to North America or other English-speaking countries, Francophiles can now see films on the big screen such as Louis Garrel’s A Faithful Man (2018), Mickaël Hers’ Amanda (2018) or Louis-Julien Petit’s Les Invisibles (2019).


Interview with Manon Kerjean, CEO of Lost in Frenchlation by Pierre-Alexandre Moreau, president of Cinémas Studio in Tours, France.

P-A. Moreau : How did the idea of Lost in Frenchlation come about?

M. Kerjean: It was born out of the frustration that Matt and I felt when we couldn’t go to the cinema together to see the French films advertised all over Paris. While I’m French, Matt is Australian and his French is developing. What we discovered is that the language barrier prevented a large international community living in or visiting Paris from enjoying an important element of French culture, and one of France’s greatest arts. It’s a shame and that’s why we decided to start Lost in Frenchlation.

It was actually the Canadian-French film Xavier Dolan’s Mommy that was our us the ‘lightbulb moment.’ We searched nearly every cinema in Paris to try to find where Dolan’s film was screening with English subtitles. We had no luck. That’s when we realized that we must not be the only ones feeling this frustration.

P-A. Moreau: How did you approach film companies in getting them to give you their films with the English subtitles?

M. Kerjean: It was very hard at the beginning. All the doors were closed to us, and the French-cinema world is small where everyone knows each other. If you don't own a cinema, you're not part of the “group,” so it was hard to find people that believed in the project, including distributors and movie theaters. Many said there was no market for Lost in Frenchlation. In fact, distributors were often a bit taken aback by the fact that we asked for copies of a French movie with English subtitles. In Paris! But I think we proved them wrong.

P-A. Moreau: How do you select your films and which have been the most popular?

M. Kerjean: We choose our films based on the director, the actors, and what is available from the distributors. But we also base our decision on what Matt and I would want to watch and what we think everyone in Paris would like to see. Importantly, we want the evening to offer a sample of the French cinema experience. The concept has proven successful. Two of our most popular films, for example, were Maïwenn’s My King (2015) and Houda Benyamina’s Divines (2016). For My King, the line went all the way down the street, and we had to take chairs from the bar and put them in the theater so that everyone could have a seat. For Divines, we screened the film a total of three times. On the third screening, the director himself came to introduce the film and conduct a Q&A with the audience.

P-A. Moreau: Is there an interest in French cinema among expats ?

M. Kerjean: There is a lot of interest from the international community, and we think it comes back to the fact that most people come to Paris to experience its culture, and French cinema is vital part of that. Before Lost in Frenchlation this element of French culture was not easily available a large population . . . or the opportunity to experience it within a Parisian cinema anyway! It’s not only that. The French are so successful in their filmmaking with impressively balancing art and entertainment that the audience wants to experience it more and more. I’ve noticed that a lot of expats actually know French cinema pretty well, but it’s usually from online platforms. Many have never had the Parisian cinema experience which is really so typical for native Parisians. At the same time, we also have a lot of expats at our events who have never watched a single French film!

P-A. Moreau: What’s your plan for the future ?

M. Kerjean: A part of what we’re trying to do is help our audience discover great independent cinemas in the different neighborhoods of Paris. So, we are hoping to expand with other cinemas in the Marais and the Latin Quarter. More long-term and wishfully, we’d love to one day have our own cinemas where we bring French films to the international community all day, every day, maybe with a bar or cafe which could act as a hub for expats. Finally, we also are considering screenings with subtitles for other languages besides English. But both of these are a bit far off in the future! In the meantime, we have lots of great films to show English-speaking audiences in the heart of cinema—Paris.

Find out more about Lost in Frenchlation here.

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