Interview with the founders of the French Film Festival in Richmond, VA

March 7, 2014 | By Diana Murray Watts

It was Jean Cocteau who once said that “art is a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious.” In film, whether we are on the side of the filmmaker or the audience, we constantly find ourselves immersed in a world that gives freedom to our imagination. In this context, French cinema has a longstanding tradition, as it has shown the power to unleash even our most intrinsic desires without fear to question the world that we live in and to create the world that we would hope for. 

In its 22nd edition, the French Film Festival in Richmond, Virginia, will offer a myriad of thought-provoking French films, including documentaries and short films. Peter S. Kirkpatrick and Françoise Ravaux-Kirkpatrick, founders and directors of the French Film Festival, spoke with the Cultural Service about this cinematic event that is eager to surprise an audience of over 20,000 people with 31 films.

French actor, director and screenwriter Mathieu Busson, who amused last year’s audience with his short Micha Mouse, will open the 22nd Festival with a master class Artistic Creative Stages of Filmmaking, among other highlights. 

We wanted to create a French language and cultural event that would attract more students to French studies,” they explain in response to the question as to how the French Film Festival was born. The first year proved to be an immediate success in attracting students, colleagues and the general public. Twenty-two years later, the Festival still draws students to specialize in French and also to choose our Universities as the place for their education. The Festival also has had such an impact on our Universities’ programs and curricula that Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and University of Richmond (UR) now have Film Studies and Film Production programs. Through the academic and professional partnerships the Festival has within the industry in France, our students enjoy their association with our Festival offices and the practical and professional training they receive, for example, in our graduate course associated with the Festival on the art and practice of subtitling.”

Peter S. Kirkpatrick and Françoise Ravaux-Kirkpatrick are both leading academics as professors of French Culture and Film Studies at the VCU and UR, respectively. But their commitment to the promotion of French culture extends beyond the classroom. When asked to describe the process that takes place in the organization of the festival, Peter and Françoise respond whole-heartedly: 

We make a point of trying to see the totality of the feature and short films produced each year in France. We screen films in France, directors and production companies send films to our office, screenwriters and directors even send to us their scenarios to read sometimes before they start shooting. There is not a day in the year that goes by when we do not either watch at least one or two films and/or discuss with colleagues in France their upcoming films or screenings. Most of our time in France is spent either in screening rooms, theatres, post-production studios or at film shoots. In thinking about our programming each year, we make sure that it represents the diversity of filmmaking in France: feature films, documentaries, historical and social dramas, comedies, animations and short films.” 

Peter and Françoise explain that France is considered the country that gave birth to the cinematic experience as its viewers were the first to start paying for public screenings, in December 1985 to be exact. To date, the French film industry stands as a leader in the world of film, as it represents France’s diversity, artistry, and originality in filmmaking.

Artist-technicians, actors, directors and screenwriters come to Richmond to present through their films this diversity, quality and vitality in French films. France has one of the strongest film industries in the world. From a purely economic standpoint, France is ranked third just right behind the US and India. However, when if one were to look at artistic expression, cinema-art as well as advances in cinema technologies, the savoir-faire of French artist-technicians, cinematographers, screenwriters, actors, and directors, many film specialists, with reason, rank France's film industry as the healthiest in the world,” state Peter and Françoise.

For the 22nd French Film Festival, the Cultural Service of the Embassy of France provided its support to the documentary programming.

This year’s selection includes: Cinéast(e)s by Mathieu Busson and Julie Gayet, which includes numerous interviews with French women filmmakers who have presented their films in Richmond; Il est minuit, Paris s’éveille by Yves Jeuland, a film that brings viewers into the nightclubs of the Left Bank of Paris from the 1940s to the 1960s  to rediscover musical talents like Barbara, Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, Juliette Gréco, Pierre Perret and others through rare footage and interviews; and Faire quelque chose by Vincent Goubet, a documentary that captures the energy and stories of many of France’s World War II Resistance fighters as they convey to today’s youth the importance of standing up for justice and human rights. 

For more information on these and others films of the French Film Festival, please click here.

We look forward to seeing you in Richmond this year. 

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