Alliance French Film Festival Q&A with director Dorothée Basel
Before settling in New Zealand with her Kiwi husband and two children in 2015, Dorothée Basel worked in film distribution and on festivals in England and Germany. With an M.A. degree in Film and English studies from the Free University of Berlin, Germany, Dorothée worked on the Semaine du Film Français, the French Film Festival, in Berlin for several years, showcasing French contemporary and classic cinema. Dorothée also has an extensive background in distributing and presenting repertoire, ‘classic’, cinema, especially from East Germany.
You've got quite a prestigious background in cinema abroad in Europe - how do we differ in approaches to film compared to there?
The main difference would probably be that in Europe you have an easier access to the films of other nations and cultures. The film choice at an arthouse cinema in the larger French or German cities would definitely be very wide and international. But then I was surprised and impressed to see how many foreign films make it to NZ screens. And the reception the Alliance Française French Film Festival receives here every year underlines that interest and open mindedness to other cultures and languages.
Having a bi-cultural background myself and working here in NZ representing a different culture but bringing it to a NZ audience, I wanted to put a focus on co-productions and francophonie in the Festival. A programme section such as ‘Across the Borders’ puts forward co-productions and a creative exchange between countries and cultures that also leads to a transformation of identity (for the characters in the films).
There's a focus this year on female directors - what are the talents in the programme this time and how do you feel movements like 52 Films by Women is helping to change things?
When I started selecting films for the programme I quickly noticed how many films were made by women directors. From original first feature films such as Baden Baden by Rachel Lang to award-winning Festival titles such as Things to Come by Mia Hansen-Løve (Best Director, Berlin 2016), there are films of all genres and topics. So putting these films in a section ‘Women to the Fore’ offers the chance to present some of the very talented women filmmakers working in France today, telling stories from a particular feminine point of view, films on unusual and strong women (150 Milligrams by Emmanuelle Bercot or In Bed with Victoria by Justine Triet). Across the other programme sections are another 6 films by women directors, so maybe making films in France and being a woman is something quite ‘normal’.
However raising awareness on gender inequalities, differences in access to jobs and education due to gender etc., remains important everywhere and in any professional field.
So specialised film festivals presenting films by women or campaigns such as #52FilmsByWomen help to raise awareness and also offer a platform for distinct female voices and point of views that otherwise might not get heard.
Rebecca Zlotowski is going to be a guest for screenings of Planetarium, what can we expect from the film and the Q&As?
Rebecca Zlotowski has a great talent for emotionally dense stories and impressive cinematography. This is particularly highlighted in her latest film Planetarium, set in Paris in the 1930s in the cinema milieu and starring Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp (both fluent in French). The film offers a great story, convincing acting and beautiful set and costume design. Rebecca has quite a visionary approach to story telling and the mise-en-scène that will captivate the audience I am sure. The Q&As we will run at the screenings in Wellington (12 March) and Auckland (13 March) should be very inspiring. Furthermore Script to Screen and WIFT New Zealand offer a masterclass in Auckland (13 March) which will focus on a detailed discussion of the script of Planetarium and how to bring the script to the screen.
The attendance of a filmmaker from France means a lot to the Festival as it offers a unique chance to get in touch with the audience here and also build ties between the New Zealand and French film industry.
How do you rate France's film output at the moment, - is the industry starting to shape products based on their reactions to horrific events like what transpired at the Bataclan?
France’s film output remains one of the strongest worldwide. It’s the second largest film exporter after the USA and every year there are about 300 feature films produced.
The quality of French cinema is that it remains so diverse, offering a wide range of talents, producing films of all genres. And a credit given to French cinema in general is that the characters are often so real and credible. True stories are told about real people.
We have several films in the programme that tackle more challenging issues and reflect concerns of contemporary society today. I would like to mention here the ‘cinema engagé’ of the Dardenne brothers (The Unknown Girl) or the film A Decent Man by Emmanuel Finkiel. A first film not a direct answer to the Bataclan events, but a film that raises strong questions about violence and self justice.
I'm quite intrigued by your animated offering, Adama, what can you tell us about this?
The films offered this year in the section for the younger audience ‘Education Outreach’ are films that present rather serious issues. Be it mourning and growing up (My Mommy is in America), the First and the Second World War (Adama, Fanny’s Journey) or a difficult adolescence (Standing Tall, presented in cross-section with the main programme), the characters in the films have to face quite harsh realities. However, what all films have in common is an unshakable belief and optimism and the strength of friendship. The film Adama is particularly fascinating. Retelling an initiation story of a young African boy who travels to the war front of WW I in Verdun in search of his brother, the film brings a new perspective on the Great War. The colonial past is evoked, a different spiritual way of seeing the world is suggested and here again the strength of childhood beliefs are put forward. Technically the film is also very interesting, mixing drawing, painting, modelling and 3D techniques which add to the realism of the film.
You're travelling the breadth of the country, taking in some real differing centres. Outside of the metropolitan areas, how does the festival go down?
I find it fascinating to make a Festival not only aimed at the audience in the larger city but at an audience across New Zealand. From Auckland to Dunedin the Festival is presented in 12 cities. This wide network of Festival venues has partly been established through the presence of the Alliance Française and its French associations in 9 of these cities. However we experience that the reception of the Festival is particularly positive in the smaller centres where this event has clearly become an established date in the annual cultural calendar.
You must be expecting the Umbrellas of Cherbourg to be popular, given the success of La La Land…
It’s wonderful to see how a film genre such as the musical, so popular during the height of US studio cinema in the 30s-50s, can get a ‘rejuvenation’ and attract a new audience. Jacques Demy in his ‘comédies musicales’ of the 1960s brought the genre a daring step further, making a melodrama entirely sung and danced (all dialogue is sung), an opera of the everyday. Audiences can expect an explosion of colours and dance and a beautiful young Catherine Deneuve. Associating this classic in our programme with the modern Julie and the Shoe Factory (a musical and social comedy!) and also pairing a classic film noir (Le Doulos) with a modern genre example (Dark Diamond), offers the chance to shine a fresh light on classic cinema in general.
Give me your audience-pleasing 3 picks from the festival and explain why they will rate well with cinema-goers
There are of course films with ever-popular actors that will definitely appeal to a larger crowd: Omar Sy in Monsieur Chocolat, Dany Boon in Penny Pincher! and Gérard Depardieu in Saint Amour. On the actresses side, films with Isabelle Huppert (Things to Come), Nathalie Baye (Moka and It’s Only the End of the World) and Marion Cotillard (From the Land of the Moon and It’s Only the End of the World), films that should all be popular.
But I would like to mention here a few of the ‘feel good movies’ we have programmed: the very charming One Man and his Cow, a road movie on an Algerian farmer and his cow travelling by foot up to Paris; the romantic comedy Just to be Sure with François Damiens and Cécile de France that we show as a world premiere and the very entertaining Up for Love with Jean Dujardin and Virginie Efira.
But there are thrillers, films noirs, comedies, dramas, romances, films that offer to travel the world and a world of emotions and all en français bien sûr, I am sure everyone will find their favourite pick.
What is your top film and why?
This question is impossible to answer as I have at least one favourite in each programme section and this would already be 8 top films… Our opening and closing night films, The Odyssey and A Journey Through French Cinema maybe sum up all the richness French cinema and this year’s programme has to offer: moving stories, great actors, captivating cinematography and the continuity of film history, both guarantee an eventful journey.
But if I have to name just one film, I will go for Baden Baden by Rachel Lang: highly original, funny and serious, introducing new faces and talents, a film by a woman, a beautiful portrait of an everyday moment and deeper reflection on life.
How do you see the future of the French Film festival developing and what would you like to see next year?
The Festival has grown a lot over the last ten years, adding new venues and cities to the Festival circuit each year. We still do get new requests to play the Festival in other venues. An idea for 2018 could be to present a ‘Best of’ in selected additional venues.
Each year will of course request its new programming and artistic development. Looking at the emerging talents I see promising material for many Festivals to come.
Full details of the Alliance French Film Festival can be found here - allons-y!