This past weekend I ventured out to Richmond’s famously quaint Carytown District, home of the annual VCU/UR French Film Festival. Not only is this the largest francophone montage in the country, but this year in particular happened to be the 25th anniversary, so expectations had to be noteworthy.
Founded in 1992, under the helm of local professors, Drs. Francoise and Peter Kirkpatrick, with intent to expose Cinéma Français to the american audience. I may have missed the opening symposium, but I was determined to make up for lost time. With this in mind, I went for the weekend and relished in the weekend experience firsthand.
Approaching the scene, I already carried a few presumptions on what to expect. I envisioned a pseudo-multicultural atmosphere, french flags donned by every business no matter their trade, (understandably; every forest is in drought until it rains). As I exited my car, I was met with an instant fixation to the spirited streets, you’d think Eartha Kitt was narrating my life, English subtitles of course.
Bustling, there was spring in laymen’s step*, leaving even me uncoiled. Amongst the usual suburban sprawl perusing through the shops was a cultural melting pot, coalescing languages in your ear, really a phonetic paradise.
As I began walking towards the theater, I took my time absorbing the scenery. After all, I had an hour to pass. Restaurants and shops gregariously featured their spring prowess with confidence. Windows & doors wide open, customers lively, from diners to cafes overnight. French cuisine specials marked on their chalkboard signs, finally a chance to market their french fries with dignity. (You’d think they founded the recipe for ‘La Viandier’)
The streets were packed, at times sobering with pace. I escaped the current of walkers to enter the after-premiere reception at The Daily. Though initially met with stares over my obvious pattered work clothes, I ordered a drink and mingled. Many of those there were friends, fans, and family of the actors and directors involved. If one common characteristic lingered, it was a sense of curiosity in their eyes. It was a different feeling, even as someone with experience in world travel and different cultures. Here I was, wondering if I’d meet a single individual, introduced on a whim to several prestigious writers and enthusiasts, and it was simply refreshing. I skipped interviewing for the sake enjoying the moment, and it was worth every second.
Yet from the moment I bought my pass and entered the lobby, a distinct transition appeared yet again, much like when I left my car. This is when I entered the theater.
The film I attended first, Saisons, was a relatively silent film probing the relations of predator and prey along the French wildlands, with an obvious foreshadowing to humans impending destruction of our natural habitats. Directed by legendary filmmaker Jacques Perrin, the film had a double edge to its scope of focus, giving an intense look at the natural, and its slow and ironic deterioration from ‘our natural’ while examining what entails in the realm of the natural. What stood out the most, besides the revolutionary cinematography that easily took the floor from Planet Earth’s feet, were the directors. French co-directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud’s “Saisons” craft of a nature-doc that triumphs in its moving dialogue in the realm of the natural, utilizing drones to move along with the animals, showing rare close-ups of scenes once only imagined. After the film, the staff held a relatively brief Q&A, which prompted the monotonous pondering into the details behind the magic. What stood out the most from their responses was a call to attention on their environmental focus in the film.
I feel there is a disconnect from the natural, and that makes the least sense. When you begin to see the natural as unnatural, that is when you have step back and accept the problem with society. – Jacques Perrin
Later that night, I went with a friend of mine to the Magic Lantern Show. This show was legendary in its pertinence to french cinematic history, showing hand painted glass slides over the projection, an art around 400 years old, and never shipped out with the crew for a foreign audience.
American Exclusive Live Magic Lanterns Show imported from the Cinémathèque Française, featuring rare, prismatic and vibrant hand-painted glass slides moving across the giant screen accompanied by an original story written by Laurent Mannoni and Laure Parchomenko
The show featured an opening piano performance followed by the entrance by the narrator Nathan Willcocks, a theatre graduate from VCU. He matched his dialogue with the masterful harpist Liénor Mancip. Eclectic in focus, there was a variety of directions spanning from the tale of Robinson Crusoe to the summoning of ancestral spirits and spectres, ending with a beautiful ink art piece to end the performance on a refreshing note.
I stayed for the Q&A as the audience shared playful banter and asked for brief insights on the set up.
Though brief, the time spent was, suprisingly unexpected. In fact it was quite humbling, almost like we appreciated something by someone other than ourselves. There was something to appreciate this weekend.
For more information on the festival, follow the links provided below: