Every winter, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond partner to host the French Film Festival at the historic Byrd Theatre. They select feature films and short films from the previous calendar year to show for one weekend. It’s unfortunately pretty rare to have access to foreign films in the states, so this is a great opportunity to see some recent french movies. The festival always features a variety of film genres and people come from all over to attend.
Nearly each film at the French Film Festival is also presented by either the director, actor, screenwriter, or costume designer. The movie airs with subtitles and after the film individuals get to ask these directors/actors questions. The event organizer translates the questions and answers because the actors/directors do not always speak English. It’s really interesting to hear their perspective on how they played a role or what was important to them to display in the film. It’s also very strange to casually see a French actor walking around Carytown, Richmond!
I first attended the French Film Festival because it was offered as an extra credit opportunity for my Translation class in college. My first year, I saw about three films through the weekend and instantly fell in love with the festival’s concept. I’ve attended every year following, minus the two years that I was out of the country. It’s a fun excuse to visit Richmond, and watch movies I would otherwise never have seen.
It’s really fun to walk around Carytown and hear people speaking in French. The town goes all out with French flags flying in store fronts and on street lamps. It’s also a little disorienting to casually see French actors and directors sitting outside a cafe smoking a cigarette. This spring, my boyfriend went for a quick cigarette before one of the films and found himself standing opposite Clovis Cornillac, star and director of countless french films! I’ve personally seen him in Belle et Sébastien, le dernier chapitre; Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément!; and Tour de Force. This year he was there to present the third Belle et Sébastien film which he acted in and directed.
Having the commentary translated is wonderful so everyone can understand. It’s especially great for me to reinforce my french comprehension. Considering I am in a relationship with a fluent french speaker, I don’t practice the language very often (Read: I’m very lazy). It’s helpful to hear the presenter respond first in French and then hear the translation following. Each year I find myself reading the captions less and less, and waiting for the translation of the presenter less and less as the weekend goes on.
Twice they have flown the dog who stars in the Belle et Sébastien series, a french Pyrenees, to the states and brought her up on stage at the Byrd! I even got to meet the adorable Félix Bossuet one year. I’ve seen light comedies, artistic films, films developed from a one act play, historic fiction films. It’s really a great event, and I highly recommend to attend even if you don’t speak French!