A look at the highlights of the 22nd French Film Festival.
From Feb. 15-21, the Prytania Theatre will host the 22nd French Film Festival — an event that continues to grow every year.
“The audience for the festival has grown dramatically over the years, says John Desplas, artistic director emeritus of the New Orleans Film Society and co-programmer of the French Film Festival. “Last year we reached a record attendance of around 4,000 people and we expect to beat that this year.”
While the festival has traditionally focused on French films from France, over the past few years the focus has broadened in scope to include other French speaking countries like Canada, Belgium and Switzerland. This year, the festival will have a specific focus on New Orleans’ cultural and language ties with Haiti.
“We’re collaborating with Krewe du Kanaval (a Haitian Mardi Gras krewe that held its first parade in 2017) and they will be performing at five of our events this year,” said Clint Bowie, artistic director of the New Orleans Film Society, who added that this is the fifth year the festival has integrated a music component to its festivities.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival will be the world premiere of “On Va Continuer! A Cajun Rockumentary” a film that chronicles the efforts of Grammy-winning Cajun group the Lost Bayou Ramblers (who also scored the music for the four-time Oscar-nominated film, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”) to keep Cajun French language and culture alive in Louisiana. The group will perform live following the film’s screening.
Other highlights of this year’s festival include two retro films — “Donkey Skin” a 1970 French musical that is an update of a classic fairytale starring Catherine Deneuve and directed by Jacques Demy, and “The Nun” by Jacques Rivette. When it was released in 1966, this film — about a young woman committed against her will to a convent because her parents were unmarried — is described as “part erotic memoir, part melodrama” and was banned during its release.
“The 1960s and ’70s was the height of popularity of foreign films in America, the majority of which were French,” said Desplas. “The core audience for them was college students, and those college students, now grown, remain our core audience.”
Among the more modern film highlights is “Custody,” a twisted family drama that has found a place on many top 10 lists for French films, and “Non-Fiction” by Olivier Assayas (known most recently for the 2016 film “Personal Shopper,” starring Kristen Stewart.
“He’s the biggest name in French films right now,” says Desplas, “so we’re really excited to show this one.”
“Non-Fiction” — described as a timeless comedy about social media — stars Juliette Binoche and premiered to great acclaim at the Venice International Film Festival last year.
Besides “On Va Continuer!” Louisiana’s French side will also be on display in “A Sense of Place,” a film about French speaking Africans living in the United States that features the Whitney Plantation. Director and producer Bruno Moynie will be speaking at the screening.
Prior to the opening night film, the 22nd French Film Festival will host a champagne toast at a private residence a few blocks from the Prytania Theatre. Individual tickets to films (all of which are screened with English subtitles) went on sale to festival passholders and New Orleans Film Society members Jan. 29, and will go on sale Feb. 5 to the general public. Tickets are $10 for New Orleans Film Society members and $13 for non-members.
For more information, including descriptions of all the films and shorts at this year’s festival, as well as lectures and musical performances, visit NewOrleansFilmSociety.org/french-film-festival.