French flair and recommended movies! It's all on show at the Cork French Film Festival

The 31st annual Cork French Film Festival happens from March 4-8 at venues across the city, taking in a wide variety of genres and cinematic interests. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with festival directors Valérie David-McGonnell and Josselin Le Gall.
French flair and recommended movies! It's all on show at the Cork French Film Festival
Proxima: Opens the Cork French Film Festival 2020.

The 31st annual Cork French Film Festival happens from March 4-8 at venues across the city, taking in a wide variety of genres and cinematic interests. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with festival directors Valérie David-McGonnell and Josselin Le Gall.

In addition to providing a focal point for the best in French and Francophone cinema for Leeside cinemagoers, Cork French Film Festival has, for the past three decades, been a pillar of the cultural mission of Alliance Française de Cork.

An organisation dedicated to promoting France, the French language, and the French-speaking world’s cultural output, the group has been the driving force behind the festival’s entrenchment in the city’s cultural calendar, and its continued success.

Grace Neville, Alliance Francaise Vice President, and Mariam Diallo, Cultural Counsellor French Ambassador at Wednesday night's opening ceremony. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Grace Neville, Alliance Francaise Vice President, and Mariam Diallo, Cultural Counsellor French Ambassador at Wednesday night's opening ceremony. Picture: Jim Coughlan

As one might infer in the current mid-Brexit climate, it’s also an important cultural collaboration for participants on both sides of the affair. This year’s festival will be underway by the time this spread goes to print, and day two will see a range of screenings and events happening at the festival’s main screen, the Gate cinema on North Main Street. Valérie David-McGonnell, festival co-director and Alliance Française board member, speaks on how she’s found the reaction and the response to a wide and varied programme so far, in the city. “After 31 years, the festival is well established.

Margaret Green, Gate Cinemas and John Mullins, Alliance Francaise President at the Cork French Film Festival opening night.  Picture: Jim Coughlan

Margaret Green, Gate Cinemas and John Mullins, Alliance Francaise President at the Cork French Film Festival opening night.  Picture: Jim Coughlan
Margaret Green, Gate Cinemas and John Mullins, Alliance Francaise President at the Cork French Film Festival opening night.  Picture: Jim Coughlan

Mick Hannigan, Festival Producer, and Cllr Dan Boyle, Deputising for the Lord Mayor. at the opening of the 31st Cork French film festival Opening Film, at the Gate Cinema, Cork.Picture: Jim CoughlanThere’s a great appetite in Cork for French cinema and there’s a love of French culture in general, and of course there is a large French community in Cork; French people who have settled in the city, and younger people who are studying here. They support the festival in great numbers, and the response to the programme has been very positive indeed. I think there’s a feeling of anticipation of seeing the latest films of French icons Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve, as well as discovering the emerging stars of French-language cinema.”

The programme is guest-curated by Marie-Pierre Richard, a veteran film-festival programmer who has worked on specialist Francophone billings with the Irish Film Institute, among others. Bringing together an eclectic selection of cinema and documentary is tricky in any case, and Josselin Le Gall, another Alliance Française board member and CFFF co-director, speaks on the challenges and upsides of doing so. “Marie-Pierre has put together excellent programmes in the last three years, and the festival is managed locally and promoted locally. Marie-Pierre is of course an expert on French cinema, and we rely on her taste in films but also on her contacts in the film industry, to secure the films we want for our Cork audience.”

Proxima: Opening movie.
Proxima: Opening movie.

This year’s festival launched with the input of French Deputy Ambassador Lionel Paradisi-Coulouma, Lord Mayor John Sheehan, Minister David Stanton and MEP Deirdre Clune on February 24, in a special reception. The festival serves a cultural and diplomatic function for Alliance Française de Cork in terms of outreach to the city’s community, and wider French-Irish relationships in the aforementioned cultural climate, says David-McGonnell.

“The festival is very important to Alliance Franaise de Cork. In fact our festival was the first French film festival in Ireland, and is the only one organized by an Alliance Franaise in Ireland. It’s a public celebration of French culture, but also it gives Cork audiences a good understanding of the realities within contemporary French society. Of course it gives people who study French an opportunity to practise their French-language comprehension. But the main purpose is to celebrate cinema and to entertain and to stimulate audiences.”

The festival opened yesterday with a screening of Proxima, a tale of motherhood amid preparations for a space mission that’s been cleaning up at international film festivals, produced with collaboration from another French-led project in the European Space Agency.

Alice and the Mayor: Showing.
Alice and the Mayor: Showing.

It’s another example of the themes that underlie the festival’s foundation, says de Gall.

“Cinema is a great way of portraying a society, its values and preoccupations. Each year we have films illustrating different aspects of contemporary French society. It’s something that cinema does very well, to reflect current trends. So while we did not deliberately choose a film with a theme of co-operation, it’s no surprise to us that we have one.”

The wider Francophone world is also covered, including documentaries and cross-cultural productions. With very strong, defined diaspora and first-generation communities in Ireland emerging from different French-speaking countries, David-McGonnell speaks a little on the importance of recognising the plethora of cultural identities that fall within the Francophone world’s history, and platforming art that speaks to its experiences and traumas. “

Yes, this is very important to us. Besides promoting and teaching the French language, one other mission of is to promote French and Francophone cultures. This is the year of the ‘Africa 2020’ programme in France, an initiative which celebrates the diversity of contemporary artistic creation in the 54 States of the African continent. So we’re really delighted to include System K, a documentary about the art scene in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in our festival, in association with the French Embassy in Ireland.”

With a few days to go to the festival at the time of interview/writing, the usual nerves and anxieties are coming together: all the arrangements are sorted, with the waiting for the event itself coming to an end, and the conversations around it growing. De Gall speaks on the feeling in the Festival camp. “There’s a sense of genuine excitement. All the elements are in place. We have a superb programme, the catalogues are out around town and online. So now we wait to see who comes to the screenings. We have over 1,000 secondary-school students booked in for our Schools Programme, which is very encouraging; the Cork French community and the many Francophiles in Cork support our festival in great numbers every year; we have a partnership with Cork Environmental Forum; there will be parties in the Friary Bar so, yes, we can’t wait to enjoy the festival ourselves.”

Systemk: Showing in Cork.
Systemk: Showing in Cork.

Having celebrated the Festival’s milestone thirtieth anniversary last year, and with a loaded programme happening this weekend, it might come as a surprise to some how early the wheels for a festival have to get into motion. David-McGonnell looks at the Festival’s future, and that of Alliance Franaise de Cork’s cultural outreach in the city and county? “We’re already thinking of our next festival, so we’re looking forward to discovering what French-language films will be made in the next few months. Cultural outreach is very important to us and while the festival may be the highest profile event of Alliance Francaise de Cork, there are other initiatives, such as a year-round exhibition programme in our art gallery as well as talks and workshops on different themes. It’s not just language teaching.”

Cork French Film Festival takes place all week. For more information and online tickets, head to corkfrenchfilmfestival.com.

Someone Somewhere: Showing as part of Cork French Film Festival.
Someone Somewhere: Showing as part of Cork French Film Festival.

The 31st annual Cork French Film Festival happens all week at venues across the city, taking in a wide variety of genres and cinematic interests. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with festival directors Valérie David-McGonnell and Josselin Le Gall.

And here are some must-see movies.

AHEAD of a packed few days of film for all tastes and interests, curator Marie-Pierre Richard provides notes on some of Downtown’s highlights of the French Film Festival’s programme.

Proxima - Thurday, Mach 5, 4.15pm

Eva Green (Penny Dreadful) stars as Sarah, French astronaut at the European Space Agency, training for her first year-long mission aboard the International Space Station with a crew including old-school Russian, Anton (Aleksei Fateev), and Mike (Matt Dillon), a veteran American space cowboy.

Aided by counsellor Wendy, Sarah prepares to deal with the emotional rupture, as she must leave her beloved seven year old daughter, to adapt to the conflict of her professional and personal choices, and the escalating challenges and physical stresses she must face in becoming a ‘space person’ in this very male environment.

Système K - Friday, March 6, , 1.45pm

This raw, vibrant documentary directed by French-born Renaud Barret (Brenda Bilili!), captures the fascinating street art scene in the mega-city of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite being one of Africa’s richest countries in terms of natural resources, it is a country plagued by civil wars and corrupt governments, and is one of its poorest in terms of living standards.

Who You Think I Am (Celle que vous croyez) - Friday, March 6, 8.45pm

Adapted from Camille Laurens’s novel of the same name, this vertiginous drama and entertaining thriller perfectly captures Laurens’s notion that “Love is living in another person’s imagination”. Shot in a contemporary Paris of recent architecture and urban areas with modern high-rise, surrounded by windows, a sort of glass box when at nightfall Claire’s body reflection appears in windows, taking on a ghostly dimension.

Les Misérables - Saturday, March 7, 8.45pm

French-Malian director Ladj Ly’s first feature, Les Misérables, is adapted from his 2017 award-winning short film of the same name. Ly grew up and still lives in Montfermeil, a North Paris suburb, where the film is set, and a suburb best known as the location of Victor Hugo’s classic novel. Set in the wake of France’s unifying 2018 World Cup victory, the film centres on three policemen, one of them recently recruited to the Montfermeil anti-crime brigade. The film is in Ly’s words, a call for action: “I made it for the politicians because they are responsible for this situation they’ve left to rot for about 40 years.”

La Verité (The Truth) - Sunday, March 8, 6.45pm

Film legends Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche star in master director Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s first film directing outside his native Japan. Asking actresses, what is acting? What makes a family? What is truth? And how to choose between a cruel truth and a kind lie? These are the questions Kore-Eda, a master of family observation, brings to light in this serious but also light-hearted film, where drama and comedy coexist.

  • All films are being screened at the Gate Cinema, North Main Street. Tickets available online and at the venue’s box office.

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