The theme of festivals returning after the circumstances of the past few years might be a tad familiar to regular readers in this parish, but for the people taking the time and effort to bring these events together, it’s a little bit special to be back in the game, and able to plan ahead with one less significant headache to contend with.
Enter the Cork French Film Festival, then - the longest-running French film programme in Ireland, launching next Thursday on, of all things, the Belem, a stunning 126-year old-French-made, three-mast ship, that belonged to the Guinness family for over two decades. Not a bad way to cut through the stagnant waters of the Covid crisis.
“A lot of people are looking forward to this, and our program is always very eclectic, so there's something for everyone,” says President of Alliance Française de Cork, Valérie David-McGonnell. “It is a beautiful ship, and it's also a cultural monument, in France. Very interesting, very beautiful, so we're delighted to have the boat coming.”
“I met some French people lately [in Cork], they said they were very happy to see that the festival is back,” says Honorary Consul of France in Cork, Kerry and Waterford, and member of the Board of Directors of Alliance Française de Cork, Josselin Le Gall. “Some of them were really surprised by the brochure that we launched, and they were happy to see various films, with very interesting themes, and happy also that we had ‘Poly’, a film for kids.”
Of course, the inevitable question arises of the nitty-gritty of being back at a festival, handling events and promotions, with all of the invocation of Murphy’s Law that can entail. “Everybody's looking forward to being back on site, as opposed to online last year - people really like to experience films on the big screen, so I think people are delighted, y'know, to have this event coming back fully on site,” says Valérie.
With a programme ranging from thrillers and dramas to family fare and animation, the festival bears a responsibility for making French-language film accessible, while keeping up with the artform’s domestic developments.To that end, all films are presented as subtitled - including special screenings for post-primary schools, happening later in the month.
“We've always tried to have school screenings, so we're delighted to be back with screenings on the 27th and 28th of September, in the mornings. The film is called Les Héritiers - 'Once in a Lifetime',” says Valérie.
“It's really good for secondary schools - a history teacher decides to take her most challenging class to participate in a competition about the Second World War and the Holocaust, and they actually win. The idea of this film was brought to the director by one of those students themselves - so it's a fantastic film for secondary schools.”
Cork has something of an active Francophone community, between the activities of Alliance Française and a wider diaspora Francophone population with whom the festival has interacted and made a native-speaking space in the past. As Special Consul for much of the Munster area, Le Gall speaks about how the festival holds a place in diplomatic relations.
“We are happy to have a large crowd of people who want to learn French, but on top of that, not only to promote French, but also as the consul, my aim is to show that the cultural exchange that we promote here goes beyond Cork.
“I remember [in the past], we had students coming from Dublin, which was absolutely fantastic for us. This is what keeps us going, two years away from the 35th anniversary - strengthening the relationship between France and Ireland.”
That fostering of Franco-Irish relations comes at an especially opportune time, considering the post-Brexit economic links that the two countries have forged by necessity - though the Film Festival has long occupied a place in relations between France and Ireland, it takes on further significance as the Electricity Interconnector stands at the outset of greater co-operation.
“[Cultural exchanges like the Festival] help to reinforce the discussion, and to bring new partners along as well. More and more, France and Ireland are getting closer thanks to the French Embassy and the partners we have in the country, like Cork City Council, they've been with us a long, long time. Next year, Ireland will be promoted in France. For example, in Brittany, we'll promote Ireland for 10 days, there will be a special guest.
“It's to show you, and to highlight the type of cross-relationships that we have from both sides, because it's becoming more and more huge. There was an event in July, recently, where the aim was to highlight the Irish higher education system, and the possibilities for cooperation with France. So we can clearly see again, here that France wishes to bring in new ideas and see how they can work together to promote both sides.”
Cork French Film Festival happens from Thursday September 1 to Sunday September 4 at the Gate Cinema, North Main Street. For more info and tickets, head to https://corkfrenchfilmfestival.com