"I've studied French all my life, and I don't know of any other experience in the U.S. or anywhere else of such intense French culture and relationship-building," says festival founder Peter Kirkpatrick.
Unlike other film festivals, VCU's version gives viewers a rare opportunity to ask questions of the actors and directors after the screenings. With a special guest list of 31 directors, producers and actors who attend the festival to promote their films, the three-day film fest screens the most acclaimed feature-length and short films coming out of France.
Celebrated director Claude Miller, honorary president of the film festival, will give a lecture on changes in film production since the arrival of digital video to students, faculty and the general public at VCU. With a resumé that reads like a who's who of French film, Miller's career has included early production work with Godard and Truffaut, making his own award-winning features and serving as a member of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival.
Other notable participants in the festival are French actor Thierry Lhermitte, with more than 100 films to his name, including "La BanquiŠre" (1980) and "Les Bronzés," and César-award-winning actor Philippe Torreton, who will present "L'Equipier."
"The films and actors are a main part of the festival, and the energy between the public and the films is what makes it special," Kirkpatrick says. "There is so much work that goes into organizing the logistics of this event, but when you see this energy that happens during the festival and the reaction of American public to it, you just see that it is vital."
If that doesn't quite whet Richmonders' film appetite, there will be only a 24-hour wait until the James River Film Festival, which takes place April 4-10. Presented by the Richmond Moving Image Co-op sponsors of Flicker exhibitions and other screenings by Central Virginia filmmakers the festival will feature 17 events in seven days, culminating in a screening of film entries that will be judged in a national juried competition of short film and animation. Up for grabs is $2,000 in prize money.
A major highlight is festival headliner and renowned avant-garde rockers Pere Ubu, who will play live to Roger Corman's "X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes" April 9 at the Byrd. Out on tour in the States and around the world, Pere Ubu's rare Richmond appearance should bring out music enthusiasts, while Corman's film will bring out sci-fi film aficionados.
"We have a history of music and film in our programs, but this is the first live synchronous sound film that we've done," says festival founder Michael Jones.
Avant-garde and the bizarre could very well be the theme of the festival. Screenings include work by San Francisco-based filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky, whose films are on permanent collection at both the MoMA in New York and at the Pompidou Center in Paris; a documentary on the deconstructivist philosopher Jacques Derrida; and a Q & A and screening with gore director David Durston, whose 1971 film "I Drink Your Blood" will be shown with its original ending.
The festival will also feature seminars with film reviewers Daniel Neman, Maribeth Brewster and Duane Burges. Another highlight is the screening of world-renowned Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu's "A Hen in the Wind." Last year's festival winner, filmmaker Diane Bonder, will screen her films and conduct a Super-8 shooting and composition workshop.
Jones says he sees the event as a citywide festival, which is why he tries to rotate venues from the Byrd to Plant Zero to the Richmond Public Library. "We are getting around and getting our message out," he says, "showing films that relate to people that come to our programs."
Since its inception in 1994, the film festival has conducted nearly 300 workshops, seminars and screenings. With a mix of retrospectives, the juried competition and live film performances, the festival is sure to live up to its predecessors as an eclectic mix of art and entertainment. S
The VCU French Film Festival takes place April 1-3 at the Byrd Theatre. Tickets are $8 and passes are $60. For more information, visit www.frenchfilm.vcu.edu or call 827-3456.
The James River Film Festival takes place April 4-10. Venues vary. For more information, visit www.rmicweb.org or call 232-RMIC(7642).
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