Cork French Film Festival's new Alliance

Cork French Film Festival celebrates its 25th birthday in style, writes Colette Sheridan

CORK French Film Festival (March 2-9) celebrates its 25th anniversary next week. The theme for this year’s programme is the art of the soundtrack. The opening gala screening at the Gate Cinema is Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which stars Catherine Deneuve. The festival, organised by Alliance Francaise in Cork, will be officially opened by Demy’s daughter, Rosalie Varda-Demy. A retrospective of Demy’s work will follow. It includes his early shorts from the 1950s and several of his lesser known works from the ’70s and ’80s as well as his best known films. These will be presented in restored versions.

Many of Demy’s films were scored by Michel Legrand. Festival director Nora Callanan has invited Legrand to Cork in May, when he will perform a concert to celebrate the festival’s quarter century in a venue yet to be confirmed.

Callanan, the voluntary president of Alliance Francaise in Cork since 1992 and the voluntary director of the festival since 1997, is a Francophile to the core, visiting France four or five times a year. Originally from Dripsey and educated at the Mercy Convent in Macroom, Callanan enjoyed studying French and music. She initially wanted to be an actress but became professionally involved in theatre in a circuitous way. As director of VECSI Ireland, an organisation promoting linguistic and cultural exchange between Ireland and France, Callanan brought theatre companies, including Corcadorca and Graffiti, to France where they performed plays in English for French secondary school pupils.

The Cork French Film Festival evolved, beginning on a very small scale, initially under the guidance of Pascal Ladreyt, who was working with Alliance Francaise in the city. “It was a very natural thing for Alliance Francaise to do,” says Callanan.

The festival is grant-aided by the Arts Council and Cork City Council. This year, it has no major sponsor, but businesses from all over Cork have rowed in behind it. Over the years, the festival has been graced by luminaries from the French film world including Bertrand Tavernier, Jean-Claude Carriere, Christopher Lambert, Pierre Etaix and Agnes Varda, who is Rosalie Varda-Demy’s mother.

While the main programme is at the Gate Cinema, the festival also hosts special film events in other venues. On March 6, pianist Neil Brand will accompany Rene Claire’s silent comedy masterpiece, An Italian Straw Hat at the Stack Theatre at the CIT Cork School of Music. He will also present his hit show, The Silent Pianist Speaks at the English Market on March 5, followed by a Belle Epoque-themed supper in the Farmgate Café. At the River Lee Hotel on March 4, Albert Lamorisse’s classic short film, The Red Balloon, will be screened. This wordless film about a young boy discovering a stray balloon on the streets of Paris will feature a live score performed by French accordionist Christopher Rohr, followed by fine French dining.

On March 8, Cork-born composer Irene Buckley will present a specially-commissioned live score for Jean Epstein’s silent masterpiece, The Fall of the House of Usher at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral. The guest organist is James McVinnie who has collaborated with musicians such as Philip Glass, Beth Orton, and Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire). On March 7, there will be a candle-lit supper at Ballymaloe House followed by a screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s epic, Le Mépris, starring Brigitte Bardot. Guest composer, Laurent Levesque, will perform a musical introduction as a homage to Georges Delerue who scored the classic film. The festival reaches out to schools and the third level sector. “There’s always an educational element to the festival,” says Callanan. “We have two specially chosen films with education packs which will run at the Gate Cinema every morning. We also have master classes at UCC.”

One of the master classes will see Dr Mel Mercier of UCC’s music department presenting ‘Soundtrack with Neil Brand’ at the university’s Ó Riada Hall. Brand will explore the work of the great movie composers, demonstrating their techniques.

There will be a master class entitled ‘The First Avant-Garde’ at UCC given by Jonathan Broda of the International Film School in Paris. He will look at the artistic trends of the 1920s and how they interacted with a Paris that attracted artists from all disciplines and cultures.

The programme for the festival is curated by Nora’s son, Paul Callanan, who has been choosing films and themes for the festival for seven years. He is a London-based film-maker who makes music videos for bands and is the co-director of the Hackney Film Festival as well as being the co-ordinator for the British Film Industry’s London Film Festival.

“Paul spent a lot of his childhood in France and went back and forth as a student. My daughter teaches French at Rochestown College and her six-year-old girl is learning French at Alliance Francaise. They couldn’t escape it. I’m engaged with France all day, at Alliance Francaise, where we have a team of ten French native speakers who teach.”

Nora Callanan says the festival attracts an audience of between 5,000-6,000 every year.

The festival closes with the Irish premiere of Attila Marcel, written and directed by Sylvain Chomet. After the success of his animation features, Chomet’s first live action film tells the story of “a hen-pecked pianist and is as whimsically poetic as all his previous work”.

* Cork French Film Festival runs from March 2 — 9.


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