At a time where the link between culture and international relations is more important than ever, the Cork French Film Festival celebrates its thirtieth anniversary with the theme of togetherness in a time of division. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with director Jean-Christophe Trentinella.
Since 1989, Cork’s French Film Festival has proved to be an important cultural bridge between Ireland and France, bringing the best of the latter’s storied cinematic history to Leeside audiences every spring, with the help of the local Francophone community, the city’s most dedicated cinema enthusiasts (see panel below), and the infrastructural oversight of Alliance Française de Cork.
On its thirtieth anniversary, the festival’s chosen theme, ‘Ensemble’ (‘together’) is more than apt, coming along at a time of international upheaval as Brexit drastically changes the contours of European relations, and as calls are renewed for stronger ties between the countries. The importance of these two points to this year’s festival were outlined by the presence at this year’s launch of Tánaiste Simon Coveney, acting as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Speaking at the launch event last year, Coveney emphasised the importance of the international collaboration that underpins the festival annually. “France and Ireland have vibrant and historic ties. Culture is an important part of maintaining and strengthening our links, so it is particularly appropriate that the theme of this year’s festival (explores) how we are all interconnected.”
On the importance of these seismic events to the programming and curation of this year’s event, recently-installed director Jean-Christophe Trentinella discusses the uncertainty Brexit has created, and how it has inspired the festival’s theme. “The imminent Brexit is difficult to ignore, as it’s going to impact everyone in ways that are difficult to foresee because of the multiplicity of ties, cultural, economic, social, etc. that connect nations to one another. So the notion of uncertainty was the starting point of the thought process. However, it became increasingly clear that the focus should be on interdependence, the undeniable fact that, for the better or worse, we are in this together.”
Working with guest curator Marie-Pierre Richard, the process of bringing together this year’s selection of films is the first step in reinforcing these cultural ties, as the festival works closely with filmmakers, distributors to bring these pieces of work to Leeside audiences. “Marie-Pierre and I have been working constantly over the phone and through emails, and it is through our conversations that the theme emerged progressively. Marie-Pierre’s sensitivity helped her select and source films that would speak to different audiences, and would speak to this year’s theme. In a way, the work process itself is an extension of the necessity of working together in uncertain times. In regards to dealing with filmmakers, guests and distributors, Marie-Pierre operated her magic behind the scenes.”
The festival’s spirit of collaboration extends to its opening night, where the gala opening happens at St. Peter’s on North Main Street, with turntablist and DJ Jean du Voyage playing a set, and invited guests from the French film community attending. The importance of these partnerships not only to overall cultural life in Cork, but specifically the Francophone community in Cork city and county, can’t be underestimated. “Partnerships are essential for the life of a festival, that’s why we are so grateful to be supported by wonderful partners and sponsors. Beyond that, fostering partnerships and relationships is at the core of the Alliance Française’s DNA. We are always looking at ways to make our countries and people closer. And bringing the best of French culture to Cork and Munster is an essential part of it, the other main aspect is teaching French. An event like the opening night gala of the festival really embodies what we are all about, because it is thanks to partnerships with the City of La Rochelle, and La Fondation Alliance Française, the support of local food producers, sponsors, the French Embassy and St. Peter’s that we can bring Jean to Cork. And we hope that it will bring both the Irish and French communities together.”
Aside from hitting themes of togetherness on social and political levels, the Festival will also be working with the Cork Environmental Forum and local food producers to produce crossover food events. With food being a large growth sector in Cork county in recent years, and a central component of trade between Ireland and France, the importance of these extracurricular activities to the festival extends beyond secondary programming. “We wanted to make this festival relevant to people by offering a program that reflects the current complexity of life, and also by involving different groups and community groups. The environment is certainly one of the most pressing matters as we may simply end up facing extinction by destroying our habitat. These moments of gathering are essential to connect, bond, communicate and create forces that will drive change. And of course, food plays a big part in the French art of gathering in the dynamic of a festival.”
The festival itself enjoys support from numerous international partners, and as has been stated, is seen as an important link between Irish and French cultures. The diplomatic importance of events like the French Film Festival is seen in the attendance of dignitaries like An Tánaiste and the French Ambassador to Ireland at launch events, and is a valuable opportunity for cross-promotion in the fields of tourism. “There is, of course, a diplomatic dimension to cultural networks such as the Alliance Française, the British Council, Goethe Institute, Confucius Institute etc. in the sense that their purpose is to foster understanding and positive relationships between countries, and good relationships facilitate tourism and business. An event like CFFF offers, incidentally, a window to promote France, its beautiful countryside and invite viewers to come and visit. This is, therefore, no coincidence that some of our partners and sponsors include Cork Airport, or Brittany Ferries.”
As the time draws closer for the festival’s launch, Trentinella’s work is well cut out for him, but with a rich and varied programme of cinema ahead (see panel), getting out to see everything might not be such a clear-cut task. “A festival is a collective achievement, and I am extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of our team, our volunteers, and for the support of our Board, our partners and sponsors. I hope that the choice of films will inspire viewers to come and see them, and that they will leave the theatre with a heightened feeling of connection with the rest of humanity. I personally would like to see as many films as possible, but I know that I will probably only manage to see one or two, as our team and I will work behind the scenes to ensure that the festival runs smoothly.”
Three decades in, the Cork French Film Festival continues against not only a backdrop of international change, but a shifting urban landscape, as the city reacts to expansion and the turnover in venues and spaces available to festivals and cultural facilitators. “Most of the problems we are facing collectively come from a false sense of disconnection. This is symptomatic of the dominant economic model, which relentlessly seeks growth whereas our resources are limited, and our world finite. That’s why we are not seeking growth, but growth within reason, and simply to continue to be a player in Cork’s cultural landscape, and continue to bring the best of French cinema to Cork. As Cork continues to evolve, we will evolve with it. We have been doing it for thirty years already!”
Cork French Film Festival runs from March 3rd to 10th at the Gate Cinema, North Main Street and other venues around the city. For more, check out corkfrenchfilmfestival.com.