Star Pedigree to Light up Cork’s French Film Festival

Timbuktu.jpg

Conor Power talks to Paul Bloom, director of the Cork French Film Festival in advance of this year’s event

The Cork French Film Festival is now in its 27th year and while many of the more recent editions have operated with a theme harking back to an earlier era, this year’s festival will have a much more modern slant.

"We’re a niche festival and it’s always difficult to get either sponsorship or public funding." Cork French Film Festival Director Paul Bloom

“We’re a niche festival and it’s always difficult to get either sponsorship or public funding.”
Cork French Film Festival Director Paul Bloom

“We’re pretty excited about it,” says Festival Director Paul Bloom. “We’ve got a pretty contemporary programme this year, with a lot of Irish premieres and preview screenings – something that we haven’t had over the last few years when we did more historic retrospectives.

“We’re working with a new curator this year and we wanted to make sure that we programmed a really exciting programme this year.”

The line-up is a very attractive one, no doubt and it features highly-anticipated new films such as “Timbuktu” (above) that swept the boards last weekend at the César Awards in Paris, with 7 of the French Film industry’s top awards, including those of Best Film and Best Director.

But the big star attraction in this year’s festival is undoubtedly Mathieu Amalric. The French actor/director is best known to English-speaking audiences as unhinged Bond baddie Dominic Greene in “Quantum of Solace”, but the hard-working cinema star has won three César awards and one Oscar nomination for his acting roles, as well as a Best Director prize at Cannes in 2010 (for “On Tour”). Was it difficult persuading such a personage to come to Cork for an entire week?

“It was and it wasn’t!” laughs Paul. “I was very lucky to bump into him a few years ago in Cannes just after he won the Best Director award… He’s a very down-to-earth and friendly guy and it turns out that he lived in West Cork for a period, so he has a connection to Cork. So it wasn’t too difficult to persuade him then at it was just about getting the timings right. We’ve been trying for a couple of years and we’re delighted that it worked out this year and that he’s presenting his latest film ‘The Blue Room’ and it also gave us an opportunity to present a retrospective on his work. We’re very grateful that he’s been so generous with his time.”

"He’s a very down-to-earth and friendly guy and it turns out that he lived in West Cork for a period." Paul Bloom on Mathieu Amalric

“He’s a very down-to-earth and friendly guy and it turns out that he lived in West Cork for a period.”
Paul Bloom on Mathieu Amalric

Amalric is putting on a Film-Making workshop – something that Bloom hopes will be a great event for young film-makers.

Bookings, says Bloom, are going exceptionally well so far, and the choice of headline films seems to have been prescient: Timbuktu deals with the effects of a Jihadist take-over in Northern Mali while cartoonist Tomi Ungerer (an illustrator who is no stranger to controversy) is presenting the animated film “Moon Man”.

Ungerer is an illustrator known from his life in America for his adult-oriented work with its strong themes of eroticism and satire, while in Europe, he’s better known for his children’s books. Paul says that Amalric has been a long-time fan of both, although “we’ll be focusing on his children’s work at this festival.”

“There’s a great tradition of animation and illustration in France and one of our other films that features in the Mathieu Amalric retrospective – Chicken with Plums – is based on a graphic novel.”

Running a festival like this one has its stresses. Making sure that there is going to be a festival next year is always the concern and it’s an annual challenge to secure the necessary capital. In fact, despite the importance of the event and the current rising tide in the country’s fortunes, the current government has seen fit to reduce funds via The Arts Council:

“It’s never easy,” says Paul, “and you have to remember that we’re a niche festival and it’s always difficult to get either sponsorship or public funding and we’ve had to face more cutbacks this year from The Arts Council in particular, but I’d have to say that the Cork City Council have been absolutely fantastic in supporting us, as have so many businesses and personalities in Cork in coming out and helping and supporting us.

“So it’s really been a grassroots kind of festival this year, with the help of friends and the people of Cork… Each year, it just gets tougher and tougher to keep the festival going.”

Paul’s interest in French film is, by his own admission, focused on the early years in the country where cinema was born:

“Cinema was invented in France and I’m very interested in that period of French cinema – the 1920s and the first avant-garde period of cinema; it’s just a really exciting period because it was at a point in history when the rules were just being written. There was a lot of experimentation, a lot of creativity and with some fantastic films. We always pay tribute to that in the festival.”

Scene from 'The Fall of the House of Usher' from 1928: "It’s just a really exciting period because it was at a point in history when the rules were just being written."

Scene from ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ from 1928: “It’s just a really exciting period because it was at a point in history when the rules were just being written.”

One of the key events in that regard is the screening in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral of the Silent-era classic “The Fall of the House of Usher”, which will be accompanied by a live score by Irene Buckley. The atmospheric and dream-like film from 1928 was made by Jean Epstein, who abandoned creative film-making in favour of documentary work and left Paris shortly afterwards for Brittany. The festival is also showing a retrospective of three of his short films on Brittany.

“The series is called ‘Breton Poems’… they’re really interesting films, particularly for Irish audiences because they portray Breton costumes, Breton folklore and there are fascinating connections with Ireland to our own native heritage.”

Has he any particular favourite amidst the line-up that he’s most looking forward to?

“Well, I’m really looking forward to all the Mathieu Almaric films… ‘On Tour’ is a real favourite of mine… but another highlight for me is the Ballymaloe event. We’re doing a fantastic screening there of Jonathan Rossiter’s film ‘Natural Resistance’.”

The film is a follow-up to Rossiter’s Palme d’Or-nominated 2004 film “Mondovino”, dealing with the Natural Wine movement in Europe and resistance to the globalisation and over-industrialisation of the wine industry – something that many feel has led to a reduction in the quality of the final product since the 1960s.

“After the screening, there’ll be a meal and we’ll have some of the natural wines featured in the documentary, so it’s going to be one of the great nights of the festival!”

It sounds like there’ll be quite a few great nights at this year’s festival.

The 26th Cork French Film Festival runs from the 1st to the 8th of March 2015 inclusive. Further details and booking are available on the website at www.corkfrenchfilmfestival.com. The festival programme is below…

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