Hollywood French film fest banks on female power

Colcoa executive producer and programmer Francois Truffart (left) and Colcoa deputy director Anouchka Van Riel attend the announcement of the 22nd edition programme of the Colcoa French Film Festival on April 3, 2018.
Colcoa executive producer and programmer Francois Truffart (left) and Colcoa deputy director Anouchka Van Riel attend the announcement of the 22nd edition programme of the Colcoa French Film Festival on April 3, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The world's largest festival of French film hits Hollywood this month embracing the #MeToo moment with a line-up dedicated to the country's best female film-making talent.

The 22nd Colcoa - originally styled "City of Lights, City of Angels" - is offering a record 86 films, television shows, digital series and virtual reality experiences, many never seen before in the United States, as well as a handful of international and US premieres.

It is the first edition of the annual event since the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal that sparked the #MeToo and Time's Up campaigns, and the program reflects the push to celebrate the work of women.

"Through its different competitions, we are proud to dedicate this year's programming of Colcoa to women, both in their role in the making of the films and series, and their central roles in the majority of the stories selected this year," said executive producer Francois Truffart.

Colcoa boasts some 75 entrants for a slew of honours, including the audience award, best documentary, best TV movie, critics award and critics special prize.

With the film industry still reeling from the shock of the sexual harassment and assault firestorm that ended the careers of Weinstein and numerous other powerful Hollywood figures, the female aspect of many Colcoa entrants should resonate on both sides of the Atlantic.

These include Oscar-nominated Xavier Legrand's feature debut Custody, a social realist thriller about a violent abuser who forces his way back into his ex's life that won best director and debut at the Venice film festival.

The Party is Over, another feature directorial debut, this time from Marie Garel-Weiss, is about two women who bond as they battle drug addiction, becoming inseparable.

More than half of the selection of short films are by women, while panels will address the role of women in the French film industry and first films directed by women.

Over at the festival's virtual reality corner, an experience called Uturn examines the gender gap from both sides with interwoven stories that allow the viewer to embody either a female or male character.

The experience was created by Nathalie Mathe, a NASA scientist turned film-maker and VR specialist whose credits include Persepolis, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Captain Phillips and Fast and Furious 6. "For 50 years women have been told how they should adapt and learn to survive in order to succeed in male-dominated industries like tech and media," she said in a statement about the project.

Mathe said that while a few women had risen to the top of their field, the vast majority were still under-represented and under-valued, an assertion borne out in numerous studies of employment patterns in showbusiness.

"Now is the time for changing strategy. Men need to see gender issues as their problem too, an overall outdated cultural framework that needs to be reframed," Mathes added.

Colcoa also boasts a focus on filmmaker and actress Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), screening her first movie The Adopted before a discussion about her career, followed by a US premiere screening of her latest film, Diving. The festival opens on April 23 with the North American premiere of writer-director Eric Barbier's Promise at Dawn a celebration of motherhood starring Pierre Niney and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

It closes a week later with the North American premiere of Cedric Kahn's study of a religious sanctuary for recovering addicts, The Prayer, which won newcomer Anthony Bajon best actor at Berlin's film festival.

Colcoa is nothing if not glamorous and other big international names sprinkling stardust on the festival include Vanessa Paradis (Dog), Gerard Depardieu (Get Out Your Handkerchief, The Other Woman), Charlotte Rampling (Flesh of the Orchid) and Jean Dujardin (Return of the Hero).

In the documentary section, highlights include Nothingwood, which follows the work of Salim Shaheen, a chubby Afghan actor who is his country's one-man film industry.

A gonzo director who has made 111 movies on a shoestring in a country where just watching one can get you killed, he and his endearingly eccentric band of actors are the stars of the documentary.

Shaheen regularly dodges minefields and the Taliban, and survived a rocket attack on his studio in 1995 in which nine of his actors and crew died "I am stronger than death," he told AFP at the Cannes film festival. "We Afghans don't worry about death. It will come, we just don't know when." Alongside the movies, the television competition features 12 series and TV movies, including the international premiere of Proud, a three-part miniseries dealing with gay rights spanning 30 years in France.

Colcoa's growing repertoire of movies and burgeoning popularity - about 25,000 people now attend each year - have seen it become the world's largest festival dedicated to French film, according to its organisers.