a q&a with french film festival director richard blakely
Corinne: For people who don’t know the French Film Festival, could you give a brief overview from your perspective?
Richard Blakely: It was started 21 years ago. This is its 21st anniversary, so it can drink now (laughs). This year I think it’s a good strong program because the films—if you noticed—all except one, are very recent, produced within the last two years, most of them in 2015. And a lot of them haven’t been shown in the States before.
C: And they’re all French films?
R: Yeah, they’re all made in France except for one, the one called “Eau Argentée” [“M’a Al-Fidda”]. It was filmed in Syria. But it was produced in France—they’re all French productions.
C: And what is your role specifically in the French Film Festival?
R: Well, I’m called the director of the festival, but I hate to use that word because so many people are involved. Basically, my job is to coordinate things in the department of French Studies. But in MCM, Susan McNeil and Liza Hebert do an awful lot of work, especially with graphics and setting up students … Also, Richard Manning … is the film archivist at MCM. And then another person who helps an awful lot is the guy who owns Cable Car, Daniel Kamil.
So my role is really to coordinate the French department’s input and to work with these people to put this together. We all first met in October and created a huge, long list of films.
C: So the planning starts in October?
R: Yes, we pick and choose and winnow it down to what we come up with.
C: And how do you pick?
R: We choose films that are available that we know we can get. Either they will be available in the States or we can have them shipped from France. Also, I look pretty carefully at reviews and online, and we consider things that we have seen. For example, my wife, Annie, and I saw “La Loi du Marché” last year, which is an amazing film.
C: And was this in France that you saw it?
R: Yes, right, we were in Paris, and we came home from the Bastille and were just amazed with the acting. Then we got home and turned on the Cannes awards, and just then Vincent Lindon, who was the lead and also helped direct, was awarded best director of the year.
C: What funny timing. So, picking the films, it’s partly the collaborative effort, but it helps when you’ve seen them yourself?
R: Yeah, it helps when you’ve seen them yourself. As does word of mouth. I send around a letter to all my friends in France and they say, “You gotta have this, you gotta have that.”
C: That makes a lot of sense.
R: The other thing I really like about the Festival is the student involvement; there are a lot of volunteer students. In the last couple of years we’ve started doing introductions by students. Not for every film, but for a lot of them.
C: That sounds like a really nice thing. How long have you been involved in the French Film Festival?
R: I came to Brown in 1973 to teach film. I’d just come out of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and I had a degree in literature and film. In those days people didn’t study film; it was not an academic subject …
My favorite course I taught was on the films of Jean Renoir of the 1930s. In fact, I did my thesis on one of Renoir’s movies, and Renoir himself was living in Beverly Hills at the time, so I was in touch with him. He was amazed to know that I was using his movies to teach French language, and also as an art form …
After those 10 years, I went to URI to teach English … But I always had my foot in film; I also taught film at URI. And then I went to France for three years and taught film and English there, American films. I came back to Brown later on and continued teaching part time here and at RISD.
But anyway, because of my interest in film, the second or third year of the festival they asked me to direct it, and I did, and I’ve come back from time to time … I’ve done it three or four times.
C: Do they try to have different directors each time?
R: I think they get whoever’s willing to do it. It’s a lot of work.
C: Do you have a favorite of the movies coming this time?
R: I really like “La loi du Marché.” But also the two films with Géraldine Pailhas: “Espion,” and also she was in “Le Dos Rouge.” She’s coming to present.
C: And are there any that you’re particularly looking forward to seeing?
R: Yeah, well I very much want to see “Bébé Tigre,” and “Dheepan,” and of course Géraldine Pailhas’ two films … they’re really all so good.
C: I’m curious also, how did you get interested in French culture to begin with?
R: I did a junior year abroad. And I was an English major until I came back from Bordeaux. That was the first year the University of California had a program. It was a rare thing—that was in ‘63. I participated in that year abroad and came back with more French credits than English, and—you know the story, right?
So, I got my French major and more and more kind of fell in love with France. And then I fell in love with a French woman. That helped.
The French Film Festival (https://www.brown.edu/campus-life/events/french-film-festival/) will be running at the Cable Car Cinema from February 25, 2016 – March 3, 2016.