The French connection: Festival celebrates 20 years of cinematic excellence

Ernest et Célestine is a not-to-miss children’s film which will play on  Feb. 14 and 15 at Rendez-vous. | Photo c ourtesy of Visions Ouest Productions

Ernest et Célestine is a not-to-miss children’s film which will play on Feb. 14 and 15 at Rendez-vous. | Photo c ourtesy of Visions Ouest Productions

When the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois et francophone de Vancouver/Rendez-vous French Film Festival (Rendez-vous) holds its landmark 20th edition from Feb. 7 to 16, it will be a celebration of the unique sensibility of francophone cinema. Moreover, it will honour the two decades of passion that the festival founders committed to promoting the event within the Vancouver cultural landscape.

Cherishing uniqueness

Rendez-vous is organized by the non-profit Visions Ouest Productions, which was co-founded by Régis Painchaud, Lorraine Fortin, Martine Galibois-Barss, Sylvie Godin and Michel Latour. The group wanted to create a niche for francophone cinema in Vancouver as well as educate the local public on francophone culture.

“It went beyond the [French] community. When we started we wanted to create something for Vancouver, bring something new, something fresh,” says Painchaud who, along with Fortin, is the main festival co-organizer.

Rendez-vous initially started with only Québécois films, but quickly expanded to include works from France, as well as many other francophone countries.

“We allow [Vancouver audiences] to be in contact with something that otherwise they are not in contact with. Québécois films sometimes explore unusual and difficult topics, but they are human, and we all want to live something that is real, that is true,” explains Fortin.

In addition to confronting difficult moral and ethical questions, Painchaud and Fortin believe that francophone films remind us of the importance of collectivity, a value that is often neglected in contemporary Canadian society, but forms the bloodline of this festival.

Forging new communities

Each year Painchaud and Fortin network with numerous community groups to spread awareness about the festival, gain partners to co-present films with and increase their understanding of what audiences might want to see at Rendez-vous.

“If we get a chance to introduce a group or a person to another, it is exactly what we want. We put seeds everywhere, and we just put some water every time we have the occasion,” says Fortin.

In particular, the festival attempts to reach out to new immigrants, and the province at large, by running special events programming year round, such as children’s circus workshops that tour in conjunction with films.

This year, the festival is proud to screen four films in homage to Black History Month: Grigris, Yam-Dam, La Pirogue and Heroes of the Sun/Noir Soleil. Heroes of the Sun shows the realities of the impoverished and violence stricken Cité Soleil community in Haiti, while also expressing hope for change.

For the film’s producer Fabienne Lips-Dumas, attending this year’s festival is a homecoming of sorts. The French-born documentary writer/director is based in the United States now, but used to call Vancouver home and has had several of her films featured at Rendez-vous already.

Despite financial limitations and the struggle to survive the dominance of American cinema, Lips-Dumas has high praise for the quality of documentary filmmaking in Vancouver, as well as for the thought-provoking and non-mainstream nature of Rendez-vous programming.

“Being able to show my film and to be in that environment is such a privilege, bringing your last work to people who know who you are, and being able to nourish that relationship,” she explains.

Embodying cinematic diversity

In addition to the films dedicated to Black History Month, Painchaud and Fortin are also excited about the festival opener, Alain Chartrand’s La Maison du Pêcheur. The film explores some of the precursors to the 1970 October Crisis, in which the kidnappings of two government officials by members of the Front de libération du Québec marked a turning point in the province’s sovereignty movement. Also of notable interest is Robert LePage and Pedro Pires’ Triptyque, a film that weaves three separate stories into a masterful exploration of memory and identity.

The festival will also feature some documentaries in its Salon du Cinéma portion from March 5 to 9, like Jean-Pierre Roy and Michel Breton’s La Langue à Terre, which discusses the evolution of the French language, both in Paris and Québéc. This portion of the festival is designed to give audiences a more experimental film selection, and a more organic environment in which to interact with filmmakers during events such as the screenwriting workshop. Rendez-vous will also screen two extraordinary children’s films, Ernest et Célestine and Louis Cyr, l’homme le plus fort du monde in both scholarly and family matinees on Feb. 14 and 15.

For both Painchaud and Fortin, the success of Rendez-vous is not primarily measured by the amount of money made, but rather by the quality of the cultural impact they have created.

“We have to be part of the Vancouver cultural environment; we have to become those who are there for French talent. I love to believe that we have made a difference,” says Fortin.

For more information on the films, events and tickets to the
Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois et francophone de Vancouver/Rendez-vous French Film Festival,