Rendez-Vous Film Festival celebrates a feisty 30-year legacy of French film in Vancouver

For Régis Painchaud and Lorraine Fortin, being smaller players in a big budget industry is a challenge – but one that is well worth the effort. They’re the co-founders of Visions Ouest Productions, a B.C.-based organization that has hosted numerous cultural and educational events highlighting French film in the province, including their annual Rendez-Vous French Film Festival.

As the fest reaches its 30th anniversary this year, Painchaud and Fortin look back on a hard-fought history to bring French films to audiences across the province, and look forward to what should be an exciting lineup for this year’s festival both online and in-person.

“The key word is decouverabilité: how we let people find us, find what we do – and it’s always an ongoing job,” says Fortin. “We try to put our films where there’s a demand for it.”

The festival takes place from Feb. 24 to March 8.

Bringing French film to British Columbia

When Fortin and Painchaud first met each other at a film exhibition in Vancouver over 30 years ago, it proved just as fateful to their careers as it was to their personal lives.

“I always said I fell in love with Vancouver, fell in love with Régis, and I fell in love with the whole group of artists working in the movie industry,” says Fortin. “It was fascinating.”

Shortly thereafter, Fortin and Painchaud founded VOP, and have endeavoured ever since to spread their love of French film throughout British Columbia – this includes presenting at schools from Kelowna to Victoria – and facilitating online film screenings to reach audiences across the province.

From Kanaval (2023, Dir. Henri Pardo), one of the dozens of films being shown at this year’s 30th annual Rendez-Vous Film Festival. | Photo courtesy of Rendez-Vous Film Festival.

“In 2021, the festival in February was all online. But like other festivals, we just loved it and we kept it,” explains Fortin. “It’s a way to reach everybody, and the small French communities everywhere are able to use it.”

In their years of running the Rendez-Vous Film Festival specifically, some aspects have become much easier. As Painchaud notes, Canadians can nowadays screen a movie from Europe without having to ship 150 pounds of 35 millimetre film across the Atlantic.

However, other parts remain challenging. While it is now physically easier to screen a film than ever, screening it at Rendez-Vous at an early, opportune, audience-grabbing time is tricky without the right connections, since filmmakers hope to be choosy about where to present their debut.

“It’s really complicated, because that period of the year, the end of February, beginning of March, that is all the international competition,” says Painchaud. “Since we are a small little festival… we are not a big player.”

But with time and persistence, Painchaud and Fortin have been able to get better access to film screenings that can help sustain their goal of promoting French film in British Columbia. And in the meantime, they’ve been able to showcase other films that sometimes go under the radar, occasionally going so far as paying for the subtitling of a French film they really want to showcase to English-speaking audiences in Vancouver.

Stories of displacement and home

For this year’s festival, Rendez-Vous will be showcasing dozens of films online and in-person from filmmakers in Canada and around the world. Two that stand out for Painchaud are Ru and Kanaval.

Ru is based on the award-winning novel of the same name, and shares the story of a Vietnamese girl looking to navigate a new culture, language and life in Quebec after fleeing the Vietnam war. Meanwhile, Kanaval tells the semi-autobiographical story of director Henri Pardo, a story about a mother and son moving to Quebec to escape the dictatorship in their home country of Haiti. Prior to its screening, there will be a discussion with director Pardo about the film.

For Painchaud, it’s important to be able to showcase films that speak to displacement, as well as the Canadian aspiration for inclusivity and acceptance. As Painchaud notes, stories about displacement continue to be deeply relevant.

“It’s not different right now, because that is what happened in the Mediterranean right now, with climate change… so we have those two subjects made from Haiti, from Vietnam, but at the same time it can be anywhere around the world,” explains Painchaud.

As such, Painchaud hopes that showcasing films like these inspire acceptance, all while entertaining francophones and francophiles alike.

“The young kids, they arrive from all over the world, or from different situations… We can give them an example of what society can see, and what chance we have to live here in Canada. All the details are not perfect, but I’m pretty lucky to get to be here. I wish we can accommodate a lot of people,” says Painchaud.

For more information on the festival, visit