Colchester residents can soon take a trip around the world without ever leaving Chittenden County.
The department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literature at St. Michael’s College and the Alliance Française of the Lake Champlain Region will host the national Tournées French Film Festival, beginning next Wednesday.
“There are people all over who live in very different ways and I think that it’s important to know that they exist and to see how they exist,” festival co-organizer and French professor Laurence Clerfeuille said. “And film, I think, is a very easy, very accessible way of understanding another culture.”
The festival is free and open to the public. It will kick off October 10 and run through November 12. All films will be screened in one of the college’s Cheray Science Hall classrooms on scheduled nights at 7 p.m.
Tournées will feature six films spanning a variety of genres and settings from France to French-speaking African countries. These include a biopic on fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, a documentary on a charcoal salesman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, several dramas and “BPM (Beats per minute)” a historical fiction film covering the AIDS epidemic in Paris during the 1980s.
“We choose films that are different enough so that depending what your tastes are you’ll find something you’ll like,” Clerfeuille said.
St. Michael’s College has hosted the festival with grant funds from the French Embassy since 2012. Its name has a two-fold meaning: Tournées refers to a “tour” in French but is also the equivalent of American film director’s cry, “action,” according to Clerfeuille.
Professors Peter Vantine and Clerfeuille have prepared for this fall’s festival since June. To host Tournées, colleges and universities must apply through its organizer, French-American Cultural Exchange in education and the arts. FACE works with the French Embassy’s cultural services to select films for Tournées and bring them to campuses across the U.S.
This year, the college received $2,200 to make its month of foreign cinematic experience possible. Most of the funds go toward purchasing film rights, with any leftover monies aiding promotion and — if possible — refreshments at the event, Clerfeuille said. She added the free event is an opportunity for moviegoers to see contemporary foreign films without paying the price of other festivals.
For the Alliance Française of the Lake Champlain Region, it’s a way to support both the college’s and its own passion for French language and culture. The international non-profit organization works to promote all things French, according to AFLCR vice president Marc Juneau.
“The French love to go to movies, and that’s very much a cultural preoccupation in the U.S. as well,” he said. “So this is kind of a marriage of both worlds.”
The French speaking community in Chittenden County is “a relatively small group,” according to Juneau. Thus, the film festival offers a rendez-vous point for Francophiles in the local area. Colchester is home to French speakers from France, Canada, French-speaking African countries and the U.S.
For Juneau, Tournées is an opportunity to spread the word about Alliance Française, which is internationally known, but many in the Burlington area have never heard of it or its offerings, he said.
The Alliance Française has held its own film screenings, however, according to Clerfeuille, it’s not always easy for their organization to get screening rights. After attending their film events, the professor met with Alliance Française and asked organizers if they might be interested in taking part of Tournées. She said the college’s comfortable seating, big screen, sound system and parking make it an ideal gathering spot for French flicks.
Both groups hope to grow appreciation for foreign films and cultures through their festivals and teaching efforts.
Audiences will learn more about their own culture through comparison, and foreign films help viewers see the world through a different lens, Clerfeuille said.
“If you watch only the [world] news, you get only a certain aspect of those cultures,” she said. “You’ll know about wars, natural disasters and things like that, but you still have no idea how people live.”
Moreover, it’s an interesting and enjoyable experience, she said.
The St. Michael’s stop of the Tournées film festival will include guest speakers that co-organizers Clerfeuille and Vantine have recruited to introduce the films and share their expertise on the topic.
This year, the college will host Christophe Martet, a Parisian and former president of Act Up-Paris, the organization highlighted in the festival’s opening film, “BPM.” He will start Tournées with a discussion of AIDS in France in the 1980s.