Gallic helmers bring wisdom to students

USC, NYU, AFI among schools welcoming filmmakers

HOLLYWOOD — French filmmakers may not be molding their characters on American idols like Humphrey Bogart anymore, but nonetheless the Franco-American film exchange is in tres bien shape these days.

Films like Vincent Gallo’s “Brown Bunny” are being co-financed by French companies, and Audrey Tatou is as popular as any American ingenue.

To further this interplay, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Unifrance, a non-profit org which promotes French cinema around the world, is working in tandem with film schools in Los Angeles and New York to bring French directors into the classroom. And not just any French directors — these are the top filmmaking names in France.

The program, which will last two months, bowed last week in L.A., where directors Patrice Leconte, Agnes Varda and Regis Wargnier (an Oscar and Cesar winner for “Indochine) began talking shop with MFA students at the American Film Institute, CalArts, UCLA and USC.

Directors Catherine Breillat, Patrice Chereau, Cedric Klapisch and Claude Miller will be working with students at New York’s NYU, Columbia, CUNY and the School of Visual Arts.

“The achievement of film for the entire 20th century has always been the result of a dialogue across cultural boundaries,” says Robert Rosen, dean of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, “from the French New Wave, which looked to American maverick filmmakers, to film school graduates like Francis Ford Coppola who looked to the New Wave, to French filmmakers today looking to Coppola.”

Besides students lapping up practical and creative bons mots from Gallic elder craftsmen and women, the program gives the directors a chance to talk about what it’s like to work outside Hollywood.

“I think there are misunderstandings between French and American cinema,” says Christian Boudier, head of the French Ministry’s cinema department. “And I think French directors have a strong desire to explain the way they work in France, where they are involved on projects sooner, and they work more as artists.”

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