Vive le French fest

City of Lights exposes pix that might never unspool in L.A.

HOLLYWOOD — “Welcome to the Freedom Festival,” Christine Pernin, director of the City of Lights, City of Angels festival, announced jokingly. Of course, the annual Los Angeles event is usually known simply as the French Film Festival, and there was no mistaking the nationality of fest supporters clutching flutes of champagne while munching on the requisite tiny quiches at the opening night’s reception.

“It’s a sensitive time,” admitted DGA president Martha Coolidge, “but film is an art form, above individual politics. And this festival exposes films that would never be seen in Los Angeles.”

“It’s a good place to shop for films,” agreed Strand Releasing co-prexy Marcus Hu, accompanied by avant-garde filmmaker Gregg Araki.

MPA topper Jack Valenti attempted to strike a conciliatory note, saying that “the French and American film communities are bound by cords that are unbreakable, no matter what’s happening.” But when he ended with a note of support for the troops in Iraq, he was booed by an audience member, which made his temper flare. “We saved your ass in World War II,” he roared back to her.

Also mingling before the opening night film “24 Hours in the Life of a Woman” were pic’s helmer Laurent Bouhnik, Writer’s Guild prexy Victoria Riskin, French consul general Jean-Luc Sibiude, thesps Jacqueline Bisset and Alfre Woodard and helmers Michael Mann, Arthur Hiller and Pitof.

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