Programmer cherrypicks pix for Yanks

Because the City of Lights, City of Angels film fest serves as much of a cultural exchange between Hollywood and France as a Gallic cinema showcase, it comes as little surprise that its director and programmer Francois Truffart has spent the better part of his professional career as an ambassador for the French film industry.

Diplomatic posts in Hungary, Japan and the U.S. dot his resume. In 2003, after a stint working with Cannes president Gilles Jacob, Truffart continued to represent the Cannes market in the U.S. before accepting a gig with the Franco American Cultural Fund, which created and presents ColCoa.

He began programming the fest in 2004 and has subsequently taken over management of the event, every aspect of which demands his attention. It’s a job that any other festival would delegate to at least a half dozen people, which might explain why Truffart often looks like he just stepped off a 12-hour flight and is in need of a shave.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the 45-year-old Truffart lives, eats and breathes French cinema, watching more than 200 films and shorts a year in the course of his ColCoa reconnaissance. “Activities and interests” on his Facebook page are listed simply as “French films” and “watching foreign films.” He describes his passion as an “addiction.”

While he equates his first movie memory with Disney fare, his curatorial flair took root in high school, where he spearheaded a cinema club for three years. He was a big fan of ’70s Italian cinema with a predilection for the work of Fellini, Scola and Bellocchio, but also was intrigued by the New Hollywood of the same period, citing the works of Ashby, Rafelson, Coppola, Pollock, Allen and Penn, among others, as inspirations.

Given the stakes of his job, one might assume he faces pressure from several governmental and industry quarters to bow to their agenda. But he assures that the final programming decisions are his alone.

“Sometimes I decide not to take a big film I know people would like because now every director wants to come to ColCoa,” he says. “My problem is that we have to refuse 80% of the films that I see. And it’s not easy to manage. But we do it in a very independent way.”

Truffart says his sole criteria is that American audiences will relate to a film, even if he doesn’t. If he has doubts, or is on the fence, he’ll occasionally create his own test audience. “Sometimes if I have a screener of a film I show it to four or five Americans and say ‘what do you think of the film?’ And then I make a decision.”

The strategy seems to have worked out. ColCoa has grown from six features and about 3,000 attendees in year one (1997) to 34 features, 26 shorts and an expected attendance of 18,000 French film enthusiasts this year.

“I was very eclectic in my taste from the very beginning,” he says, “and that helps me now because we are not closed to one kind of cinema at ColCoa. So it is very easy for me to show at the same time a film of Dany Boon and a film of Catherine Breillat.”

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