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Champs-Elysees Film Fest Bolsters Connection Between France and the U.S.

Championing French-American cultural ties through film, the fifth edition of the Champs-Elysees Film Festival unspools June 7-14 in the heart of Paris. The famed boulevard is home to several of the city’s finest first-run theaters including the UGC George V and Gaumont Ambassade. Instead of the usual tentpole pics, the theaters will host a diverse line-up ranging from eight U.S.-backed independents in competition to a political-themed section to archival screenings of acclaimed pics. The fest also features a salute to made-in-Chicago works, master classes and a shorts program, all with a nod to promoting and celebrating Gallic-American cross-cultural influences and relationships.

The brainchild and baby of producer, exhibitor and distributor Sophie Dulac, the festival’s cultural mission is now more important than ever, she says.

“We don’t have a big international film festival in Paris,” she says. “The festival brings people to the most beautiful avenue in the world.” The varied program of 80 films offers something for everyone, pro and non-pro: distributors seeking product, VIPs, general audiences, cinephiles and children, Dulac says.

In addition to the audience award sponsored by TitraFilm, for the first time the eight competition films will vie for a jury prize. Actress Nicole Garcia [she’ll also lead a master class] heads the jury along with up-and-coming thesps Deborah François, Felix Moati, Sophie Letourneur, Vincent Rottiers, and Zita Hanrot. “It’s important for American independents to receive these credits and acknowledgements from professionals,” says Dulac of the jury prize. Additionally, American and French shorts vie for audience awards.

From its first outing, the fest has showcased documentaries as official selections rather than delegating them to a special section.

“I love documentaries: they are often really good,” says Dulac, noting that in the past, several docs (such as 2015’s “Cartel Land”) have found a French TV outlet through the festival. Three topical documentaries are among 2016’s contenders: Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Sundance U.S. Grand Jury prizewinner “Weiner” about the disgraced New York City politico; Jeff Feuerzeig’s “Author: The JT LeRoy Story,” about the infamous literary hoax; and Robert Greene’s performance-based “Kate Plays Christine.”

“Weiner’s” co-filmmaker Kriegman, sees the fest as an opportunity to gauge the doc’s appeal to audiences who may not have been exposed to Weiner’s fall from grace.

“What’s exciting about going to this festival is to find out how the film will play internationally. The hope is that it’s enough of a self-contained story, that the narrative will resonate with people who have no idea about Anthony Weiner,” Kriegman says.

Bridging that cultural gap between the U.S. and France remains the fest’s core purpose, Dulac says. U.S. indies continue to need the attention the festival brings. “Because of the lack of co-production funds, it’s a challenge to convince French distributors to take the risk. It’s my job to bring these films to French audiences,” she adds.

The fest’s programming has evolved and expanded with each edition: a new section will present virtual-reality shorts including “Viens!” “It’s very surprising and slightly erotic,” says Dulac.

The special Chicago section came about via the sister city program between Paris and Chicago now in its 20th year. Director Andrew Davis [“The Fugitive”] will attend; screening are films made in or about the windy city. They run the gamut from Stephen Frears’ “High Fidelity” to acclaimed docs “Hoop Dreams” by Steven James and Frederick Wiseman’s “Public Housing.”

Narrative classics get their due and represent a cross-section rarely played at the plush Gallic multiplexes. “Blue Velvet,” “Endless Summer,” “Little Big Man” and “Missing,” [with Costa-Gavras set to attend] are on the docket. They join premieres of studio releases including Viggo Mortensen starrer “Captain Fantastic” and Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship.” There are also two days of industry events geared toward discovering new talent.

The festival’s broad reach is ambitious, Dulac acknowledges, and she aims for increased attendance despite the heftier security presence, which is a fact of life in France today.

“Americans can come to France, we are welcoming them,” says Dulac. “It is very important in these times that we enjoy, enjoy. More than ever, we’re trying to live normally.”

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