In recent years, the fall festival season has turned fiercely competitive not just between the films themselves, but also among the fest directors selecting them — as the pressure to get first dibs on the newest, newsiest premieres has necessitated cutthroat programming politics. One way out of that minefield is to look back rather than forward — and it’s a dedicated focus on classic cinema that makes France’s Grand Lyon Lumière Festival one of the calmer cinematic congregations on the circuit.
Overseen by veteran auteur Bertrand Tavernier — president of film preservation body Institut Lumière — and directed by Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux, the Lyon-based fest runs Oct. 13-19 and boasts a plethora of restorations, reissues and homages.
Kicking off with a screening of Arthur Penn’s 47-year-old landmark “Bonnie and Clyde” (part of a three-film tribute to Faye Dunaway), this year’s decidedly catholic program runs the gamut from Frank Capra to the “Alien” quartet to the little-remembered samurai features of Tomu Uchida. At a festival dedicated to the manifold possibilities of the medium in all its forms, no connecting theme more specific than “cinema” is required.
The native industry, of course, is well represented, with the late Gallic auteur Claude Sautet (“A Heart in Winter”) the subject of one of the fest’s most extensive retrospectives. Tavernier himself has curated a sidebar of lesser-known French classics, Abel Gance’s 1939 “Paradise Lost” among them. European cinema dominates this year’s Splendors of Restoration section, with Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Jamaica Inn” among those deemed the year’s best-rejuvenated titles.
Even the two newer features to be found in the Lumière line-up have a reflective purpose. “The Search,” Michel Hazanavicius’ follow-up to the Oscar-winning “The Artist,” is an update of Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 classic of the same title. Meanwhile, “Wild Tales,” the Argentine comedy that was a sensation at Cannes, will play in honor of its producer Pedro Almodóvar, this year’s recipient of the Festival’s Lumière Award for career achievement. Previous honorees include Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino.
Almodóvar, who will accept the award at an Oct. 17 ceremony, will be celebrated not just with screenings of 13 of his films, but also a separate strand of lesser-known Spanish cinema programmed by the director himself, as well as a selection of international works he regards as personal influences, from such directors as Douglas Sirk and John Cassavetes. Finally, Almodovar’s own Oscar-winning “All About My Mother” will close out the fest on Oct. 19.
Almodóvar and Dunaway aside, other individuals to be feted in person at Lyon include Isabella Rossellini, Michael Cimino, Michel Legrand and Ted Kotcheff — whose 1982 Rambo franchise-starter, “First Blood,” will receive one of the more rarefied screenings of its lifetime, in the fest’s Cult Classics section. In additional, the festival will continue its ongoing Permanent History of Women Filmmakers project, with pioneering actress-turned-helmer Ida Lupino this year’s subject.
Popular appeal is key to the festival’s success, with the substantial presence of mainstream perennials alongside more esoteric rediscoveries and film introductions by French stars ensuring it’s as healthily attended by the general public as it is by specialists. Low ticket prices (with admission to most screenings a mere €5 ($6.41) compound the sense of inclusiveness.
Fremaux’s aim with the festival, after all, is to honor film history while incorporating cutting-edge developments in the medium to engage a fresh generation of film enthusiasts.
“It’s a classic film festival based in a new digital civilization,” he says. “But it is dedicated also to the memory of cinema itself and supports 35mm prints. Contemporary artists come to talk about the movies and directors they admire as a labor of love and as an example for youth.”