Although the programming of the Colcoa French Film Festival falls mainly in the hands of executive producer and artistic director Francois Truffart, he acknowledges that the annual event, now in its 19th year, would not be possible without the involvement of the Directors Guild of America, which physically hosts the festival at its headquarters on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, and the Writers Guild of America West.
In 1995 the two guilds banded — along with the Motion Picture Assn. and France’s Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music, among others — to form the Franco-American Cultural Fund, which produces the festival. “All strategic decisions are made with the board — the DGA, the WGAW and the MPA together, so they are very much involved in the development of the festival,” Truffart says.
DGA’s staff liaison to that board, Kathy Garmezy, the DGA’s associate executive director of government and international affairs, lists series of activities that are part of an ongoing dialogue between the French and American film industries, ranging from master classes to attendance at policy forums in Dijon, France.
“Colcoa is the jewel in the crown of our activity,” she says. “Sometimes in the excitement about Colcoa, what gets lost is the reason it happens. It’s because of this vision that the French and the Americans have in their love of cinema, and our admiration for the people who create it is shared between these two cultures.”
Charles Slocum, the WGAW assistant executive director who also sits on the FACF board, calls Colcoa “an unusual opportunity to see a lot of current French films at one time. Most of the people who attend the festival are members of the DGA and WGA. There are some public tickets but, by and large, the sell-out crowds are members.”
Slocum calls the trans-Atlantic engagement a matter of artistic growth. “It’s a source of understanding what other artists are doing in the film and TV media, in this case from France, so that they can see their own artwork with that creative input.”
Garmezy also points to the increasing internationalization of the film and TV industries, and calls the creative appreciation of the French filmmakers who attend Colcoa “an effort to be part of that global perspective that’s really driving everything now.”
Michael Mann, a longtime supporter and attendee of the festival and a DGA FACF board member, calls the French influence on American filmmaking “huge, particularly among directors of my generation.”
Mann harbors a particular fondness for the Left Bank Cinema group of filmmakers that included Alain Resnais, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Chris Marker. “I’m talking about (Resnais’) ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ and ‘Last Year at Marienbad’ and (Marker’s) ‘La Jetee’ — those personally were very influential.”
Mann credits the French with “a revolutionary breakdown of the film form, moving away from the tyranny of film theater, the kind of control of plot that started to feel like a depressive mechanism, and leading to an explosion in the ’50s and the early ’60s of very iconoclastic filmmaking.”
For Mann, the French influence didn’t have as much to do with verite tropes or the idea that plot-driven cinema was on its way out, but more with “an impatience and a sense of a youth culture breaking the boundaries of what had been a rigorous establishment approach to what narrative had to be.”
And for him it’s that melding of the political, philosophical and theatrical tradition of the absurd that’s a uniquely French contribution.