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French Directors Talk Terrorism, Movie Landscape at COLCOA Festival

Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist,”””The Search”), Pierre Niney (“A Perfect Man”), Anne Fontaine (“Gemma Bovery”) were among the Gallic talent and filmmakers who spoke about the local movie biz at a Variety-sponsored panel at COLCOA, the Los Angeles-based festival dedicated to French films.

Alix Delaporte (“The Last Hammer Blow”), Yann Gozlan (“A Perfect Man”), Shirel Amitay (“Atlit”) and Sabrina Van Tassel (“Silenced Wall”) also sat on the panel.

While the theme of the roundtable was the influence of Hollywood movies on French cinema, the filmmakers covered a range of topics, including the impact of the terrorist attack Charlie Hebdo and how it’s spurred creative freedom in France. Hazanavicus said the most sinister effect of the latest terrorist assaults is the rise of xenophobia and the far-right party. Fontaine, meanwhile, said the antisemitism in France had reached a peak and hadn’t been so ‘violent’in decades.

On the influence of American films, Hazanavicius, who is presenting “The Search” (pictured above) at COLCOA and currently developing a few projects in the States, quipped that one had to be “blind and deaf” not to be influenced by American cinema. “There are so many great directors and actors working here,” argued Hazanavicius. The Oscar-winning helmer pointed out, however, that France produces 250 films a year and is one of the only countries in Europe where local movies can get a higher box office share than Hollywood films. “So basically, we are influenced by both French and American films,” said the helmer.

Gozlan, whose film “An Ideal Man” is inspired by the work of Patricia Highsmith (author of “The Talented Mr. Ripley”), agreed with Hazanavicius that the influence has always flowed both ways between France and America. “The French New Wave inspired film noir directors (including Samuel Fuller) in the 1940’s and 1950’s in America, while American cinema influenced another generation of French directors such as Jean-Pierre Melville,” explained Gozlan.

As an actor, Niney said he was heavily influenced by U.S. filmmakers and comedians, such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. “I tend to work the body language, the physical aspect of a role before the psychological dimension, and that’s different from what we learn at French acting schools where the approach is more theoretical and the emphasis is really on the psychological interpretation of a character.”

The panel also discussed the strong representation of female directors in the French industry. Amitay proclaimed the question of gender has become irrelevant in France. Fontaine, meanwhile, argued that the perception of producers towards women directors in France has changed in recent years. “French producers used to think that women could only make movies for women, intimate dramas about touching stories; now they know we can make bigger, mainstream movies as well, and as result they have commercial expectations which they didn’t have before,” said Fontaine, whose latest film “Gemma Bovery” with Gemma Arterton and Fabrice Luchini performed well in French theaters. Fontaine cited Agnes Varda as a role model for many French women directors.

As the theatrical market for foreign-language arthouse movies gets more and more crowded, getting selected at a prominent festival is key for aspiring filmmakers, noted Delaporte. “In France you can finance a small film with no cast, but if you don’t have a festival lined up it will be much harder, if not impossible, to make your movie exist.”

Spearheaded by Francois Truffart, the nine-day COLCOA fest wraps on April 28.

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