The Colcoa French Film Festival (April 18-26), otherwise known as City of Lights, City of Angels festival, turns 20 this edition with a lineup rich in socially minded films reflecting the turmoils that France has faced in the past year.
The French-language showcase’s opening film, Roschdy Zem’s “Monsieur Chocolat,” a Belle Epoque biopic of Cuban artist Rafael Padilla, will set the tone. The Gaumont pic stars Omar Sy as Padilla, the first celebrated black clown in France and who faced prejudice his entire life, leading to his downfall.
“ ‘Chocolat’ is in line with the rest of the selection, which is meant to initiate Colcoa audiences to a variety of topics that are shaping French society today,” says Francois Truffart, Colcoa programmer and its longtime exec producer/artistic director. “Although it is a period film, ‘Chocolat’ addresses the presence and representation of minorities in the arts, which is a current issue that has been hotly debated here in Hollywood.”
The recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels will be reflected in the North American premiere of Nicolas Boukhrief’s prophetic thriller “Made in France,” which centers on a journalist infiltrating a cell of jihadis plotting a terror attack in the French capital. The movie, which was pulled from its scheduled theatrical release following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, has been sold by WTFilms to most major territories and is in negotiations to close a U.S. deal.
Colcoa will also shed light on the place of Muslim women in France and the Arab world through films such as Nabil Ayouch’s controversial drama “Much Loved,” centering around prostitution in Marrakesh; Philippe Faucon’s immigration drama “Fatima,” about a Moroccan single mother raising two daughters in France; and Leyla Bouzid’s “As I Open My Eyes,” about the coming of age of a young Tunisian rock singer during the runup to the Arab Spring.
War is also a recurring theme across the selection, notably in Robert Guédiguian’s “Don’t Tell Me the Boy Was Mad,” dealing with the Armenian genocide; or serving as backdrop in Lola Doillon’s WWII-set “Fanny’s Journey”; Anne Fontaine’s Sundance-premiering “The Innocents,” taking place in 1945 Poland; and Christian Carion’s 1940-set “Come What May.”
In light of recent events that have shaken Europe, a handful of mid-level U.S. distributors — including Kino Lorber, Cohen Media Group and Strand Releasing — are increasingly willing to take risks and introduce different, daring movies showing gritty aspects of French society to American audiences.
Richard Lorber, founder of Kino Lorber, which acquired “Fatima” before it won the best film at the Cesar awards (France’s equivalent to the Oscars), says his company is more than ever embracing “thought-provoking, artfully topical and socially penetrating works (like ‘Fatima’) that can also inspire and delight.”
Year after year, Colcoa — which takes place at the Directors Guild of America’s headquarters in Los Angeles — keeps attracting more sales agents, name talent and most key North American distributors not just as a result of its programming, but also as a networking opportunity due to the event’s solid grounding in Hollywood.
“The festival is plugged into the Hollywood film community, local and national press and draws intelligent, enthusiastic audiences from all over L.A., many of whom are denied easy access to quality international films,” Lorber says. “The location of the event, at the DGA, is another prestige enhancement that gives Colcoa overall a very alluring frame — moving these kinds of films from the margins of the film world into the center of Hollywood attention.”
Indeed, the festival is backed by the Franco-American Cultural Fund, an organization formed by the DGA, the MPA, the Sacem (the society of authors, composers and publishers of music composers) and the WGA West, which created the event in 1996.
Under Truffart’s leadership, Colcoa is also dedicated to turning the spotlight on rising French stars. Among this year’s more notable talents in this realm are “Fatima” thesp Zita Hanrot, who won the Cesar’s breakthrough actress, following in the footsteps of Pierre Niney (“An Ideal Man,” “Yves Saint Laurent”) and Lou de Laage (“The Innocents”).
Building a stronger French industry presence, Colcoa will also re-up its partnership with TV France Intl. and Unifrance to host the first-ever edition of its TV competition with a lineup including Dominique Besnehard’s “Call My Agent,” a star-packed comedy set in an affluent Paris talent agency that underscores the blending of film and TV in France. It also reflects the ever-growing critical acclaim of content designed for the small screen here in the U.S.