In Hollywood, there’s an oft-debated version of the eternal “chicken and egg” question: Who first made cinema, the United States or France?

Jean-Noel Tronc, president of the Franco-American Cultural Fund, doesn’t dare wade into the debate. And it doesn’t matter which nation gets credit for inventing the movies, he says, because at the Colcoa Film Festival, which, for the past two decades has taken pride in presenting French film, television and web content to American audiences, the world’s two greatest cinematic powers are combining forces for the greater good.

“France and America have contributed, more than any other countries in the world, not only to the creation of cinema but also the transformation of cinema as an art and as an industry,” Tronc says.

Colcoa — whose name, acronymic for City of Lights, City of Angels, is an ode to the world’s two great cinema cultures — launched in 1997 as a small three-day fest showing only feature films. Seven years later, the festival’s selection criteria was tweaked to show only premieres. In 2015, taking note of the radical content revolution sweeping the television industry, organizers added French TV programs to the lineup. This nine-day fest will offer 80 feature films, as well as shorts, television series and a brand new category for competition — web series.

Colcoa is a collaboration among the Directors Guild of America, the Motion Picture Assn., the Writers Guild of America West and France’s Society of Authors Composers and Publishers of Music, of which Tronc is also president. Screenings are held at the Directors Guild of America theaters, and the festival has become, says Tronc, a seminal event for French filmmakers.

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“For many of the French directors and producers I know, to have this unique occasion to have your movies shown at the DGA theater, it’s really a moment in your life,” he says.

The fest opens April 24 with the North American premiere of “Everyone’s Life,” an ambitious new feature from venerable French director Claude Lelouch, who rounded up a small army of acclaimed Gallic actors to play with narrative convention and the concept of justice.

In association with Variety, the festival will also feature Happy Hour Talks held ahead of screenings on topics including the legacy of “Le Cercle Rouge” helmer Jean-Pierre Melville, the father of film noir; a conversation with writer-director Stéphane Brizé, whose “The Measure of a Man” competed at Cannes; and a panel, in association with Unifrance and TV France Intl., on how U.S. distributors can bring American audiences to foreign television, web series and virtual reality. Brizé’s “A Woman’s Life” will have its North American premiere at the festival April 27.
Notable films on offer include “Polina,” a Moscow-set love letter to the world of dance from husband-and-wife team Angelin Preljocaj and Valérie Müller-Preljocaj; Philippe Lioret’s multi-layered family drama “A Kid” ; and “Latest News From the Cosmos,” Julie Bertuccelli’s deep-dive documentary into the world of an extraordinary 8-year-old girl with autism, shown with Icarus Films.

For the past decade, Colcoa has been exposing Southern California high school students to the wonder of French cinema thanks to a special five-day screening program.

“This is exactly what the French American Cultural Fund is fighting for,” says Tronc. “We aren’t just one of the most important festivals for French movies abroad, we’re also a place where ordinary teenagers can meet directors and screenwriters.”

Francois Truffart, Colcoa executive producer and artistic director, lists the high school screenings as one of his favorite parts of the festival.

“Most of [the American teens] discover French films through Colcoa. And we’ve done some long-term studies, and we know that after the festival, they’re continuing to watch film with subtitles,” he says. “So we’ve helped create a new audience for foreign films.”

For the first time, this year’s Colcoa will include a web series competition, in which six high-profile productions — encompassing documentary, thriller, comedy and drama — will go head to head.
Don’t expect grainy YouTube-level content, says Gilles Galud, director of productions at short form mobile series service Studio+.

“Our ambition is to make premium quality stuff, because we know our target audience is very cultured in terms of both TV and movies,” he says. “They have a very strong visual culture, we call them sometimes content connoisseurs or TV snobs, and they want high quality content. Our formats are crazy innovative, absolutely crazy innovative and strong.”

Virtual reality is also getting a showcase: five VR projects will be featured in a special Virtual Reality Corner.

This year’s fest, Truffart says, features content that can travel borders easily. But at its core, he says, its identity remains clear.

“French directors, in general, are thinking more globally than ever before,” he says. “But I’m always looking for material that has a French touch.”