When Swiss actor-director Vincent Perez told Frédéric Maire, director of the Cinémathèque Suisse, Switzerland’s film archive, that he wanted to set up a new film event in Lausanne, Perez’s native city and the archive’s home, it was like a dream come true, Maire says.

Film archives in other cities, like Lyon and Bologna, had helped set up movie events that worked in tandem with the institutions’ core responsibilities, such as film restoration, encouraging public debate about cinematic heritage and promoting academic research. Now the Cinémathèque Suisse – which is one of the world’s top 10 archives with 85,000 title — had the opportunity to do the same in Lausanne, whose lake-side location and historic architecture provides a stunningly beautiful backdrop.

The event, called r7al (it stands for Rencontres 7e Art Lausanne) and running from March 24-28, is devoted to classic and cult movies. Perez tells Variety: “Our objective is to make r7al an engaging, educational, international event, far from the pressure of competitions, and where everybody can meet in a convivial place to share their passion for cinema; a sort of place where all can debate about images.”

It is not a film festival in the traditional sense, but seeks to be a meeting place for filmmakers and film lovers, where they can watch and talk about memorable movies from the past, often with the filmmakers, or other key members of the cast and crew, present at the event. For example, this year’s guests include director Barry Levinson, whose movie “Rain Man” screens, actor Christopher Walken, whose “The Deer Hunter” is playing, and director Darren Aronofsky, who presents “The Wrestler.”

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An event dedicated to the heritage of cinema enables a different kind of conversation about cinema to take place compared with the discussions that you’ll find at a festival like Berlin, Cannes or Locarno, Maire says. He should know — he was Locarno’s artistic director for four years before moving to his present role in 2009. For a director, it is a far more relaxed atmosphere and less stressful for them than if they were showing a film for the first time. “They can speak with [the benefit of] distance,” Maire says. “They can enjoy exploring the city and meeting people, instead of having to sell their films. They already know their film is important and their careers are established.”

Perez, Maire and rest of the team behind the birth of r7al have received encouragement and advice from, among others, Thierry Frémaux. As well as being general delegate of the Cannes Film Festival, Frémaux is also director general of Lyon’s Institut Lumière, which stages the Lumière Film Festival. Now planning for its 10th edition, that festival is also devoted to classic movies, and last year sold 171,000 tickets. According to Maire, Frémaux encouraged the r7al team to press ahead with their event, regardless of the financial and organizational challenges that such ventures inevitably face in the run up to their debuts. Frémaux had cautioned: “If you wait too long before starting, you may never start,” Maire says. Frémaux will be among the guests at r7al, and will deliver a masterclass there.

The main criteria when selecting guests for the first edition was that they should be “visionaries,” Perez says. “The idea was to welcome renowned film directors whose work have marked the history of cinema, but also inspired collective imagination.” Filmmakers like Aronofsky and Levinson, as well as other invitees like Michel Hazanavicius, Hugh Hudson and Thomas Vinterberg, are “playing important roles in the exploration of the artform,” he says.

It’s not just about movie men; women from the film industry are also present in numbers, including director Susanne Bier, and actresses Léa Seydoux, Fanny Ardant, Valeria Golino and Rossy de Palma, who is the subject of Kering’s Women in Motion interview at r7al.

In an age when the movie business is hooked on a diet of franchise blockbusters, Perez argues that auteur cinema needs the support of its friends, and deserves respect as an art form. “I believe that auteur cinema is in danger. It seems that it is more and more difficult for the art film to break through all the industrial film proposals,” he says. “But I think it’s also a matter of education. Today, there are so many possibilities in the visual world. The history of cinema has to be protected. Most of our kids don’t know Marlon Brando, Orson Wells, Jeanne Moreau, Ingmar Bergman, and so many other great stars, or classic films. I think it is important to create events that allow those masterpieces to be seen on the big screen.”

One of r7al’s strengths is its partnership with Lausanne’s universities and other educational institutions, which will provide the venues for many of the onstage discussions with filmmakers. ECAL, one of the world’s top art schools, will host Hazanavicius, Aronofsky and Vinterberg, music college EJMA will host Alexandre Desplat, the Oscar-winning composer of the scores for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Shape of Water,” and UNIL, the region’s university, hosts talks with Levinson and Hudson.

The colleges will also provide a large portion of r7al’s audiences. For a generation who often discover classic and cult films on their smart-phones and tablets, the event will give them the opportunity to watch these gems on the big screen in the city’s historic movie theaters, such as the Capitole and the Cinematograph.

Perez says: “As a passionate lover of cinema, it was important for me to bring together all generations, to let them immerse themselves in cinema, and allow them to discover or rediscover great films and movie classics thanks to a rich program screened throughout the city.”

“To watch a film at a cinema like the Capitole, which is Switzerland’s biggest cinema with almost 900 seats and a very old cinema, it opened in 1928, is quite an event,” Maire says. “It is not like watching a film on your laptop or a phone. You have this vintage atmosphere, with high-quality projection, and it is fun too. It will be a really special event.”

This year’s program includes a strand devoted to the films of the New Hollywood era in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as “Bonnie & Clyde,” “The Graduate,” “Easy Rider” and “Straw Dogs.” They as still relevant, and of interest to younger audiences, Perez argues. “[Such films] are very attractive to a young audience and people are still very fascinated by this era,” he says, citing the Vietnam War, the social and sexual revolutions, and the civil rights movement as being part of that fascination. “There was much frustration, so it was about exploring the limits, but at the same time having fun,” he says. “It is always good to remember what true freedom feels like, especially in times like today where Puritanism is again so present in our societies. The camera became a mirror of this new way of life.”

Maire adds that the New Hollywood filmmakers “totally changed the traditional studio system… it was a small revolution [in the approach to production in Hollywood].” That generation of filmmakers still has an impact on moviemaking today, partly because many of them are still working, but also because they engendered a model and a sense of liberation that can still inspire filmmakers today. “They knew that if you really want to do something and you have good ideas you can go higher and higher,” Maire says.

The r7al event is also forward-looking, with one strand exploring developments in virtual reality and other “immersive” entertainment technologies, a program that is being shepherded by VR expert Benoit Baume, president and director of Fisheye 360, and one of the founders of VR Arles Festival, whose jury last year included Hazanavicius and Perez. The VR lineup at r7al will include a work by a student from ECAL, Mélanie Courtinat, “I Never Promised You a Garden,” which is lauded by Baume. Another work he recommends is Philippe A. Collin and Clément Léotard’s “Kinoscope,” which is an immersive journey through some of cinema’s most memorable scenes.

Baume says that while the first VR works tended to come from “technicians,” the focus now is on exploring how “we can write in a poetic way” using VR. He adds: “For more than 100 years, we all put the movie on a screen and now we have the ability to have no screen, no frontier. So you need a new way to write a movie.”

“It is all about images. With the advent of new technologies, moving images have more surprises in store for us,” Perez says. “Somewhere between science and poetry, film is a thing of wonder, whose technology and stories adapt miraculously to their respective eras.”

He adds: “Today, films are rapidly consumed on screens that fit in our pockets, bringing with them a reduced experience. But new dimensions are being created as well, and with this comes new ways of telling stories, and sensations that are as mind-boggling as those experienced by the very first Cinematograph spectators in the 19th century. With virtual reality, immersive experiences, films emerge from the screen to shake us up and make us examine our relationship with reality. There is so much to explore.”