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Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: ‘Film History Doesn’t Have Parity’

LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed.

This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a close this coming Sunday, but not before a marathon screening of “The Godfather” on Saturday evening, and a two day cine-concert of Abel Gance’s “La Roue,” backed up by the National Orchestra of Lyon.

Variety asked sat down with Arnaud, and asked her thoughts on this year’s edition.

This is the festival’s eleventh edition. How has it grown over its first decade?

When we look at our public, we see them becoming bigger cinephiles. Obviously there are people in Lyon who frequent the Institute throughout the year, but there are many just drawn in by the event, and that’s important too. Those people have been returning for ten years, and I think they’re beginning to develop a really strong film culture. I think it’s great that we can offer that to public.

We only have one screening room at the Institute, whereas the festival spreads out to many different theaters and cover a lot more ground. We can adapt our programming to the different rooms, and take chances, knowing that the public has put their confidence in us.

What things are you most proud of this year?

There are two. First is the André Cayatte retrospective. Since the very beginning we’ve wanted to spotlight strong French films, and Cayatte [fits that bill]. His films did very well when they first came out, but have fallen off the radar since. He’s not so well known anymore, so it seemed necessary for us to revisit his work and to his importance. I think we accomplished that. We’re almost at the end, and I’ve been hearing wonderful responses.

What’s more, when we started planning this retrospective Gaumont held most of the rights to his films, which weren’t in great condition. Gaumont really rallied to our cause, restoring the films and digitizing them, which means those copies travel after our retrospective ends.

And the other?

The other is Coppola. Similarly, very few of his films have been digitized, so we worked with American Zoetrope, Pathé, and Criterion to change that. We had a premiere for the new restoration of “Dementia 13,” which is a film that is as much ‘Corman-ian’ as is it ‘Coppola-esque,’ which is very interesting to see. It’s a real B-movie, but we can still see the themes of family ties he would explore throughout his career.

As a classic/heritage film festival, the nature of your premieres is slightly different. Do you place a lot of importance on spotlighting world premieres of new restorations?

It’s very important for us and for the right’s holders. We want to show that the Lumière Festival is a platform for new restorations, which makes us an appealing launch pad for other restorations going forward. The rights’ holders want that spotlight; they want to be selected by Lumière because that gives them large exposure that can help a theatrical or home video release. Even in the world of classic cinema you have to remain topical, so we seek exclusivity before those heritage films begin their new lives. It shows that the Lumière Festival is now an important date for distributors worldwide.

Due to the past-tense nature of classic cinema, how does a festival like Lumière respond to the current drive to amplify female voices?

It’s harder! Film history does not have parity, which makes it all the more important for us to work on that today. It didn’t exist back then. During the 1950s, there were maybe one or two female directors working in the England, that’s it.

[In sheer numbers] women directors have played less of a role in shaping the film history than their male counterparts. That’s something we have to change today, in contemporary cinema. That means access to school and access to resources, but that can’t change what’s past.

People criticize us for giving the Lumière Prize to more men than women, only we’re all too aware of that fact. Among the living legends of cinema, there simply isn’t parity. That’s proof that things must change, because ideally we alternate male and female honorees every year. In the future, hopefully we will have that opportunity.

But you do have a specifically dedicated program.

[What’s changed in recent years] has been more about the press. I think MeToo has had as much of an effect on the press as on film festival programmers. The press is now asking these questions, but we’ve had our ‘Permanent History of Women Filmmakers’ section since the very beginning. It’s only been in the past two or three years that the press noticed and starting to ask questions about an issue we’ve been raising for over ten years.

When we launched the Permanent History of Women Filmmakers, no one asked us about it. It was only after MeToo that people started to take interest in the subject. But we’ve been talking about the subject for a lot longer…. It’s a question that we hear systematically, and sometimes I want to say, ‘pardon me, but where were you before?’

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