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France’s Lumiere Festival Confirms Dates, Michel Audiard, Clarence Brown Tributes

Francis Ford Coppola
Copyright-Institut-Lumiere Photo: Jean-Luc Mege

In a reaffirmation of its ambitions to hold an on-site event this year, France’s Lumière Festival, run by filmmaker and film historian Bertrand Tavernier and Cannes Festival head Thierry Frémaux, has formally announced dates for its 2020 edition

The Lumière Festival 2020 has also unveiled its first program highlights: Tributes to French screenwriter Michel Audiard and to Clarence Brown, maybe the least known of Hollywood Silent Era “name” directors.

Running Oct. 10-18, the 12th Lumière Festival will take place “in movie theaters and the environs of Lyon, the festival announced Thursday in a written statement.

It could hardly be otherwise. Steered by Tavernier and Frémaux, the president and director of Lyon’s Lumière Institute, the Lumière Festival punched 200,000 admissions in 2019, despite a robust focus on classic film restorations, re-issues and retrospectives.

Key to that has been the presence in cinema theaters and on the streets of Lyon of some of the greatest directors on earth – such as 2019’s Lumière Award winner Francis Ford Coppola – as well as French movie stars and directors, presenting their own past films and other movies they love.

The presence of living legends – Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Ken Loach, Catherine Denueve, Pedro Almodóvar, all Lumière Awardees –  endow screenings of decades-old films with the excitement of new discoveries presented at live events.

Whether the Festival will be able to pack all seats in theaters or have occupancy restricts by post-COVID 19 health regulations remains to be seen. Given the festival’s huge popularity, it can, however, promise an occupancy rivaling that for first-run releases to even the largest venues in Lyon.

The Lumière Festival’s 8th International Classic Film Market will take place Oct. 13 through Oct. 16, offering perhaps the first post-COVID 19 on-site event to France’s energetic heritage film distribution sector, plus classic film industry executives from beyond.

The Audiard and Brown retrospectives are in some ways a sign of the times.

A wag, Audiard, the father of “A Prophet” director Jacques Audiard, is by far best known as a screenwriter, celebrated for his use of French slang and standing gags who, in a career stretching from 1949 to 1985, wrote regularly for Julien Duvivier, Henri Verneuil, Philippe de Brocca, Georges Lautner, a young Claude Miller and even Lionel Jeffries.

The homage comes as the figure of the screenwriter, so often eclipsed by the director-auteur, is now being reevaluated in industry terms. Marking the centenary of Audiard’s birth, the retrospective will feature multiple prints restored for the occasion and a series of publications, including a work on Audiard/Simenon, issued as part of the Lumière Institut /Actes Sud collection.

Brown is still too little known even to be called underrated. If he has any fame, it is for directing seven movies with both Greta Garbo and Jean Crawford, and being appreciated by both: Crawford called him a “genius,” Garbo stayed in touch after retirement. That can be put down, Gwenda Young argued in a 2018 reassessment of Brown in British film magazine Sight and Sound, to Brown’s determination to allow the stars of his “women films” to offer their own interpretations of their roles – a mark of respect which naturally fed into their confidence.

The Lumière Festival has profiled women directors and producers from its earliest years. The Brown retrospective looks like an intriguingly different way into the issue of female empowerment.