Hollywood's French film showcase announces bold line-up
The world's largest festival of French film hits Hollywood next month with a provocative line-up exploring Islamist terrorism and women's rights, and tackling the thorny issue of racism in the entertainment industry.
COLCOA will showcase a record 70 movies and TV series as part of an unabashedly political program featuring a thriller held back from theaters after the Paris terror attacks and a focus on the Armenian genocide.
"This 20th anniversary deserves a spectacular, strong program that reflects the diversity of French production, as well as creativity and dynamism of French filmmakers and producers," said executive producer Francois Truffart.
"More than ever, we are about to involve audiences in a journey that will stir them, make them laugh or cry, tickle their curiosity and help them remain optimistic, while recognizing the urgent world zeitgeist."
The nine-day festival opens on April 18 with the North American premiere of "Chocolat," a biopic about the first black clown in France, starring "X-Men" and "The Intouchables" actor Omar Sy.
Shot on a budget of 18.5 million euros ($20 million), the film follows the real-life story of Rafael Padilla, the titular Cuban-born circus entertainer who confronts bigotry with comedy.
Its anti-racist message is likely to resonate in Hollywood, where the film industry is currently soul-searching over the lack of prominent ethnic minority actors or talent behind the camera.
Chocolat "deserves plenty of credit for using this kind of commercial vehicle to look French racism in the face and call it what it is," noted the Hollywood Reporter in a mostly positive review of the film.
- Islamist attacks -
Originally styled "City of Lights, City of Angels," COLCOA boasts four world premieres, including "Up For Love," which sees Jean Dujardin, famous in the English-speaking world for his Oscar-winning turn in "The Artist", return to his comedy roots.
Highlights of the feature film selection include the US premiere of Nicolas Boukhrief's "Made in France," which was twice denied theatrical releases because of Islamist attacks in Paris in a grim example of life following art.
The film follows Sam, a journalist who infiltrates a jihadist cell planning attacks in the city centre of Paris.
It was initially set for a release in early 2015 but distributor SND Films pulled out after jihadists struck the French capital in January 2015, killing 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket.
Pretty Pictures picked up the film but a new release date of November 2015 was also shelved when members of the Islamic State group attacked a Parisian concert hall, stadium and restaurants and bars that very month, leaving 130 dead.
COLCOA will also showcase the US premiere of Robert Guediguian's "Don't Tell Me the Boy Was Mad," about the wave of bombings and assassinations by Armenian radicals against Turkish interests, in response to the genocidal killings of Armenians during and after the First World War.
The issue is another powder keg in Los Angeles, home to the largest Armenian community in the United States, with nearly 200,000 living in the city and nearby suburb of Glendale, where about a third of the population is Armenian.
- Death threats -
The screening takes place two days short of the 101st anniversary of the massacre of some 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces, marked last year by a march of an estimated 50,000 protesters through Hollywood.
Meanwhile "Fanny's Journey" -- the true story of a 13-year-old girl who leads other Jewish children to flee the Nazis -- gets its world premiere.
The festival's world cinema section hosts two of the most talked-about films in the Muslim world.
Directors and producers across the world protested against Morocco's ban of Nabil Ayouch's French-Moroccan drama "Much Loved," a candid take on prostitution which earned its lead actress Loubna Abidar death threats.
Meanwhile French-Tunisian drama "As I Open My Eyes," from Leyla Bouzid, has made waves for its portrayal of the struggles of a headstrong young female singer of a rock group to break free from her repressive society.
Among the TV highlights is "Call My Agent," a comedy about the madcap world of talent agents which proved to be France's most popular series of 2015.
COLCOA's growing repertoire of movies and burgeoning popularity -- 25,000 people are expected this year, a rise of around 11 percent on 2015 -- have seen it become the world's largest festival dedicated to French film, according to its organizers.
Some 64 films and television shows are competing for a slew of honors, including the audience award, best documentary, best TV movie, critics award and critics special prize.
© 2016 AFP