Farewell French French!
So long French French!
"But are you French French?" Canadians would often ask me when they noticed my accent, suggesting mezza voce I am not one of those French Canadians! This funny bit of confusion became the title of DOXA’s French documentary programme, French French. Since 2015, the programme’s seven editions have illustrated the politique des auteurs (auteurs theory), which is still the best gift France has given to the history of cinema and documentary filmmaking.
Showcasing retrospectives as well as new films in the presence of the filmmakers who made them, French French has introduced British Columbian audiences to old masters and talented newcomers who have been invited with the support of the French Consulate in Vancouver, the Institut Français, Unifrance and, above all, SCAM, the French authors society. In 2019, Italia Italia extended the programme to other schools of European documentary. Of this Italian excursion, I wrote, “There are many mansions in my documentary house."
In addition to screening almost 100 films, more than 25 filmmakers have delivered invigorating masterclasses, passionate Q&As and industry talks. They have helped to shape a rich cultural landscape where the diversity of voices, écritures and the art of cinema have enlarged our thinking around the contemporary world, including its past, its values and its future. Let's hope that DOXA will continue for many years to develop future programming for the pleasure and continued enrichment of its vibrant and passionate audiences.
Curator of French French (2015–2022)
Memories of French French
I remember the first time I met Thierry Garrel. We were on a film jury and at the end of the deliberations, he called over the then-Director of the festival and jokingly slapped him across the face for the programming choices he’d made. At the time, I remember thinking “Who the heck is this guy!?” And more importantly, “Why is he so committed to documentary?”
The first edition of French French at DOXA is something I will never forget. In addition to a selection of films from the legendary Arté series Cinéma, de notre temps, there was a collection of new works from filmmakers Laurent Bécue-Renard (Of Men and War) and Anna Roussillon (Je suis le peuple). But it wasn’t simply the films and the filmmakers themselves, although they were powerful enough, but the sensibility on offer. In essence, a deep and abiding respect for what documentary cinema could be: radical, revelatory, profound, resoundingly beautiful. Art, in other words.
Over the years that Thierry and I worked together, I occasionally wanted to hit him with something heavy, but I was in utter thrall to the films he selected for DOXA. Whether it was Claire Simon, Alice Diop, Chris Marker or my beloved Alain Cavalier, these films changed me on a cellular level.
Of all the many things that happened at DOXA during my tenure as Director of Programming (and it was a lot!), French French remains the thing that I am most proud of. It wasn’t always easy, but great things are rarely easy and that includes Thierry Garrel.
Director of Programming (2010–2017)
Vive le documentaire!
During the second year of French French I was working as Programming Coordinator when, after a busy few festival days, I sought refuge in God’s Offices by Claire Simon—a film programmed as part of the first North American retrospective on Simon. An intimately provocative film that still gives me chills when I think about it.
Other highlights of past iterations have included showing Olivier Babinet’s stylized teen-drama Swagger to a whip-smart group of high school students. Alain Cavalier’s perfect character portraits of working class women in France (24 Portraits of Alain Cavalier) was a major discovery for me and remains essential viewing for all interested in short-form documentary filmmaking.
Chris Marker’s Greek philosophy-inspired television series The Owl’s Legacy was a startling revelation of what television could be, and in the same way, French French expanded my definition of a documentary. The 2019 program Italia Italia extended geographic bounds by presenting a rich mix of films from Italy, including a masterful collection of mafia films by one of the sweetest filmmakers I've ever met, Mosco Levi Boucault.
I’m grateful for my time working with Thierry. His fiery passion for cinema is contagious, and like the filmmakers he championed, his approach to programming French French was adventurous and uncompromising. As DOXA continues to champion documentary as an artform and to collaborate with curators from around the world, I’m excited to see how the legacy of French French will live on.
Director of Programming (2017–2021)