A festival of French film is bound to evoke many and varied reactions in the current political environment yet more than 450 cinemagoers turned out for the gala opening of the 13th annual French Film Festival at the Academy Cinema in Paddington – greater than the theatre’s official capacity.
So unexpected was the large turnout, that proceedings were delayed by seating rearrangements. MC and President of the Alliance Française, Joelle Akim, joked that at this rate, next year they would need to use the Olympic Stadium.
Yet all was not so light-hearted and the event’s political significance against the current world backdrop is clear. Film critic, David Stratton, said: “In the United States of America at the moment, people are boycotting French products and French culture.
“An exhibition at the Alliance Française in San Francisco has just had to be closed down”, he continued.
The boycott movement is lead by New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy. US citizens are being encouraged to avoid French products as a statement against the French veto over any UN-sanctioned military action in Iraq.
“A boycott? Mais oui. Let’s stop buying French wine”, he said in his February 12 column. The last weeks have seen stirring images of patriotic Americans uncorking their bottles of bubbly and using the blood of the martyrs to water their urban gutters.
Last week on American television, senator Jim Saxton revealed the introduction of anti-French legislation in the US Congress to prevent the purchase of French aeronautical equipment if the veto should be passed.
Such a ban together with the boycott would severely impact on the US$ 9 billion France earns from the US in export revenue.
But Sydney’s French film lovers were not to be swayed by this US call to boycott. David Stratton, said, “I’m extremely proud to be part of this event because I’ve been inspired by the principled stand of the French government against the war”.
Such popular support for the French anti-war effort has not been unnoticed in France. John Howard has been suffering bad press in Europe for his pro-US stance, though there is recognition that a large percentage of Australians are not in agreement with his actions.
“Howard is one of the most fervent defenders of the hard line taken by Washington in regards to the regime of Saddam Hussein. This position isn’t shared by the majority of Australians”, translates a French Reuters bulletin of March 14.
In opening the festival, French Consul-General, Marc Finaud, placed these differences in context by saying that although Australia and France did not agree on how to protect Iraq, at least the two countries recognise the importance of cultural industries.
French film, as an industry, has grown enormously in the past years. In 1995 Australia purchased $16 million worth yet last year this had risen to $40 million. In 1998 our distributors bought 8 French films and last year, 25.
Another example of the shared passion for film between Australia and France is typified by one of the Festival’s featured films: L’Idôle. The Idol is a French film in every way, except that the director is Australian Samantha Lang.
Festival Director, Olivier Litvine, said to see an Australian make a French film in France, in French is an example of a “victory of intelligence, exchange and openness of spirit”.