The Francophone Film Festival is back at Bowdoin.
After showing three films over three weeks last fall, the festival returned on Tuesday, screening the first film of Francois Truffaut’s beloved Antoine Doinel series, “400 Blows,” to an audience of Brunswick residents, students and faculty in Searles Hall.
The second film of the series, the short “Antoine et Collete,” was shown on Thursday night, and the third and feature-length film, “Stolen Kisses,” will bookend the festival this Thursday. The series, called “The Adventures of Antoine Doinel,” follows the life of Antoine Doinel, a Parisian boy who starts out as a young troublemaker but grows up to be a man searching for love. The series follows the fictional life of Doinel, portrayed by Jean-Pierre Léaud, throughout 20 years of his life.
Alongside colleagues from the Departments of Cinema Studies and Francophone Studies, Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Meryem Belkaïd has helped organize each iteration of the festival since she arrived at Bowdoin in 2015. The process involves applying for a grant from the French-American Cultural Exchange Foundation (FACE), more specifically Villa Albertine and Albertine Cinémathèque which are FACE initiatives that focus on bringing Francophone cinema to America and American college campuses.
“[The FACE Foundation] reaches out to colleges and universities in the U.S., and you can apply. They give you a number of films to choose from, and we involve our colleagues in Cinema Studies [in choosing] the films,” Belkaid said.
This year, Belkaid chose to space out the six films offered by the FACE Foundation over the academic year, a departure from previous years’ schedules where all six films would be shown in a single semester.
“It’s harder and harder to get people to go to the films. It’s a busy campus. I thought that scheduling the six films throughout the year would be easier to manage,” Belkaid said.
The films shown by the festival can be more topical, as past films have been by addressing themes that are relevant in both France and America. In the fall, “Happening” was shown, a film adapted from the Annie Ernaux novel of the same name that recounts a harrowing experience of a young woman attempting to obtain an abortion in a France where abortion was illegal.
Around the time the film was shown, the reversal of Roe v. Wade was fresh in the minds of Americans, and the event made waves across the globe, including in France. The film was a great way for cinema to spark conversation around the topic of abortion access in the U.S. and globally.
However, Belkaïd understands that topicality is not the only thing that gives cinema its value..
“For this semester, I was like, ‘Okay, let’s talk about cinema.’ It’s a film festival. Let’s not try to make it totally related to the news. Let’s just watch [films by] this wonderful filmmaker who changed the face of cinema,” Belkaid said.
This multifaceted approach to the festival makes for a wide variety of films to show to the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities. Despite this variety, Belkaïd noted that attendance hasn’t been high apart from a few devoted students and professors and some interested community members.
“It doesn’t attract a very big crowd. I would love for the campus to be a little more present, but I totally also understand how busy everyone is,” Belkaïd said.
This being said, Belkaïd strongly believes in the mission of the festival, as someone who both studies and enjoys Francophone cinema. She plans on continuing the festival for the next few years and hopes that more people will become acquainted with Francophone cinema through the festival.
“It’s open to the public, it’s free,” Belkaïd said. “It’s a great way to have exposure to films from the Francophone region.”