Casablanca, Paris, Toronto
A love affair with cinema that gave birth to Cinéfranco
The birth of Cinéfranco
CINEMA IS IN MY DNA: as a young man, my maternal grandfather was a travelling projectionist in remote Moroccan villages. Many times he had to run for his life because people thought he was a sorcerer. He later became a projectionist in the mythical art film house, Le
Triomphe, in Casablanca. As a 9-year-old girl, I often heard the name Alain Resnais, which didn’t mean anything. My grandfather’s passion for film filled my child’s heart with dreams, adventure and magic.
The prestigious name Alain Resnais popped up later while organizing the film club at Le Haut
du Roy, a secondary school near Paris where I had a teaching position. I came to discover the major significance Resnais had in the Nouvelle
Vague and modern European cinema. Paris in the ’60s and ’70s was artistically booming: theatre and cinema were at the forefront of this cultural revival. The year 1968 was revolutionary in France – and for me as a teenager. I joined professional theatrical groups, studied American cinema, and became an insatiable film consumer. I followed the careers of iconic actors Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon, Jean-paul Belmondo. Sitting at Parisian cafés for hours on end, my friends and I discussed and analyzed film.
In Toronto in the mid-’70s, I was craving French films. I was also frustrated by the narrow elitist, intellectual label French cinema had. I started to look for ways to debunk the myth by bringing awareness to popular Francophone film.
In 1994, the now late film director Claude Miller and his wife encouraged me to increase the visibility of French cinema in Toronto. They inspired me to open a cultural space that would allow audiences to enjoy its richness. During that time, as a board member of Telefilm Canada, I came to understand the value of Francophone cinema in the Ontario and Canadian film landscape.
I was ready to start a festival. Financing, however, was my biggest obstacle until my husband Ralph Lean and I succeeded in raising sufficient funds to create Cinéfranco in 1997.
The first festival opened in 1998 at the now defunct Cumberland Theatre. Cinéfranco grew quickly to become one of Toronto’s favourite film festivals. Recognized as a relevant cultural event and a powerful educational tool, Cinéfranco branched out into the Youth Film Festival, now attended by more than 9,000 students.
I was able to act as a jury member or a programmer at local and international festivals: in Morocco Lumières de Safi and the Marrakech
International Film Festival, the Dominican Republic International Film Festival, The Floating Film Festival. Documentaries on Visiontv, TVO, TFO, Radio-canada, and on the Internet featured my work that was rewarded by receiving the medal of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from France, the Prix de l’alliance française and the Prix Jean-baptiste Rousseau (Société d’histoire de Toronto).
Now, 20 years later, Cinéfranco has grown into a vibrant, integral part of the cultural fabric of Ontario. www.2017.cinefranco.com/en