French films a hit for Stockholmers

The winner of this year's Stockholm's French Film Festival was François Favrats' debut film Le Rôle De Sa Vie (The Role of a Lifetime) starring Agnès Jaoui and Karin Viard. It grossed the highest box office sales from the festival and received TV5's audience-based prize.

Going into its seventh year, The French Film Festival is well on the way to becoming a permanent part of the Stockholm cultural scene. The Local met Olivier Guerpillon, the founder and driving force behind the festival.

Why have a French Film Festival in Stockholm? Olivier laughs: “It’s a good question.” With between ten to twenty French films already being commercially released in Sweden, how does the French Film Festival add value?

Olivier Guerpillon states simply, “We think it is interesting just to have a French Film Festival once a year whose focus is solely on French films. Many good French films are not being released, distributed or even screened at film festivals.” It is such films that the partners and sponsors of The French Film Festival target: they fill in the gaps where other cultural events stop short. It gives Stockholm a good taste of French film culture in concentrated form.

Unusually, the festival runs over a month at Sture, one of Stockholm’s beautiful arthouse cinemas. As a cultural entity, the festival started out as the brainchild of Olivier seven years ago. At the time he was working at the French embassy as its “Audio-visual Cultural Attaché” with ties to the French Institute.

Already in his first year, in 1999, he organized a cooperative venture between the French embassy and French Institute, Triangelfilm–known for its cutting edge film selection–and the arthouse cinema Sture. The festival has been going strong ever since; it is the only one of its kind in the Nordic countries.

At the end of his four-year mandate as an Attaché, Olivier founded dfm fiktion, and continued producing the festival while expanding the role and offerings of the festival itself. Always willing to try something new and not necessarily having to be related to French culture, Olivier has worked with the Goethe Institute this year to bring a Fassbinder evening as part of the festival.

Generally, though, Olivier says “the focus is on French films, and French speaking films.” He then adds “to have a French-Canadian movie night each year with a guest is a good idea.” This ability to envision a common meeting ground focused around French film culture explains why this year alone, Germany’s Goethe Institut, Sweden’s Cinemeteket (a Swedish flagship of arthouse films) and the Canadian embassy were all involved in various events or theme nights.

“It’s all right to have a culture program for people that might be interested in something else (other than a blockbuster film)… We see that the festival audience keeps coming back and that the festival is appreciated” say Olivier Guerpillon. In many ways, the Swedish film-going audience is interested in “French auteur films, films marked by a single person with something unique, something personal in the way of filming, and in the way of telling a story…”

That’s not to say the festival only runs arthouse films.

Olivier states, “The films we choose are kind of middle of the road so we have a very small program with about 10 films. We try to have films that we think are good and representative of French films.

“We don’t select French blockbusters, comedy or action films or things that we don’t think are really interesting for a Swedish audience. We try to have a fair balance between broader films, and then one or two films that (focus on a) smaller audience but still interesting for non-Francophile audience.”

Indeed, it is this combination that has made the festival an interesting event in the otherwise quiet month of May. Perhaps Stockholm is slowly inching its way to becoming a capital city with cultural events all year round for its inhabitants.

As this year’s festival winds down, we can look forward to another French Film Festival in May and June of next year, and if the previous years are any indication, this one promises to be even better than the last.

Howard Suhr-Perez