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Fergus Grady is in his third year as director of the French Film Festival Aotearoa and he still can’t quite believe the silver lining to his COVID cloud.
With the programme in place for this year’s festival, which begins in Christchurch on Thursday 25 May, Fergus has flitted off to the Cannes Film Festival to start the process of curating next year’s programme. Don’t worry, he’ll be back for opening night.
The French Film Festival Aotearoa 2023 features 23 of the best films to come out of France in the past year. The Christchurch season runs from Thursday 25 May to Sunday 11 June. The festival then visits 16 other centres around the motu, from Kerikeri to Dunedin.
The Auckland season runs from 31 May to 21 June; the Wellington season from 7 to 28 June.
Until 2021 the French Film Festival Aotearoa was organised by Alliance Française, an international organisation that aims to promote the French language and francophone culture around the world. Come the uncertainty of COVID, Fergus and his film distribution company, Limelight, stepped in to ensure the festival would continue.
It’s his day job anyway. A filmmaker in his own right, with feature documentaries Camino Skies and Gloriavale, Fergus is Limelight Distribution’s acquisitions manager, which means he views and selects for cinema distribution a couple of dozen films a year. This involves visiting the major film festivals, including Cannes, Toronto and Venice.
So he’s no stranger to an early-morning viewing in a cinema far, far away, sharing the space with fellow critics and curators. Being in charge of the nationwide offerings at the French Film Festival Aotearoa is a bigger gig though.
At Cannes, Fergus will view 50 French films in a week. From that, over the next few months he will probably invite 10 films to the 2024 festival. He will be in Paris in January on a buying trip and in between will watch films that premiere at the Venice or Toronto festivals. Despite competition from these in recent years, Fergus says the Cannes Film Festival is still the main showcase of French-language films.
“It’s still got the cachet. The red carpet is a big splash for the studio PR machines.”
Fergus has a clear vision of what the French Film Festival Aotearoa is all about. “The festival is associated with fun comedy, uplifting romance and drama. It’s not as tied to serious material as other festivals.
“We want people to come out and have a laugh, have a wine and pore over French actors and actresses. We aim for a broad audience.”
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