Q&A with Sophie Gergaud, Co-Founder of Festival Ciné Alter’Natif

Created in Nantes in 2009, the Festival Ciné Alter’Natif fights stereotypes pertaining to Native Americans by only screening films made or produced by Native American filmmakers. The festival has grown over the years and screenings take place in three different cities: Nantes, Paris and La Turballe.

The 2017 edition celebrates music. Reserve tickets for the opening event (Oct. 5), the premiere of the film Rumble or the closing Alvin Youngblood concert.

I met with Sophie Gergaud, artistic director and co-founder of the festival to find out more about the festival, its origins and what’s to come.

What triggered your interest for Native American filmmakers and their productions?

S.G.: I’ve always been passionate about Native American culture. I discovered documentary film making during my studies in ethnology. I went to the United States where I met several Native American filmmakers and realized that they produced a lot of films. But it was hard for them to find distribution in the United States or Canada. I wanted to do something for them in France. I had been a devoted spectator at the Cinéma Concorde (in Nantes) and I mentioned the idea to its director. I also met Sophie Vaillant (co-founder of the festival) at the Concorde. That’s how it got started.

Your festival is solely dedicated to films made on the American continent?

S.G.: Yes, at first we only screened Native American movies. Our team is so small and there are so many films to see that it seemed like a gigantic task. This year, the main theme is music and I really wanted to screen a movie from Greenland I had seen a couple years ago in Toronto. It is called: Sumé, le son de la révolution. So for the very first time, we will screen a production from outside the American continent. And I think this is something that will stick in the future because it is a bit frustrating to limit ourselves to films produced on the American continent. The idea will be to have a majority of Native American movies, while opening a window for productions from elsewhere. In the past 10 years, there has been an enormous amount of films in any format (short, medium and long features) produced by natives from all over the world: Australia, Finland, Norway, even Russia.

Can you tell us more about the 2017 edition…

S.G.: Two main themes have emerged this year. The first theme is music. I had been waiting for a few years for the movie Rumble to be finished. I know this film quite well because I have been involved in its making. So every time I watched movies related to music, I added them to my list so I could screen them the same year as Rumble. That’s how that musical theme emerged. The other theme explores our behavior and politics in Europe and their impact on the native lifestyles and or livelihood. For instance, the movie Inuk en colère shows in a dispassionate manner how environmental politics prohibiting seal hunting, and which seem totally justify in our eyes, have had an enormous impact on the lifestyle of Inuit hunters. After they had already suffered from colonization and mandatory settlements. This is a strong movie that challenges us directly and invites us to think.

The movie Rise is about the construction of the pipeline on the Standing Rock reservation. We could think: that’s far away and does not really concern us, but actually many banks, including French banks have invested money in the construction of the pipeline. So there again, our money and consumption modes have a concrete impact on the way of life of Native Americans. Everything is connected and we have to think about our actions. Even if our ideals might have some commonalities with those of Native Americans, on a day-to-day basis, our actions lead to different results.

Rumble will premier in France on October 5. What has been your role with the movie?

S.G.: I know the production team and was very involved early on. It all started with an idea from the musician Stevie Salas who initially contacted the production team. They consulted with me as an ethnologist. Catherine Bainbridge, the filmmaker, wanted to hire native collaborators from the get-go. It took four years to make the movie. It takes place all over the States and portraits 10 famous musicians from Seattle to the Mississippi Delta. I also had to conduct some research at the INA (Audiovisual National Institute) in Paris: some Native American musicians were totally looked down in their own country until they went to Europe where they became famous. We wanted to find footage for that. I also helped story edit the film, which was not an easy task as we had to present 10 stories and 10 different music styles.

Despite all their differences, is there a common message emanating from Native people worldwide?

S.G: Native people face completely different realities all over the planet, but they are all guided by the will to reclaim their right to self-determination and to make their voices heard. Why do we make a difference between movies made by Natives or movies made about Natives? A movie about Natives, as good as it might be, still retains the voice of an outsider, even if that person is close to their characters. It remains an outsider look. Even though we do need such viewpoints overall, the distribution is a lot more restricted for movies made by Natives. We have to listen to them, in their own terms. Let them choose their topics and their modes of expression. Give them the same freedom of speech and audience as enjoyed by non-Native filmmakers.

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Q&A with Michel Bénac, Singer of LGS

LGS_MichelBenac_Music Franco-Ontarian artist Michel Bénac, singer, musician and entrepreneur has prevailed in the music industry for the past two decades. His career is starting to take off to new exciting heights. Recently, his music brought him across the Atlantic to the land of his French cousins. We were lucky enough to catch up with him during his “Tour de France” and find out more about what he’s up to.

Tell us a little bit about your group, LGS and your career…

M.B.: Eighteen years ago, we launched our first album “La Chanson Sacrée.” It was an exploratory album, where we mixed traditional Canadian folk music with American pop. I am Franco-Ontarian and when I first started singing, I did not even think about singing in French. The only option seemed to be to sing in English. My career stalled real quick: media and disc companies claimed that my style was fake. But my culture was not anglophone. So I stopped for a couple years but still had the craving. I thought,“Okay, I am not American. I am Franco-Ontarian.” One of my grandfather played the accordion, the other played the fiddle. I had deep traditional roots. So in 1999, I decided to combine traditional folk music with American pop. It was totally avant-garde at the time. The album had the effect of a bomb. We launched it in April 1999. We had three shows that year. The year after we had about 10-15 shows and in 2001, we had 165 shows.

One or two concerts you will never forget…

M.B.: I played during the closing ceremonies of the PanAm Games in Toronto in 2015. It was totally insane. I got married on July 15 and I had promised my wife to not take any shows during our honeymoon. We get married and leave for San Francisco on a Friday. On Monday morning, I get an email from someone from the organizing committee saying: “The closing ceremonies happen in 6 days and we are looking for a francophone group to come perform. We’d love for you to be with us.” I had promised my wife not to take any shows during that week. I am always on tour, never home on weekends or on holidays. I thought, “I cannot do this to her.” And so I tell her, “This is what I just said no to.”

She answered, “Are you crazy? Let’s go to Toronto!” We got there the following Friday. Sound check on Saturday afternoon and on Saturday night, I was playing on stage in front of 50,000 people at the Rogers Centre and 44 million on TV. I’ll never forget that night. It was magical. We opened for Pitbull and Kanye West. Unheard of for a Francophone-Canadian group.

Another memorable show for me was in November, 2000. We were doing our first showcase at the Francofête en Acadie, in a small bar in Moncton. About 30 people attended the showcase and we gave it all that we could (which is why we got booked for 165 shows the year after). After the show, I got to the bar and a bearded man came to me to buy me a beer and told me, “I love what you do.” I answered, “Thanks, my name is Michel” and he said, “My name is Cayouche.”

Cayouche is a Acadian legend! It was a great honor.

Any advice for young artists?

M.B.: Be patient. You cannot make a career if you don’t work on improving your lyrics and your melodies. Be original. Don’t be scared to be yourself. Most artists did like me at the beginning: you start imitating the artists you love and you forget everything about your own integrity. We hide behind our idols. Be honest. Be who you are. Accept it and give it back to your public. After that, it’s about 80% business and 20% talent! Work, and work, and work and you will be successful.

You have also started your own production company…

M.B.: Over the years, I noticed that many talented Franco-Ontarian artists I respected disappeared from the market and the stage and I wondered why. That’s why I decided one day to produce Franco-Ontarian artists. We are still at the embryo stage in French Ontario. All the francophone disc companies are located in Montreal, Quebec. If you are not from Quebec, it is very difficult to get a contract with these people, unless you already work abroad and are coming to Montreal. But I am proud of my Franco-Ontarian heritage, of our differences and nuances. I want to participate in the genesis of the Franco-Ontarian industry. My production company La Fab currently has 2 artists: LGS and Gabrielle Goulet, a country, indie pop artist who has just released their second album. I am currently looking for a third artist.

Do you have to self-produce as an independent artist?

M.B: All the time. Even in French Ontario. It is a new experience for us: we have to rent a venue and sell our own tickets (and working with Brown Paper Tickets on that has been fantastic). It is a lot of work on top of working on your art, lyrics, music, and driving! We have to make sure that the media will talk about us, that the tickets have been sold, that the promotion has been made. But the potential for success is a lot more profitable for my company and my band. I have learned a lot from the dozen shows I have produced and I know I will have to do it again. Hopefully I can start delegating the admin part at some point because my main goal is to remain a singer.

Image © Caroline Planque

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Q&A with Scott Hillier, Independent Film Festival Founder

independent-film-festivalThe 12th European Independent Film Festival (ECU) will take place in Paris on April 21, 22 and 23.

Searching for untold stories and fresh perspectives? Look no further. From April 21 until April 23, the Cinema Les 7 Parnassiens in Paris will host the 12th edition of ECU.

Highlights include 73 films from 28 countries, 3 workshops with industry professionals and for the first time this year, a roundtable of female directors (28 were selected to be part of this year’s festival). The European Independent Film Festival has made a name for itself and has become a reference for indie filmmakers throughout the world.

We met with Scott Hillier, founder and president of ECU to ask a few questions about the festival, along with lessons learned over the years and the current state of independent film.

What makes ECU special and different from other film festivals?

S.H.: We are proudly a filmmaker’s film festival. I am a film director and not a film festival manager. It is a festival run by filmmakers. It is Europe’s largest independent film festival. All the jury, all the judges–we have 60 submission judges all around the world–are alumni. People who have participated in the festival come back to give a hand. And I think that is pretty unique.

2017 marks your 12th edition. What have you learned over the years?

S.H.: There are still great stories being told and it is so much easier now to make films with the technology and everything at people’s hands. But no matter how many brand-new cameras or brand-new lenses or this or that, it still takes a good story to make a good film. Also over the last 12 years, the digitalization has made our jobs so much easier. We can reach so many people nowadays.

What is the role of indie films and indie film festivals in today’s world?

S.H.: The independent film world is a niche market. Very small. Very selective. But it is also a way of getting true, unfiltered stories. You can actually get real, true, genuine stories told by people who really don’t care, which I think is important. The poet Rimbaud didn’t care … some of his poetry is amazing, some is really weird as well. I feel that the independent film world gives people a voice to say things the way they are, rather than having to go through audience screenings. An executive producer will want their money back so they are trying to get the biggest audience possible. So you don’t say this, you can’t say that.

In our film festival, we give people the chance to get their stories out to an audience. And that’s hard because people prefer to watch Netflix in their pajamas rather than get up and go to a cinema.

image2What advice would you have for independent filmmakers?

S.H.: Find a great story, pick up a camera and go out and shoot. Right now, I just try to make as many things as I possibly can, just to keep developing my skill. The advice is: you are just going to make stuff. Don’t get caught up on: this is going to take this long, because you get known by your body of work rather than just one film.

What has been the key to success for your festival?

S.H.: The proof of our success is that filmmakers still send us their films. The festival never gets bigger and better than the films and filmmakers that attend. I go to a lot of film festivals and I tend to think that they think that they are more important than the films. We will never let that happen … we have a very international audience that comes. At least 60% of our attendees are international. That’s fabulous. The key to our success is engagement. I got a great team around me. Social media is very important to what we do. We are very honest about what do. We don’t have any external financing. I fund the film festival and the submissions pay for it as well.

ECU-on-the-road [an international program to screen ECU’s awarded films abroad] is something I have been pushing ever since I started the festival. I think it is important to show our films. The films rewarded at our festival are Europe’s best independent films. Our festival partners: festivals, cultural centers, love the idea.

Did you have all that in mind when you launched the festival?

S.H. : I launched it for many reasons. One of them was that I had been told:
“Independent films are rubbish: bad lightning and bad acting.” I said: “No, I am a professional filmmaker and I make independent films.” There are a lot of people out there like me who are making films and who can’t get a voice. So they really need a film festival like this. The festival started with a lot of drive and determination. In hindsight, there was never any big global plan, except to just keep going, because we believe that’s right and that’s good. Being very honest and keeping it very simple. People coming back and submitting their films is the whole reason. I hate going to film festivals where you get closeted off and you can’t meet the filmmakers. You never see an actor or an actress and it’s all glitz and glamor. It’s great but it’s got nothing to do with making good stories. At ECU, there’s no read carpet or limousine. But you walk out and you can talk to the directors, editors, cameramen and I believe this is a true, creative film experience.

Will you be in Paris this spring? Find tickets and passes.

Images credit:
Scott Hillier at the ECU Festival launch in Paris.
Hillier & independent filmmakers selected for the festival.
© Caroline Planque

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French Comedy Nights: KALLAGAN en français à New-York

New YoPhoto_blog_editedrk City is the undeniable epicenter of American standup comedy. There’s an audience for everything. Latin Comedy Night, Italian Comedy Night, Jewish Comedy Night… every evening all over the city, clubs are full of crowds that love to make fun of themselves (and especially each other). No matter who you are, to stay sane in New York City requires an outlet for pent up frustration – and everyone loves to laugh. Even the French.

But until this week, there wasn’t a French Comedy Night to be found anywhere in the five boroughs. That changed on April 3rd at Greenwich Village Comedy Club with the first of what should be many French Comedy Nights from B.Productions. French people love the self-depreciating and often cruel sense of humor that comes from their homeland. Florence Foresti, Gad Elmaleh, Fabrice Éboué… But many have been forced to enjoy some of their favorite standup comedians by themselves because as their friends would affirm, watching comedy with subtitles just isn’t the same.

That’s about to change as the francophone minority in New York finally has an outlet of their own to gather and laugh with (and at) each other. Kallagan kicked it off last night and had no difficulty proving there was an audience for his humor outside the Métropole. He joked about passing through American customs as a “tourist”, the incredible ease of obtaining a driver’s license in America, and showing up drunk to his son’s birth. He used a speculum as a puppet and spent a lot of time questioning the gynecologist’s qualifications. He also hopes to use his accent to attract an American woman but so far has had no such luck.

Kallagan is a rare example of a near instant success story in the world of standup comedy. He has quickly built a loyal audience in France and abroad since his first show 8 years ago. He’s starred in televised specials, performed in seven different countries, and opened for some of France’s biggest names in comedy. Not bad for someone still in his 20’s.

B.Production’s first French Comedy Night was a big success, filling a vacuum for the city’s vast and diverse French-speaking population. Greenwich Village Comedy Club was packed with students, couples and “tourists” (hey, it’s been 3 months, time to renew that visa), some even traveling in from different states. For the next French Comedy Night, Kallagan will return on Tuesday April 8th for the last of two NYC performances before continuing his U.S. tour. Tickets are only $20 for a guaranteed good time. Get your tickets soon, show up early, and keep a look out for more French comedy journeying across the Atlantic.

Post by Victor Chovil, Brown Paper Tickets’ New York City Outreach Representative.

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Discover Walks: Discover Paris with a Parisian!

217158_202404519799441_2223672_nWith its office tucked in a charming courtyard nearby Place de la Bastille in Paris, Discover Walks, a small company offering guided tours is successfully spreading its wings throughout Europe and the United States. It was founded, almost by accident, in 2010 by Jim Jorgensen and Alexandre Gourevitch, who had met when working together in the Bay area. Jorgensen had travelled to Paris to visit Gourevitch after the latter had relocated to his homeland. While Gourevitch was giving him his own personalized informal tour of the City of Lights, a stranger, eager to hear the information, joined both of them and at the end of the “tour” handed Gourevitch a huge bill to thank him for his time.

From that moment, the seed was planted into both men’s heads to start a company that would offer tours that would not necessarily be historically savvy or academic but that would make participants feel like they were touring the city with an old friend, native from that city. The first offering included only free visits, where the participants could tip their guide at the end of the tour. Getting the word out in the early days was rather tough. But once Discover Walks was able to distribute flyers in different hotels, the number of participants increased dramatically. Along the way, the team noticed that the same people would come back for 2 or 3 visits. At the end of the first year, tours were also starting in San Francisco and are now also present in a half a dozen European cities (Barcelona, Prague, London, Lisbon, Rome, Saint Petersburg).

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Could the ÉCU Be the New European Sundance?

Ecu-Film-Festival-Logo-PlainEarlier this week, the ÉCU European Independent Film Festival released its Official Selection of films for their eighth edition that will take place on March 29, 30 and 31 in Paris, France.

The independent festival was founded in 2006 by Scott Hillier, an Australian independent filmmaker and former war cameraman. His driving force came after realizing that Europe had no festivals where independent filmmakers could showcase their work unless they were wildly known or had an agent.

The main event not only features about 100 screenings (selected from over 700+ submissions) but also Q&As  with the audience, industry workshops and after-parties open to all attendees.

The 3-day format makes it affordable for Official Selection filmmakers to attend the entire festival, and more importantly, creates a feeling of intimacy that larger film festivals have long lost.

¨We make them [filmmakers] feel at home and they love being here. Everybody knows everybody.¨ says Festival Manager, Kädi Lokk.

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Seattle Hosts Its First Annual La Fête de la Musique

On June 21st, the longest day of the year, what could be better than throwing a giant party all over the country? That’s what the French Ministry of culture decided to do when they launched the first Fête de la Musique in 1982, a free popular event open to any amateur or professional musician who wishes to perform and share their practice with the public. On that day in France, music is everywhere and it is truly a pleasure to wander the streets and parks (of Paris especially) and to be exposed to anything from classical music to hip-hop, electronic to jazz. The main idea behind the fête is to bridge the gap between differing ages and social backgrounds by making music available to anybody, anywhere : streets, parks, train stations, subways, churches, even hospitals.

The event became immediately popular and it didn’t take long for it to be exported to other countries, first within the European Union (in Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Barcelona, Liverpool and Rome) and then worldwide (in more than 44 countries today).

In the Pacific Northwest, la fête is still relatively new. Its English slogan, “make music,” (Faites de la musique, is a homophone of Fête de la Musique) is used for the 2nd Annual Vancouver edition that will take place on June 21st. In Seattle, the first annual Fête de la Musique will take place on June 23rd and will feature a wide array of international and American artists such as:

Isaiah Gleason
Nikki Dee
Terabyte and the battery eaters
– Century
Eric John Kaiser
Seeing Blind

For the Seattle event, you will need to reserve tickets. They are available here.

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Le Festival du Bois – Discover the largest francophone festival in the Northwest

Chances are you have never heard of Maillardville, a small but vibrant community in the city of Coquitlam near Vancouver, BC. Maillardville celebrated its 100th birthday in 2009 and is well-known to the locals for being the largest francophone community in the Vancouver area. It is also known to folk music lovers for hosting Le Festival du Bois, the largest celebration of francophone, Quebecois music, dance, craft, food, heritage and culture in British Columbia,

The family-friendly festival spans over two days (March 3-4) and offers an incredible array of artists and activities. Have you ever tasted the famous Poutine, a culinary delicacy of Quebec composed of French fries, gravy and cheese? How about trying some maple taffy (tire d’érable or sugar on snow) made of boiling maple sap poured on clean white snow? You can find them all at the Festival du Bois while strolling through Mackin Park and discovering the history of Maillardville.

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Jean-François Porchez, The Famous Stranger

It is virtually impossible for Jean-François Porchez, to walk across Paris without seeing signs of his work. In fact, anyone walking through Paris sees his work, the only difference is that the general public walks the city oblivious to the signs that guide them. They read the content but seldom notice the form.

Jean-François Porchez, a type font designer, is the creator of the Parisine, the font used in all the Parisian public transportation. Whether travelling underground, or above ground, the Parisine surrounds the people of Paris. Porchez says, ¨It is a challenge to cross Paris without seeing the Parisine. But at the same time, it is fun to ride the bus, next to the driver and the passengers and to think that these people do not even know that we have created the environment that surrounds them daily.¨
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The Hard Life of François Sagat

Life is not a performance !

This weekend we are ticketing four events at Museum of Arts and Design in New York City involving French adult film star François Sagat. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Sagat who was in Seattle promoting his latest film Man at Bath, by Christophe Honoré, a modern rendition of Gustave Caillebotte’s painting “Homme au bain.” As Caillbotte’s painting was shocking in its own time (1884), this film also aims at portraying an honest and crude image of gay male sexuality and relationships in 2010 Gennevilliers and New York. So of course, this film may not be to everyone’s taste.

Meeting Sagat was an unusual experience, one that comes with many preconceived ideas about the type of personality it takes to work in the adult film industry. Yet, what transpired through our conversation was that Sagat, the man differs drastically from Sagat the performer.
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