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Providence French and Francophone Film Festival brings French cinema to College Hill

Festival resumes at Granoff Center, Avon Theatre for first time since 2020

<p>In addition to debuting contemporary French films to Providence audiences, the festival will screen two films by Jean-Luc Goddard to commemorate the late director.</p><p>Courtesy of Brown University French and Francophone Studies</p>

In addition to debuting contemporary French films to Providence audiences, the festival will screen two films by Jean-Luc Goddard to commemorate the late director.

Courtesy of Brown University French and Francophone Studies

On Thursday, the Providence French and Francophone Film Festival awoke from a three-year slumber. Presented by the University’s Department of French and Francophone Studies, the festival will be screening 17 French-language films until April 12, with screenings held in the Martinos Auditorium at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts and Thayer Street’s Avon Cinema. This year marks the first installment of the festival since the start of the pandemic, with the last being held in early 2020. 

The festival, formerly called the Providence French Film Festival, has established itself as a College Hill tradition since its inception in 1995. This year’s festival is organized by Laura Odello, visiting associate professor of French and francophone studies.

As the festival’s artistic director, Odello was responsible for selecting which films — out of around 110, according to Odello — would be screened as part of the program. When making the decision, Odello was aided by a small committee of others within the French and Francophone Studies Department. 

This year’s selection comprises a diverse assortment of films from across the francophone world. “The festival will show films not only from France, but from Cameroon, Belgium, Chad and Quebec as well,” Odello said. All of the films — with the exception of two works by Jean-Luc Godard, which will be shown as a tribute to the late filmmaker — have been released within the past five years. Most of the films are being shown in Providence for the first time since their release. 


The festival opened Thursday night with a screening of Bruno Dumont’s 2021 dramatic comedy “France,” a film which meditates on contemporary France while following a TV journalist’s internal crisis after a traffic accident. April 12, the festival will conclude with a screening of Albert Serra’s 2022 film “Pacifiction,” a work that explores the socio-political dimensions of the French colonization of Tahiti. Both of these films question France’s contemporary image and geopolitical standing. 

“These films could be seen as the extreme poles of an arc that runs through the festival and calls into question, more or less satirically, a certain image of France and its media and political representations,” Odello said.

Other films of note include Alice Diop’s acclaimed 2022 drama “Saint Omer” and Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s 2021 film “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds.” 

According to Odello, the two films “both emphasize the complexities of the female character and its strength.” Both films articulate the theme of womanhood, a motif that weaves its way through the festival’s program, Odello explained.  

“‘Saint Omer’ is a fictional documentary about an infanticidal mother and Senegalese immigrant who abandoned her one-year-old daughter on a beach to die,” she said. “It is a film about the dark side of maternity, speaking of taboo and about this radical ambivalence of motherhood.” 

Haroun’s “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds” concerns itself with similar themes of maternity, according to Odello. The film follows a woman and her teenage daughter, who is seeking an abortion in Chad, where the procedure is criminalized. “This is a problem that increasingly regards our Western cultures, too, as we can see in our country,” Odello said.

Though the selected films were not intentionally chosen for their exploration of womanhood, it was a theme that emerged after the committee’s choosing. “It’s a time when there are a lot of very powerful women’s voices and perspectives, but also attention to certain issues related to being a woman,” said Thangam Ravindranathan, professor and interim chair of French and francophone studies and a member of the selection committee. By shedding light on the lives of women from different cultures, these films invite audiences to think about issues affecting their own contexts through a new cultural and linguistic lens, she added.

On April 11 and 12, filmmaker Nurith Aviv will attend the screening of two of her most recent documentary films, “Signer” and “Yiddish.” Both films explore the complexity of language and its cultural associations. Following Wednesday’s screening of “Yiddish,” a conversation will be held with Aviv. 

This year marks the first time that the festival has incorporated the word “francophone” in its title, a change that follows the 2021 decision to add the concept to the University department’s name, currently the Department of French and Francophone Studies. 

Changing the department’s name “was a way of being more explicit about something that was already the case,” Ravindranathan said. “We have always been interested in a francophone world far beyond France.”


Acknowledging the breadth of francophone cinema that lies beyond the borders of France is one of the festival’s missions. “There’s a sense in which we cannot talk about Frenchness and France in any kind of vacuum — steeped as we are in the awareness of history,” Ravindranathan said. 

With screenings held at the Avon Cinema, the festival is open to the enjoyment of the community well beyond the University. According to festival assistant Anaïs Shen ’24, “Our main goal for the festival is ensuring that it’s inclusive. It’s not solely for Brown students, and we wanted to emphasize that.” 

“It is important to know another world, another point of view and way of thinking,” Odello said of the festival and its selections. “It's always a question about the relation to the other: other cultures, other feelings and other points of view.”

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