Vancouver's Rendez-vous Quebec and French film festival crosses cultures

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      While many Canadian productions have a hard enough time finding screentime in Canadian theatres, some of our nation’s box-office powerhouses never get theatrical runs in Vancouver at all. Why? Because they’re in French and—to give a reductive explanation—Canadian distribution systems can be complex. But will our fair city be deprived of Quebec cinematic greatness? Not if Régis Painchaud can help it.

      There’s over a week left of films at Painchaud’s Rendez-vous du cinema québécois et francophone (which runs until February 23) with a robust selection of multicultural content to choose from.

      “One of the roles of movies is to bring ouverture, openness, and to bring people closer together,” the Vancouver-based Québécois executive director said over a Korean lunch at a West End restaurant in the afterglow of Seollal (Korean New Year). “What I like in the French school system here, like [École] Jules-Vernes, there are 54 cultural communities who live together, and they share one thing…they share the language. But they are totally different and they are from all around the world.”

      That cultural diversity is also reflected in the Rendez-vous program.

      Painchaud said that he ramped up content for Black History Month this year after meeting the organizers of the Festival International du Film Panafricain in Cannes. He noted that many of the films they offer never make it past Montreal screens.

      Selections this year include the documentary Les Main Noires, in which historians investigate and question the hidden story of Marie-Josèphe Angélique, a black slave sentenced to death for allegedly burning Montreal to the ground in 1734. Two accompanying animated shorts by Quebec’s Martine Chartrand, “Âme Noir” and “MacPherson”, also address facets of black culture and history.

      With support from Surrey mayor Diane Watts, Jacques Roumain, la passion d’un pays, a documentary about one of the most important Haitian authors and politicians, will screen in Surrey on February 23.

      There’s also the Senegal-France coproduction Les Baobabs ne poussent pas en hiver, about a 45-year-old Frenchman who moves to Senegal to start a new life, where he meets a 25-year-old African man who, conversely, wants to move to France.

      Another crosscultural encounter can be found in Karakara, about a retired Québécois professor (Gabriel Arcand) who seeks solace on a trip to Okinawa, but winds up on a journey with a woman (Snow Falling on Cedars’ Youki Kudoh) seeking escape from an abusive husband.

      Meanwhile, Taxi Casablanca, codirected by Mary Fowles from Salt Spring Island, documents Morocco’s first and only female taxi driver, Zakia Mezzour.

      Rounding things out, there’s also the visually stunning sci-fi movie set in a future Montreal, Mars et Avril; the romcom-thriller Liverpool; and a collection of Quebec short films, including Yan England’s Oscar-nominated “Henri”.

      In addition to its main program shown at Auditorium Jules-Verne and SFU Woodward’s, Painchaud pointed out that Rendez-vous is, for the first time, also presenting a selection of films at Granville Island’s Winterruption festival (February 22 to 23), including the French box office hit Les Intouchables, and at Salon du cinéma (February 19 to 21).

      But when it comes to CanCon cinema, Painchaud emphasized he’s all for national cinematic success.

      “The main interest we have as Rendez-vous is to promote Canadian movies,” Painchaud said. “Québécois for sure, but Canadian as well.”