Viewing culture through cinema — Palouse French Film Festival aims to promote French culture via film

The French language departments at the University of Idaho and Washington State University have been working together for a number of years to do what they could not do on their own — put on a French film festival.

“We are interested in bringing films that inform audience about social issues and culture,” said Sarah Nelson, the French coordinator for the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at UI. Nelson works with French Professor Sabine Davis, her counterpart at WSU.

Both universities host a number of French and Francophone films through October at the Kenworthy Theatre in downtown Moscow as part of the Palouse French Film Festival.

The festival started in 2010, and in the first few years it received funding from the Tournees Festival, which is run through the F.A.C.E. council. The French government gives grants through its embassy in the U.S., Nelson said. The grants go to American colleges so that they are able to put on festivals like this one.

Nelson said the grant was designed as a seed grant to get festivals started, so now the festival depends on loyal donors and community members to keep it going. The festival has also been renamed the Palouse French Film Festival.

When it was the Tournees Festival, festival organizers had to choose from set list of films. There were 25 films on the list, most of which were recent critically-acclaimed films, Nelson said.

“Since flying on our own wings, we can choose anything,” Nelson said.

To find films, Nelson said they keep their eyes open and have partnered with the Kenworthy officials to keep a lookout for up-and-coming films.

They look for award-winning French and Francophone films, which are French language films made in other countries. They contact French professors at UI and WSU, French film buffs and a network of friends of the festival to look for films, Nelson said.

They now show four films, one every Tuesday night through the month of October. One of the films is always a Francophone film. Nelson said most of their Francophone films have been from French-speaking Africa, and they have shown films from Senegal, Mali, Tunisia, Canada and Belgium. Nelson said they are also looking into adding a classic French film during the Festival in the next few years.

Before the first film of year, Nelson said they always hold an opening reception at the Wine Company in downtown Moscow. They serve French wine, cheeses and bread — some from the Moscow Co-Op. They also hold a closing reception before the last film where they serve an assortment of French cookies and treats, like Lu.

Nelson said the festival’s overriding goal is to educate students and community members about French culture and social issues.

“We feel like the Palouse French Film Festival has become a real vital part of the cultural events over the year in Moscow and the Palouse,” Nelson said.

She said she also enjoys when she sees students making connections between a film they saw at the festival and their French classes.

The next film is called Timbuktu. It is being shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Kenworthy Theatre.

The last film is titled Bicycling with Moliere. The film is about two French actors, one actor trying to get the other out of retirement.

Nelson said Bicycling with Moliere is a lighter film that will stand in contrast to the festival’s other selections.

Katie Colson can be reached at 

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