Young French Cinema Program to Unspool Virtually in the U.S.

Elsa Keslassy
·3-min read

Caroline Vignal’s “My Donkey, My Lover and I,” Chloé Mazlo’s “Skies of Lebanon” and Aurel’s “Josep” are among the nine French features that will play in the U.S. as part of the 7th edition of the Young French Cinema Program. Seven shorts have also been selected.

The initiative, which is organized by the French Embassy in the U.S. and the promotion org UniFrance, aims at showcasing films and shorts from rising French filmmakers, which have played at major film festivals, including Cannes, Venice, Rome, NYFF and Annecy. Six out of the nine films were part of Cannes 2020’s Official Selection.

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“My Donkey, My Lover and I,” sold by Playtime, was a box office hit in France where it sold more than 700,000 admissions before the shutdown of theaters in October. The comedy follows “Call My Agent!” star Laure Calamy as she embarks on a road trip across the French mountains with a donkey on the trail of her married lover and his family.

“Skies of Lebanon” is set in the 1950s and follows a young woman, Alice, as she leaves her native Swiss mountains for Beirut, where she falls madly in love with Joseph, a quirky astrophysicist. But after years of bliss, their romance gets tested when the civil war erupts. The film is sold by Charades.

The animated feature “Josep,” which just won two Lumieres Awards in France, marks the feature debut of Aurélien Froment, aka Aurel, an award-winning cartoonist. The film portrays the Catalan artist Josep Bartolí who was imprisoned in a French internment camp after the Spanish Civil War, and forged an unlikely friendship with Serge, a French gendarme. “Josep” is sold by The Party Sales.

Keren Ben Rafael’s “The End of Love,” Hélier Cisterne’s “Faithful,” Anna Cazenave Cambet’s “Gold for Dogs,” David Dufresne’s “The Monopoly of Violence,” Farid Bentoumi’s “Red Soil,” and Nora Martirosyan’s “Should the Wind Drop” complete the slate of films.

Under the program, UniFrance will make these films available to U.S. venues on an à-la-carte basis for a fee that will benefit right-holders. In previous editions, films played at theaters, universities, film societies, but this year, due to the pandemic, the screenings will be mainly hosted in virtual cinemas via Eventive, among other platforms. Rental fees for virtual cinemas will begin at $100 for 100 screenings and UniFrance will cover 50% of the screening fees for venues that book at least three features. UniFrance is partnering with Kino Lorber’s service Kino Marquee for the screenings of shorts.

This year’s roster illustrates the fairly large representation of female directors in the French industry with half of the movies directed by women, and its diversity with movies set in Israel, Spain, Algeria, Lebanon and Armenia.

UniFrance will provide a recorded introduction with the filmmaker and/or main talent for each film, and a recorded Q&A for some of them.

The six previous editions garnered 110 bookings in more than 30 cities throughout the U.S. The 2020 edition, however, was hit by the pandemic as only 15 or so physical screenings took place in Washington, Chicago, North Carolina and at the universities of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

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