Now that the snow is beginning to melt, the roads are clear and everyone’s Netflix queue has been entirely drained (is anything good ever released in February?), why not spend an evening cozying up in Taylor Hall to catch a film?
From Feb. 1-23, Vassar is the host of Tournées French Film Festival, a month-long event free and open to the public and featuring a wide variety of recently released and critically-acclaimed French-language films. The last two screenings will be “Two Days, One Night” (2014, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) on Thursday, Feb. 23 and “Francofonia” on Tuesday, Feb. 28. All screenings will be held in Taylor Hall, room 203, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Now in its third year, the Tournées French Film Festival is a huge collaborative effort, supported in part by FACE (French American Cultural Exchange) Foundation of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy of New York and a Humanities New York Action Grant. Professor and Chair of French and Francophone Studies Vinay Swamy explained: “The cultural services of the French embassy is very active in promoting Francophone culture in the US. Tournées is one of their initiatives [through the French American Cultural Exchange foundation] to help bring French cinema to campuses across the US.”
Professor Swamy organized the first festival in 2011 to great success, and it has since expanded to include the greater Hudson Valley community.
Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies Anne Brancky explained the exciting changes in this year’s festival: “Since then, we have grown the festival in part thanks to more outside funding from Humanities New York, and in part because of our extensive outreach efforts to include members of the Hudson Valley community as well as faculty from other institutions.
This year is particularly exciting because we have Matthew Amos, Assistant Professor of French at Bard College, and Charles Batson, Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Union College, joining us.”
Each film will be introduced by a faculty member, in order to provide context for the feature presentation as well as increase accessibility.
Professor Brancky described the purpose of these introductions: “Faculty participation in the screenings is intended to make the screenings as accessible as possible to a broad audience. The brief introduction that precedes each film provides some aesthetic and cultural context for the film and raises a few main questions to keep in mind during the screening, which helps to frame a discussion afterwards.”
Additionally, the faculty members provide key insight into the diverse and important issues presented in the films, as Professor Swamy explained: “They [faculty members] also allow us to have a conversation about the films and the important topics they touch upon or develop, be they about migration, race relations, gender or sexual orientation or class-related issues. We deliberately invited faculty from across campus in order to enrich and vary our perspectives on the films.”
The diverse film selections allow for these varied conversations, which are integral to the festival itself. Swamy elaborated: “The format of this festival is meant to foster conversation between students, faculty, staff and the local community—unlike other film festivals in which filmgoers do not have the occasion to process collectively their response to the film, one of the main goals of Tournées at Vassar is to engender discussion and debate about the issues explored in the films.”
This year, many of the films selected have a particular relevance to our current political climate, both within our borders and around the world. Professor Swamy explained how the messages of these films are not strictly for French speakers, but rather address many of the challenges facing individuals and communities worldwide. He stated, “Just as [the] United States is grappling with the implications of rapidly changing demographics…Europe too has had to contend with the fact that the face of Europe is not as homogeneous as it was imagined…The films that we have brought together in this edition of Tournées reflect on the challenges brought about in such political and cultural spaces and allow us to see how they affect us as much on a local as on a national and even continental scale.”
Films at this year’s “Tournées French Film Festival” offer intensely personal and specific stories that have the ability to transcend borders, and are just as relatable in the French-speaking world as they are in a college campus in upstate New York.
To this point, French 106 student and Media Studies major Dana Chang ’19 commented, “The festival provided a space for community members to engage with the films outside of the U.S. landscape, leading to insightful perspectives and a chance to exit the bubble that I typically find myself engaged with when consuming media.”
Professor Brancky offered her take on the experience, stating, “Films like these also offer personal and intimate access into individual lives that are affected by sweeping policies and broad cultural attitudes. These sorts of humanist ‘case studies’ allow for a deeper understanding of what is at stake in what can sometimes feel like abstract political discourse.”
In many ways, our political climate seems more abstract than ever. We struggle to decipher fact from fiction, and all too often truth gets lost among the noise. Perhaps reaching outside our own bubble of information could be the best way to engage with new ideas, seek out new perspectives, and find our own voice.
Professor Swamy said it best: “Watching French movies is not just about bringing a foreign language and culture to Vassar students and the local community. It is also about giving ourselves the opportunity to reflect on our own political situations and cultural crises. Observing how others approach such questions elsewhere, across the Atlantic in this instance, might give us a new perspective on our own challenges.”