Tournées Festival offers look into French culture

by Kylee Hereid, reporter

The Simpson College World Languages and Cultures Department is hosting the Tournées Festival, presenting students, faculty and the general public with a variety of French films.

The festival kicked off at the beginning of the month with the film Monsieur Lazhar – a movie dealing with issues such as immigration and the taboo of death and grief. It has since hosted the second film of the series, a cartoon called Ernest and Celestine. Four more films will be shown until the end of the festival on Feb. 26.

Sharon Wilkinson, world languages and cultures department chair and professor of French, is one of the organizers of the festival. She first brought the festival to campus two years ago and, after taking a year break, has brought it back for a second time.

“It is positive for any institution, for Simpson specifically, because it allows us to bring films to campus we wouldn’t otherwise bring,” Wilkinson said. “It allows people to be exposed to a different style of cinema.”

The festival is possible because of a grant offered by the French government.  

According to Wilkinson, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy offers a grant allowing American colleges and universities to host a Tournées Festival. To receive this grant, the school creates a proposal according to a set of guidelines and, if selected, the French Embassy provides funds to cover the cost of film screenings.

“French cinema is something the French government and French people are proud of. They have a long cinema tradition,” Wilkinson said. “It is different in style and purpose than Hollywood and they are very proud of the industry. This is their way of having their films distributed.”

In planning the program, Wilkinson developed a small committee of students who went through the list of possible films, previewed them and made choices on which movies would be shown on campus. These students, Estefania Anaya, Alison Graves, Sarah Curtis and Sam Riordan tried to find films that could connect with other fields on campus.

Wilkinson said, “It is nice to be able to relate films to different fields and that is really what we tried to do.”

Monsieur Lazhar and Ernest and Celestine, which have already been viewed, relate to the education department in the issues that are handled. Grand Illusion, showing Feb. 12, will handle conflicts of war and connects with the history department. Polisse is related to criminal justice and sociology and will be shown Feb. 19. Jimmy P, scheduled to show on Feb. 22, is related to psychology. Finally, 17 Girls will end the festival on Feb. 26 and fits well with the women and gender studies field.

“The hardest part was choosing what films to show,” Wilkinson said.

According to the Tournées Festival website, one goal of the grant is to offer a variety of films representing the diversity of French cinema and to encourage better perspective and community engagement through international participation.

The film industry attempts to achieve this goal by creating movies that are, in many cases, intended to make viewers think differently about numerous issues. According to Wilkinson, much of French cinema succeeds in making people think differently by using an artistic form and leaving the viewer with an open-ended conclusion.

This style is very different than the Hollywood-style of cinema many Simpson students are accustomed to. Most movies follow a simple storytelling structure ending with a ‘happily ever after.’ The French films, however, follow a very different format.

Monsieur Lazhar, for example, did not give the viewers a defined ending but opened different issues such as immigration and grief and left these issues open at the end of the film. Wilkinson explained this is how many French films operate.

“It was interesting how the film maker was able to question the value to regulation and rules,” she said in regards to Monsieur Lazhar. “It managed to show us that maybe there is a human side that matters more than rules can.”

She also said, “This festival really allows people to see that Hollywood is not the only one out there. I hope that viewers will take away the idea that international cinema can be interesting and there is no reason to sky away from a film because of subtitles or a different culture.”

Wilkinson and other members of the department hope that students will take advantage of the festival and will find a film fitting their interests or their field of study. They also hope students will walk away with a new perspective.

Wilkinson said. “I hope people will think back to the film again and rehash it in their minds, that it will somehow influence them to think about the issues in a different way.”