Erin Petersen

Cardinal Stritch offers a French connection

By - Oct 5th, 2010 04:00 am

Photo by TibChris via Flickr

Though the 2010 Milwaukee Film Festival has come to a close (and with a bang, at that), there will be no shortage of amazing cinema coming through Milwaukee this month. In just a few short weeks, avid cinephiles can sink their teeth into UWM’s LGBT Film Festival and later, the varied mini-masterpieces at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.

And beginning today, there’s a new kid on the circuit as Cardinal Stritch opens the Tournées Festival, devoted entirely to making French films available to the masses. The Stritch edition is just one of the many incarnations of the festival, which was created in 1995 by the French-American Cultural Exchange (FACE) Counsel, a non-profit organization aimed at increasing access to French culture in the States (specifically on college campuses) through a variety of artistic endeavors.

Each year, FACE awards over $200K in grant money to competing universities throughout the country, specifically for the purposes of hosting a French film festival. The funds are used to secure the rights for various films, promotion and marketing for the event. Since its inception 15 years ago, FACE has worked with over 300 schools and colleges to create self-sustaining film festivals across the country, which they estimate have reached 450,000 people.

The  festival was organized by Cardinal Stritch’s English Department, headed up by Department Chair Maureen McKnight. She says that she wrote the grant proposal in order to help students become exposed to other cultures in ways they might not have experienced otherwise.

“[Cardinal Stritch] students are often living in the dorms and don’t necessarily have the ability to get out and make use of wider Milwaukee-area resources,” McKnight says, “so it’s great to be able to bring these films to the campus.”

A scene from “Persepolis.” Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The festival boasts an impressive lineup of films, all of which carry a common thread (other than being French, of course) in that they all touch on themes that are both timely and at the same time profoundly relateable. Though none of the featured films are “new” per se, few have enjoyed wide release in the U.S. and McKnight says that the Tournées offers a chance to enjoy the collective experience of seeing them on the big screen.

She notes that the adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel series Persepolis is perhaps the most anticipated among students. A condensed version of the novels, the film offers a first-person narrative of Satrapi as a young girl coming of age amid the regime changes in Tehran and later, in the snooty private schools of Austria, all the while struggling with her Iranian identity.

Other films featured are Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One), a suspenseful psychological drama about a man coming to terms with the death of his wife; Entre les Murs (The Class), winner of the prestigious Golden Palm award at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, which takes the viewer inside the classroom of a junior high teacher who is attempting to teach French to a large class of multi-ethnic students, while at the same time trying to navigate between cultural enrichment and assimilation.

And what would a French festival be without a film whose main character was the City of Light itself? Paris takes audiences on a spectacular ride through one of the world’s greatest metropolises, introducing an intriguing and complex cast of characters along the way.

A scene from the film “Welcome.” Photo courtesy of Film Movement

Closing out the festival is the 2008 film Welcome, a compassionate story of a Kurdish immigrant’s struggles to cross the English Channel — a film that critics have called an unmistakable piece of commentary on the xenophobia that exists in France.

McKnight says she hopes that seeing these specific themes (all of which hit close to home in one way or another) fleshed out in an international setting can help students see these issues in a different context. She hopes that it might encourage audiences to draw parallels to their own experiences, and perhaps to come to a better understanding of the world and the myriad people and cultures that inhabit it.

“Coming of age stories about people who are not Catholic is invaluable for students at Stritch,” she says.

The Tournées Film Festival begins tonight, October 5, and continues through October 27. All screenings take place in Cardinal Stritch’s Shroeder Auditorium (6801 N. Yates Rd., Milwaukee). Screenings are free to faculty and students, and $3 for the public. For a full list of films and showtimes, click here.

Categories: Movies

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