With French as the mother tongue of seven million Canadians, and over half a million living in Ontario alone, there is certainly a need for a francophone film festival to sate the appetites of French speakers and lovers of the European country’s cinematic output.
Step forward Cinéfranco: the largest international francophone film festival in English-speaking Canada. Founded in 1997 by Morocco-born Marcelle Lean, its goal was simple – to celebrate and promote French language cinema in Ontario, and allow a predominantly English-speaking region of Canada to experience and enjoy the rich and varied offerings of French filmmakers.
The inaugural Cinéfranco took place in 1998, and since its inception, the annual program has been packed with over twenty feature-length films and selections of shorts. The festival now offers two strands, with a Youth section dedicated to young people with a love of cinema – 2014 saw nearly 6,400 students and 300 teachers participate in screenings, reviews and film analysis over two weeks at the Hot Docs Bloor Cinema – and the General Festival which takes place at the iconic Royal movie house in Toronto’s Little Italy area.
The most recent event – a 17th successful year for Cinéfranco – showcased over twenty-five creations from some of French independent cinema’s most versatile directors, from heavyweight dramas to screwball comedies, most of which would rarely (if ever) be seen in Canadian cinemas, were it not for the efforts of Marcelle Lean and her team. As is normal with the festival, all of the selected films were screened in their original language with English subtitles; the aim is to immerse the audience in the lives and worlds of the characters and country they see on screen.Festival visitors were then given the opportunity to vote for their favorite film, which receives the Radio Canada Audience Award Prize on the final day.
Founder and artistic/executive director Lean is keen for Cinéfranco to continue to grow. For 2015, the festival offers yet more enriching programming with the Youth section kicking off events on February 17th through to March 3rd, while the main festival runs on two consecutive weekends – April 9th to 12th and April 16th to 19th – at The Royal.