With the international film awards season currently in full swing, it is appropriate to see the 34th Cork French Film Festival return to its March dates, running from the 9th to the 12th at the Gate Cinema.
This year’s programme includes a number of Irish premieres and a variety of award-nominated films. The festival’s opening film,
, was a multiple winner at the 2023 Cesar Awards. It was scripted and directed by Louis Garrel.
“The Cork French Film Festival, now in its 34th year, is one of many ways in which Alliance Française de Cork perpetuates the connection between France and Ireland,” says French Honorary Consul in Cork, Josselin Le Gall. “This year marks the 225th anniversary of ‘The Year of the French,’ which celebrates France’s attempt to assist the Society of United Irishmen against British rule.
“An anniversary like this brings home to us the strong links between France and Ireland, and indeed, the links between France and Cork in particular.”
The 2023 festival theme is travel — exploring how cinema enables people to virtually travel to other places, as well as sparking a curiosity to visit other cultures and countries.
In addition to a number of prominent French films, the programme also includes features from Belgium, Canada, and Senegal. The festival, which incorporates school screenings, is presented by Alliance Française de Cork and supported by the French and Belgian Embassies in Ireland, Amarenco, Brittany Ferries, EirGrid, the Port of Cork, the Department of French of University College Cork, Eurotranslations Cork, Institut Français, the Irish Association of French-Language Teachers and Explore France.
The Cork French Film Festival is directed by Alliance Française de Cork President Valérie David-McGonnell and Monsieur Le Gall. The Alliance in Cork is part of an international network of over 800 around the world, and it will celebrate its 140th anniversary this summer in Paris. Alliance Française de Cork was founded in 1947, initially as a French Circle launched by Irish teacher and actress Rachel Burrows, with its first President UCC Professor Ethna Byrne Costigan.
Alliance Française itself was first established in July 1883 by Paul Cambon — future ambassador in Madrid, London and Constantinople — and Pierre Foncin — a geographer passionate about international exchanges. It was officially recognised as a non-profit organisation as early as 1886. Other well-known figures who took part in this cultural project included scientist Louis Pasteur. In 2005, the Alliance Française was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for outstanding achievements in communication and the humanities.
Valérie, who wrote her Master’s thesis about the teaching of French in Ireland from Independence to the early 21st century, is passionate about the historical connections between France and Ireland.
“Links between France and Cork run deep. For instance, several French Huguenots served as Cork mayors in the past, such as Joseph Lavitt who gave his name to Lavitt’s Quay in the 18th century. In Cork City, there are two bridges named after women, both of whom had links with France. The bridge connecting Sullivan’s Quay and Grand Parade is named after Nano Nagle who was educated in France in the 18th century at the time of the Penal Laws — and who came back to Cork to found a school for poor children as well as The Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, commonly known as the Presentation Sisters.”
The museum dedicated to her — Nano Nagle Place — has won the 2022 Council of Europe Museum Prize in Strasbourg. Valerie also highlights the Mary Eames bridge, constructed in 2019 linking Patrick’s Quay and Merchant’s Quay, honouring the Cork humanitarian worker who managed to save hundreds of Jewish inmates from the Rivesaltes internment camp during the Second World War. “After the war, France, where she spent the rest of her life, wanted to award her the Legion of Honor, a distinction she refused.”
Josselin adds that Cork is home to the second-largest French community in Ireland. Several County Cork towns are twinned with French towns, and the Cork-Rennes twinning has just celebrated its 40th anniversary.
“In February, I had the pleasure to accompany the Lord Mayor of Cork in Rennes, Roscoff and St Pol de Léon — the first time that Roscoff and St Pol de Léon were welcoming a Lord Mayor. The strong ties with Brittany Ferries which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year was highlighted when we visited Jean-Marc Roué, President of Brittany Ferries and recently appointed hon. consul of Ireland in Brittany.”
Reflecting on the popularity of French cinema, Josselin said that while the Cork French Film Festival has always had a devoted following, an exposure to foreign-language films and series such as
and through streaming services, and a greater emphasis on these films at high-profile awards ceremonies, have broadened the interest: “People nowadays are far more open to international films and that is really being reflected in the amount of people who flock to our screenings. It is fantastic to see that a French-language film that has been nominated for an Oscar this year; Belgian film , which has also won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, will be screened at our festival.”
Putting together a programme for a festival requires much preparation and an enthusiastic team, with a significant amount of background in the run-up to the event. “Every single member of the Cork French Festival committee is passionate about Francophone cinema and we put a huge amount of thought into curating the programme. Securing the rights to screen the films each year is a tall order and we are so grateful for all the help we receive. We could not run the festival each year without the help and support of our sponsors, and of course the team at The Gate Cinema in Cork have been wonderful friends to us over the years.”