Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lyon dispatch - the Lumière film festival

The Lumière film festival is wrapping up as I write.  Lyon is the city where film was invented, more or less, by the Lumière brothers, and the festival, a recent invention, only in its ninth year, is a tribute to that history.  It is not a showcase for new films, but a massive course in film history, from the French perspective.  The big – or biggest – retrospective features were for Wong Kar-wai, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Harold Lloyd, which gives an idea of the scope.  It is a festival where five thousand people fill a giant hall to see Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, and on another night five thousand fill the same space to see The Lion King.

I have perhaps alluded in the past to some aspects of French culture that I envy.  The Lumière festival was in this sense a painful week for me.  I will describe a single event.

Here we see the Hangar of the First Film at the Institut Lumière.  The festival’s screenings are scattered all over the city, but this theater is the headquarters.  The movie theater is literally built on the site of the first film, Workers Leaving the Factory (1895).  The theater is built out of and around the remnants of the building featured in the first film ever made.

I mean, come on.  I am going to see King Kong (1933) here.  I had already been here, before the festival, to see the restorations of Jean Vigo’s L’Atlante and Zero de Conduite.  The regular programming of the Institut Lumière is a year-round film festival.

The chairs at the hangar have little brass plaques on the arms with the names of important filmmakers.  I am sitting “between” Buster Keaton and Stanley Kubrick.  As with every event at the festival, nearly every seat is filled, a substantial number of them by schoolchildren.  Almost every film I saw was attended by school groups.  Every film is introduced, often by someone well-known.  A random early Clouzot movie I saw was introduced by Vincent Perez.  But this time we get:

On the left is the director of the festival; in the center is Bertrand Tavernier, president of the Institut and one of France’s greatest living directors; on the right is Michel Le Bris, who is talking about (see screen) Kong, his new 950-page novel about the directors of King Kong.  Le Bris is among other things a Robert Louis Stevenson expert.  How I would like to read this book.  Maybe someday.

My point is that at a screening of King Kong, the first twenty minutes are spent in the discussion of a novel, and the film itself is discussed as if it is something serious, as if it is a work of art, and this is all taken as entirely normal not just by the film buffs but by a hundred or two French school kids.

To top it off, Tavernier, who presumably has things to do, sits down to watch King Kong with the rest of us.  Afterwards, on the way out, I speak to him.  I tell him that he had created a beautiful film festival.


  1. What a treat. I never have time to go to the Lumière Festival, it's always a bad timing with work and school for the kids.

    I love the musée Lumière, it's so incredible to think that the first film was made there.

  2. I am sure he appreciated the comment.

  3. It was a great luxury to have the flexibility to see so many films - and it was not even that many, really. Some people see 3 a day for ten days. Ma femme wondered if there was a rise in Lyon sick leave during the festival.

    It was a treat to speak to Tavernier. One of my goals for the year, actually.

  4. It sounds wonderful - and how lovely that you got to speak to Tavernier, a special moment indeed.

    In the Mood for Love is one of my all-time favourite films (it's in my top ten). I love everything about it - the mood, the story, the music, even the clothes. Maggie Cheung's wardrobe is to die for.

  5. Images from "In the Mood for Love" were on posters all over the city.

  6. I am so enjoying France through your eyes.

  7. Oh, good. Not too anti-romantic for you? Good.

  8. Distant association of ideas, but I need to watch the 1915 Les Vampires serial.

  9. Any time spent with Les Vampires would be time well spent. Very fond memories of both that and the Irma Vep "update."