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Christophe Leparc • Director, Cinemed

"There was a real desire for the festival to take place"


- We met with Christophe Leparc, the director of the Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival whose 42nd edition is unspooling between 16 and 24 October

Christophe Leparc • Director, Cinemed

At the wheel of the Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival - Cinemed for six years now, Christophe Leparc (who’s also been the Secretary General of Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight since 2008) chatted to us about the event’s 42nd edition (read our article) which is opening today, having adapted itself at the last minute to the curfew ordered by the French government.

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Cineuropa: This edition of Cinemed is somewhat unique given the context of the health crisis. Did you doubt whether you’d be able to organise the festival in its physical form?
Christophe Leparc: It was first and foremost a philosophical question which we had to address during lockdown: what was our purpose and what were our aims as a cultural event, at a time when some viewers had grown accustomed to watching films via platforms, for example? Very quickly, we decided the answer to this was that we all need a culture to share and that, as a film festival, in so far as circumstances allow, of course, the event had to unfold in person, it had to provide the audience with films to watch and, most importantly, because this is the essence of our mission, it had to show all the films that have been made by Mediterranean directors, films which wouldn’t be seen if it weren’t for us.

After that, the practical question was: can our festival take place? And, given that our identity is tied up with that of cinemas, so long as cinemas are up and running, we’ve always believed that we could still hold the festival despite the constraints affecting cinema auditoriums. So we proceeded to adapt the event to the healthcare recommendations that had been introduced, notably in terms of capacity, but also relating to the curfew implemented the day before yesterday. We worked hand in hand with the city of Montpellier and the prefecture to develop an acceptable protocol: there was a real desire for the festival to take place and our guests have voiced their support too, since they confirmed that they were coming yesterday, in full knowledge of the situation.

Did the context also influence your film selection?
Yesterday, in reaction to the 9pm curfew, and in the space of just one day, we readjusted the entire festival schedule and managed to keep all of the films simply by reducing the number of times some of them would be shown and by cancelling a few side events. We also adapted the event to lengthen the gaps between screenings, so as to leave more time for disinfecting the auditoriums but also in the interest of circulation, to make sure there are as few queues as possible outside the auditoriums. That leaves us with less screenings overall, but in terms of the selection, all of the films are there. For the fiction feature films, documentaries and short films, we received almost as many submissions as usual. We didn’t feel that there was any drop in the number of works put forward, on the contrary: there’s a real desire on their part to show us their films. In terms of the works which should have been screened in Cannes, in Locarno, etc., and which have been pushed back to 2021, there aren’t very many of them. So the selection was pretty traditional, in line with our usual gut-instinct approach. But as we have fewer screening slots, we’ve cut back somewhat on tributes and retrospectives. On the flip side, the quality of our offering this year is rather special, given that we’re screening the complete works of Fellini, with some brilliantly restored film copies.

You also chose to proceed with the Cinemed Meetings, the festival’s professional sidebar.
We did everything we could to preserve the development grants. The most important thing for us was that a maximum number of project-bearers could attend in person, and that will be the case. But where this isn’t a possibility, we will organise video conferences with the jury who will be there in person in Montpellier. We also realised that many professionals wanted to come because they’d had enough of Zoom calls, platforms and virtual meetings; because even though people are there, dialling in on time, it’s a whole other thing to meet them in person. Moreover, in a broader sense, our position is essential for continuing dialogue between project-bearers and auteurs from the southern shore of the Mediterranean and potential producers from the northern shore. That’s what makes the virtuous circle of co-productions. For a long time, for example, there was a rather significant assistance fund in Morocco and films could be made pretty easily, without potential directors needing to lay initial scripts on the table. But I believe that input from a European producer and dialogue with the author can only benefit the project’s advancement and artistic progression. Facilitating co-productions in this way - via our development grant and the CNC’s Aide aux Cinémas du Monde fund for the subsequent production phase - leads to some really interesting results, quality-wise.

Is Kaouther Ben Hania, who’s opening this year’s Cinemed with The Man Who Sold His Skin [+see also:
film review
interview: Kaouther Ben Hania
film profile
, a good example of these Mediterranean alliances?
Yes, because she’s an author who we’ve been following for a long time and who’s very bold. She ventures into terrains which we really wouldn’t expect to find her in. She’s a director to watch and, therefore, to support.

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(Translated from French)

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