Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
It’s almost my favorite time of the year – when LA hosts its annual City of Lights/ City of Angels French Film Festival, or COLCOA. This fest spotlights the best in French cinema – movies that have crossover appeal. The fest brings filmmakers and Francophiles together to celebrate groundbreaking art – and it’s an absolute blast.
Today they announced four documentaries that will compete for the fest’s best documentary award:
– WHY DO THEY HATE US? / Pourquoi nous détestent-ils? (2016), written and directed by Lucien Jean-Baptiste, Amelle Chahbi, Alexandre Amiel (International Premiere).
This three-part documentary takes an unflinching look at racism against blacks, Arabs, and Jews in France. Told from the perspective of three different directors, the films reflect their personal experiences with racism. Assembling remarkable archive material, testimonials from experts and journalists, as well as opinions from the far right, the trilogy aims to deconstruct the mechanisms of racist and anti-Semitic thought. In part one, comedian and actress Amelle Chahbi looks at the Maghrebian community in Paris to see if Arab integration is working, or if the situation worsened as she grew up. In part two, actor/writer/director Lucien Jean-Baptiste investigates how blacks are represented in French society with anthropologist Gilles Boëtsch, former soccer champion Lilian Thuram, who has taken former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to task for racist remarks, and right wing radio’s Henry de Lesquen, who wants to ban what he calls “negro music.” Part three follows journalist and producer Alexandre Amiel as he meets with the head of an anti-Semitic newspaper in an attempt to understand the resurgence of Jewish prejudice in the wake of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo.
– THE PARIS OPERA / L’Opéra (2017), written and directed by Jean-Stéphane Bron (West Coast Premiere). Presented in association with Film Movement, to be released in 2017.
The Paris Opera is not so much a peek behind the curtain of a French cultural institution as it is a peek on stage from behind the curtain. For a period of nearly two years, documentarian Jean-Stéphane Bron was given unprecedented access to both the creative and administrative machinery that runs the prestigious venue. Casting a lighter eye on the seriousness that is associated with the Paris Opera, this portrait of a close-knit creative community follows an impressive array of storylines, including the challenges facing newly appointed general director Stéphane Lissner, the growing pains of Russian newcomer Mikhail Timeshenko, , casting a live bull for Schoenberg’s Moses and Aaron, and a national labor strike that leads to some white-knuckle performances. In an increasingly fragmented world, this is a backstage pass to a universe where passionate, talented individuals come together for the common goal of staging a great work of art.
– LITTLE GEMS / Les Pépites (2016), written and directed by Xavier de Lauzanne (North American Premiere). Presented in association with Lucky You.
This uplifting documentary celebrates the humanitarian work of a humble French couple that dedicated their retirement years to bettering the lives of Cambodia’s garbage-dump children. Christian and Marie-France des Pallières are an unlikely pair of heroes. In the 1990s, they came upon an apocalyptic scene of ragged children trawling through a heaving landscape of junk, filth, and toxic waste trying to scavenge anything of value. These latter day ragpickers, some as young as four, exist on the edge of Cambodian society, with no access to education, medicine, or even decent food. Many of them were sold by their parents, abused, raped. The couple settled in Cambodia, determined to make a difference in the lives of these “gems.” Christian, a jovial man of aristocratic heritage, was soon spending his days at the dump, building shelters, and most importantly, a school. Over the next two decades, their foundation, PSE (For a Child’s Smile), would salvage thousands from a bleak future.
– LATEST NEWS FROM THE COSMOS / Dernières Nouvelles du Cosmos(2016), written and directed by Julie Bertuccelli (Special Preview Presentation). Presented in Association with Icarus Films (U.S. release scheduled in 2017).
At the age of 8, Hélène Nicolas was diagnosed with severe autism and placed in an institution. But this 2017 Best Documentary César-nominated film is not about disability, but rather the discovery of a special ability. Dissatisfied with Hélène’s progress, her mother Véronique quits her job so that she can devote herself full time to Hélène’s care. Up to this point Hélène had been completely unable to communicate, but Véronique is astonished to discover that Hélèneis able to place letters in a sequence, like a scrabble game, in order to make words. Not only that, but Hélène has a gift for language, creating surreal and playful poems with wit and insight. In the decade since Véronique made the discovery, Hélène has fashioned an alter ego for herself, called Babouillec and published several books of poetry. These works, adapted to the stage for the prestigious Avignon International Theater Festival, are a window into a mischievous mind reveling in a liberated inner world, yet capable of striking observations about the outer world. While Hélène’s creative process is explored, it’s the glimpses of her relationship with her patient and dedicated mother that touch us most.
From April 24 to May 2, 2017, filmgoers will celebrate the 21 edition of COLCOA FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL “9 Days of Film and Series Premieres in Hollywood” at the Directors Guild of America. The complete line-up of films in competition for the COLCOA Cinema, Television, Shorts and new Webseries Awards, and exact schedule will be announced on April 4th, 2017.
For more information, go here.