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Prune Engler • General Delegate, La Rochelle Film Festival

"A taste for a different kind of film"


- Cineuropa caught up with Prune Engler, general delegate at the La Rochelle International Film Festival (the 45th edition of which is being held from 30 June to 9 July 2017)

Prune Engler • General Delegate, La Rochelle Film Festival
(© Jean-Michel Sicot / Festival de la Rochelle)

Renowned for the quality of its vast programme, the La Rochelle International Film Festival celebrates its 45th anniversary from 30 June to 9 July 2017. It was an opportunity to sit down with Prune Engler, who has been general delegate of the event since 2001.

Cineuropa: How would you define the editorial line of the La Rochelle International Film Festival?
Prune Engler: Our job is to tell the whole story of film, from its birth right up to the present day. We always have a silent film programme, as well as great works from the past and filmmakers who have been somewhat unfairly forgotten, and of course more recent films, with 47 titles in the "Ici et Ailleurs" section this year. Because festivalgoers like seeing premieres of films before they’re released in the autumn, which also allows exhibitors, a great many of which come to La Rochelle, to catch up on films they didn’t see at Cannes or elsewhere, which they may then choose to screen in their cinemas.

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What also sets you apart is that you have no competition. Why?
The question is why other festivals have competitions, including the new festivals springing up these days. As far as we’re concerned, there are a number of simple reasons. First of all, we try to put all the films and filmmakers on an equal footing. Also, finding and assembling a jury of professionals every year is expensive, and we prefer to use most of our budget on programming as opposed to celebrities that have nothing to do with the films we show. That said, we do of course invite the filmmakers whose films we’re showing to attend. Last but not least, it’s also a question of atmosphere: without a competition there’s no tension, no false suspense created by prizes. At the end of the day, what do competitions do for films outside the context of big events like Cannes?

What retrospectives do you have lined up for this year?
We decided to indulge ourselves and have lined up 32 films by Alfred Hitchcock. It’s obviously not all of his work, but we’re going to show all his English-language films, including his nine first films which are silent films, which we’ll be screening in concert with a pianist in the room. But we’ll also have some of his big American films so as not to deprive audiences of this part of his work. The retrospective on Andreï Tarkovski will instead be a complete collection of his work, as he unfortunately only made seven features and three shorts. As for the retrospective on Michael Cacoyannis, we’ll be screening his five first films, from Windfall in Athens in 1954 to Zorba the Greek in 1964.

The contemporary "Ici et Ailleurs" section showcases the diversity of European film.
We’re very attentive to this diversity, particularly in films from Eastern European and Scandinavian countries. Long ago, the La Rochelle Film Festival specialised in these films, and a lot of filmmakers from former Yugoslavia, for example, have shown their work at the festival. We have remained loyal to these films, which are very rich and sometimes find it tricky to get off the ground, as the political regimes in the countries behind them don’t always necessarily support culture and film.

What’s the impact of the festival on audiences?
As we’ve been up and running for 45 years now, we’ve built up a loyal audience. Last year, we registered 85,000 admissions. Viewers often even clear their diaries for the festival even before they know what’s being shown, and we’re very careful to offer them a wide variety of films, almost 250 this year, all very different, with a mix of films that people know they will like, and those that they can make discoveries and take risks with. It’s ideal for us, as it gives us the chance to show the films we like and think are of a high quality, including films for children, as we have a large section for them. Moreover, we build the children’s programme in line with the same requirements as the general programme, as we want to show them films they won’t see on the TV, at the cinema or on video. We want to give them a taste for a different kind of film from very early on, films made by true creators, by people who have thought about what they’re doing and aren’t just looking to turn a profit. And it’s once again the case this year with two great creators, two women who each revolutionalised children’s literature in the 20th century in their own way:  Finnish writer Tove Jansson with The Moomins and Swede Astrid Lindberg with Fifi Brindacier.

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(Translated from French)

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