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ARRAS 2021

Nadia Paschetto • Director, Arras Film Festival

"We need to help viewers find their way back to cinemas"

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- We met with the French festival’s director who isn’t hiding her joy over the revival of the event, a year after its physical edition fell through

Nadia Paschetto • Director, Arras Film Festival
(© Aurélie Lamachère)

As the director of the Arras Film Festival, whose 22nd edition is kicking off today (read our article) and which she founded alongside artistic director Éric Miot, Nadia Paschetto isn’t hiding her joy over the revival of the event, a year after its physical edition fell through (only the juries were allowed to work remotely and in cinemas in Paris 2020).

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Cineuropa: How is this 22nd edition of the Arras Film Festival shaping up? Are local audiences, who are usually very enthusiastic, likely to be there, in view of French cinemas’ ongoing struggle to reach pre-Covid levels of admissions?
Nadia Paschetto: On the artistic and programming front, it’s all looking very good, with wonderful films and a wonderful red-carpet line-up: lots of film teams are making the journey to Arras. In terms of European films, we were slightly worried that everything would be a bit static in terms of production on account of the pandemic, but it’s not at all the case: the quality of the competition is excellent, buoyed by brilliant and really different films, and we’re continuing our predilection for films from Central and Northern Europe, of course. As for festivalgoers, as with all cinemas and events unfolding of late, we know that certain people aren’t vaccinated or that they don’t want to produce a health pass, etc. But since the ticket office opened, it’s been going rather well. Although it is important to be realistic: we’re inevitably going to suffer a drop in attendee levels, like any other event taking place at present. But there’s a lot of buzz around it, a good amount of word-of-mouth and real excitement among the public, after the shock of not being able to enjoy the festival last year. Because, if you remember, we were forced to abandon the whole thing five days ahead of our opening date on account of the decision to close cinemas again.

Back in the phase when you were putting out feelers for films, notably those hailing from Eastern Europe, did you notice any great disparities in production continuity between the different countries battling the pandemic?
It’s difficult to generalise because, even in normal times, certain countries are, at times, more prolific than others, and that can easily change from one year to the next. However - and without want to point the finger at any one country (anyone who follows the news will easily recognise them) - those areas where production was undeniably hampered were the ones where governments froze or significantly reduced financial support. Moreover, some professionals are still waiting to get a clear idea of the situation in the field before working out whether they can kick off production on their films. It’s been a far smoother process in France because the sector received significant help from the authorities and there are more funding sources. That said, there are still huge numbers of projects in the pipelines all over the world, so it was very easy for us to put together a line-up with scores of interesting projects for our Arras Days Development Grant (read our news).

Does a festival like yours have an essential role to play in accelerating viewers’ return to cinemas?
I don’t know about essential, because for a long time we were considered non-essential, at the height of the pandemic. But we need to help viewers find their way back to cinemas, show them that they can enjoy a collective experience without it being dangerous, that it’s important to share convivial moments, to have conversations about films, get-togethers… it’s an essential thing in our lives! Festivals are the events which facilitate these moments, and I would like us to bring people together around the idea that getting together, meeting people and talking is at the core of human relations. People withdrew inside themselves for months, some people aren’t leaving their homes: I would like to rouse their desire to go out again, even if it’s an uphill struggle.

Is the financial aid allocated to the future distributor of the Grand Prize-winning film enough to guarantee its subsequent release in French cinemas?
We’re thrilled because all of our Grand Prize winners from previous years have enjoyed cinemas releases, even if this has sometimes been a bit delayed, as happened with The Father [+see also:
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interview: GoCritic! Interview: Kristi…
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by Bulgarian directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov. Our 2020 Grand Prize winner – because our jury was ultimately able to work in cinemas, behind closed doors – Quo Vadis, Aïda? [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Jasmila Žbanić
film profile
]
, by Bosnia’s Jasmila Žbanić, was released in cinemas on 11 September this year. Our subsidy of €12,000 euros to go towards distributing the winning film is definitely a welcome sum, and I hope that the 2021 Grand Prize winner will also find a distributor and its place on French screens. How long that might take is another matter because there are still countless films on distributors’ shelves and endless rounds of postponements, which is a terrible back and forth situation for producers and filmmakers.

On the subject of your very many French premières, you’ve always been lucky enough to welcome a great number of artistic film teams, thanks to the proximity of Paris and the festival’s friendly reputation. How are things looking post-pandemic?
Filmmakers need to be reunited with their audiences and to exchange views on their films, because they’ve been deprived of it for the many months they spent in isolation. The Europeans whom we’ll be welcoming this year gave an immediate, favourable response to our invitation. When you make a film, you don’t make it for yourself, you make it for others, in order to share it and to talk about it, and filmmakers have really missed all that. We have too, because you don’t put together a programme only to find yourself in the horribly frustrating position of seeing it all go up in smoke in a matter of seconds. It was painful enough for us, but for filmmakers and producers who had spent three years of their lives working on their projects, it was heart-wrenching, so it’s even more joyous that we’re finally coming back together.

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(Translated from French)

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