If you're the sort of person who still insists on defiantly ordering "freedom fries" at restaurants and refuses to admit Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" is the second-best song Nile Rodgers ever had a hand in writing, now might be a good time to skip to the next article.
That's because this one's all about the French, baby. French cinema, specifically.
Furthermore, those who believe Hollywood is the undisputed worldwide epicenter of the movie biz might be shocked to learn that France is acknowledged as the birthplace of cinema. That's because in 1895, the pioneering LumiÃ¨re brothers held the first screening of projected moving pictures, using their own patented processes and equipment. They ushered in a new age of popular entertainment which ultimately overtook live theater as the storytelling medium of choice for the common man.
Sure, you may say. But that was almost 120 years ago. France obviously doesn't have much of a film industry any more, because one rarely if ever hears of a French film playing in U.S. cinemas.
Well, it is true that French films make up an extremely small fraction of the movies released theatrically in this country, but that has much more to do with the financial difficulties inherent in marketing subtitled (or, for that matter, English dubbed) movies which don't star household names to the average stateside viewer. Meanwhile, the tiny country of France produces more films each year than any of their European neighbors. That makes them - get this - the third largest film market in the world, right behind the U.S. and India, both in terms of revenue and tickets sold.
Now, in major markets like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, it's common to find moviehouses which routinely play new French releases other than whichever title winds up being that country's official submission for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. In Savannah, not so much.
Which is where the Armstrong Atlantic State University French Club comes in. Since 2009, that group of students, under the direction of associate professor of French language and literature DorothÃ©e Mertz-Weigel, has presented the Francophone Film Fest.
Funded in part by a yearly grant from the French government designed to promote a greater understanding of French culture by aiding foreign colleges in screening critically praised films featuring French language and/or culture, it has quietly become one of the coolest alternative cinema happenings in a town increasingly known for such things.
The sixth annual installment begins Feb. 20 and runs through Feb. 22 at the 190-capacity Ogeechee Theater. This year's schedule includes the period piece "Les Adieux a la Reine (Farewell, My Queen)," based on the last days of Marie Antoinette as the French Revolution looms; the intense emotional drama "Poulet aux Prunes (Chicken with Plums)," about a despondent musician in personal crisis; "La Pirogue (The Pirogue)," the tale of desperate men from Senegal who bravely cross the Atlantic Ocean on a fishing boat in hopes of a better life; the animated "Couleur de Peau: Miel (Approved for Adoption)," about a comic book artist who returns to Korea for the first time since his adoption at the age of 5; and the suspenseful "Des Hommes et des Dieux (Of Gods and Men)," which finds a group of Trappist monks in an Algerian community threatened by fundamentalist terrorists. All these recently released films are critically acclaimed and would otherwise never screen in our area.
Even better, the entire event is completely free and open to the public.
Professor Mertz-Weigel says the main goal of this event is to promote French-speaking (Francophone) culture to the greater Savannah community regardless of educational level or financial status, and she makes the distinction that this event draws upon the entire "French-speaking world," as opposed to merely the country of France itself.
"There aren't many events geared towards French or Francophone culture in this area," she says. "Although there is a thirst for it. Film is what we call the 'Seventh Art' in France. Also, Francophone culture is often stereotyped as something for the elite or the higher social classes. By making the festival free, we want to break that stereotype and show that this culture is available and interesting to all."
"The event is most definitely for the whole community, because we are all students of life," she says. "We can always learn something, even if we are not officially enrolled in classes any more - no matter where we are, what our situation is or how much money we have."
The festival includes a wide variety of features and that is quite intentional, says Mertz-Weigel.
"We try to pick different genres to attract different audiences: Drama, comedy, animation, action, history, true stories, etc. ... All the films are award winners," she says. "This year, as we have co-sponsors for each film. We also consulted with those groups and tried to pick films with themes that would fit with their interests, as well."
Attendees who are not already Armstrong students should know that when they arrive, they must get a free temporary parking permit from the campus police station. That's also where they can receive directions to the Student Union building. Those unfamiliar with the somewhat confusing layout of the campus may want to arrive a few minutes early to facilitate this.
As in years past, immediately following the opening night film, "Les Adieux a la Reine (Farewell, My Queen)," there will be a free reception in the lobby, including soft drinks and authentic French food from Broughton Street restaurant Papillote. Mertz-Weigel adds that for the first time, the French Club will also have popcorn for sale at all screenings.
"We're trying to mix French and American ways," she says with a smile. Proceeds from these popcorn sales will help pay for putting on this and future events.
"We do not charge admission because we want it to be free to the public, so everyone can get a piece of culture," she says.
However, she does not rule out having to revise that policy in the future, based on whether her organization receives the aforementioned grant from the French government.
"We will gladly accept donations at the event," to defray such costs, she says.
She is also aware that many who do not regularly avail themselves of French-language films mistakenly believe such movies are inherently boring. This, she says, is fundamentally untrue.
"They're just very different from Hollywood films," she says. "French directors do not always give you all the answers. They make you imagine situations, endings, goals and dreams ..."
She also points out that for those who do not speak French, every film in this fest will be subtitled in English.
In the end, Mertz-Weigel and her student volunteers are crossing their fingers that this year's installment will be the best attended Francophone Film Fest in its six-year history.
"We just hope everyone tells their friends about it," she says. "Word of mouth is our best ally!"