Thursday evening a certain French elegance settled over downtown Fullertonâ€™s Wilshire Auditorium. With the subtle scent of Coco by Chanel in the air and the captivating sound of French dialogue wafting over the audience, the opening night of Fullerton Collegeâ€™s second annual TournÃ¨es French Film Festival was under way.
The opening nightâ€™s feature film Coco Avant Chanel, or the more familiar English title Coco Before Chanel (2009), seemed to perfectly embody all the TournÃ¨es Festival was meant to convey: the beauty of French cinema, language and culture.
A renewed appreciation for the unique French culture is exactly what Viollette Vornical-Guthman, a humanities professor and chairwoman of the French Film Committee at Fullerton College, hopes people will take away from this monthâ€™s events.
â€œWe donâ€™t live in isolation, no man or country is an islandâ€¦ Lots of things we appreciate today, like good food, beautiful clothes, great literature and movies, are from France. We should look up to these people and learn from them,â€ said Vornical-Guthman.
With the same casual French style with which she introduced the opening nightâ€™s feature film selection, she began to explain the evolution of the festival.
The festival was a collaboration between Fullerton Collegeâ€™s Humanities Department and the French American Cultural Exchange (FACE) and was first suggested by the dean of the department, Dan Willoughby, last year. The organization was established in 1995 to promote French cinema in the United States. FACE provided the blueprint for the festival, including the number of films, fliers to promote the event, and a list of films to choose from.
According to Carol Rehfield, administrative assistant for the Humanities Department, the first year did not exactly go off without error. The 11 volunteer committee members encountered various technical difficulties, including lack of sound, shaky projectors and one screening of Lady Chatterlay (2006) that proved to be a bit more risquÃ© than the committee anticipated.
This year, however, the evening ran effortlessly and without obstruction. Nearly 300 college students and foreign-film enthusiasts crowded the auditorium thanks to fliers, word of mouth, two newspaper articles, Facebook and Twitter. After viewing 20 to 30 films, choosing Coco Before Chanel served to bring a big-name title to a relatively small event. The film brought a crowd of nearly double the first yearâ€™s attendance.
â€œEveryone knows Coco Chanel. We wanted something that would be interesting and the public would recognizeâ€¦ but also something you could bring your mother to,â€ said Rehfield.
Teddy Lance, a music and theater major at FC, heard about the event from his girlfriend as well as the fliers that had been circulating around the campus. Although he was a bit critical of the filmâ€™s content and considered it a clichÃ© French film, he still enjoyed the overall aesthetic.
â€œI love French filmâ€¦Iâ€™m planning on coming to all of the other nights,â€ said Lance.
Feedback from students like Lance is exactly what retired professor Daniel Brondi of Cal State Fullerton is looking forward to hearing from his French 101 students after Thursdayâ€™s events. Although retired, Brandi still teaches one class at Fullerton College and is part of the film committee as well.
With his charming French accent he explained his love for French movies and culture in detail. Brondi hopes his students and those who attended the event will walk away with a better understanding of French culture.
â€œI hope they take away that the French like refined things, have a certain class,â€ said Brondi.
Attendees walked away with a renewed appreciation for French film and a desire to broaden their horizons, as Vornical-Guthman hoped the TournÃ¨es Festival would serve to encourage. It is hard not to embrace something as effortlessly beautiful as French cinema. Câ€™est la vie!