By Mat Newman
The idea is simple -- take some leading directorial talent from France, a class of aspiring filmmakers from the United States -- and mix. The On Set With French Cinema program kicks off its fifth year today with the start of director Benoît Jacquot,'s month-long Script-to-Screen workshop at the School of Visual Arts. The program, sponsored by UniFrance and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, aims to expose some of France's top-notch filmmakers to a wider audience and foster budding moviemakers abroad. Since the project started in 2003 it has expanded into a global phenomenon, with branches in just about any country with a film school.
"Now we're doing it in Moscow, in Prague, India, Mexico," said Florence Charmasson, On Set's program director. "As long as there's a cinema school and the students are interested in having some special French guests, we're doing the program there. We've brought directors like Luc Besson, Jean-Pierre Jeunet -- the list is very long."
Unlike most scenarios where established directors lecture for grad programs, the On Set program is distinctly interactive. Charmasson doesn't have anything against the traditional A-lister Q&A sessions (after all, Jacquot will also screen his film L'untouchable Nov. 8 at Columbia University, followed by a discussion), but she said she is far more interested in the exchange between the filmmakers and their students. "It's not a deal where someone comes into schools, just sitting there and talking all day about nothing," she said. "They actually watch the student's work. They spend time in the screening room with them and offer their point-of-view and advice."
This year, Jacquot's SVA workshop takes the hands-on learning experience a step further: Students will work closely with Jacquot on the script for his upcoming film Villa Amalia, based on the popular French novel and slated to star Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert. To sweeten the deal, a selected student will fly back to France with Jacquot at the end of the semester to assist on set in Paris.
"We've had the script translated into English for the students, and I think it's the first time that one of our directors has done that," Charmasson said. "He's going to talk to them and work with them in a workshop, it's the first time that they'll have worked on a script that hasn't been filmed yet."
The Jacquot workshop is only the first chapter of this year's series. The series will host Persepolis co-director Marjane Satrapi next month and welcome filmmaker Patrice Leconte in January for lectures at NYU, Columbia and Yale. For more program and event information, visit the On Set Web site.
Posted at November 5, 2007 12:00 PM
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