As the 18th Annual City of Lights, City of Angels (COLCOA) gathers pace, Elbert Wyche speaks to executive producer and artistic director François Truffart about the state of French cinema and his efforts to promote awareness in the US.

Truffart is well heeled in the world of culture and international promotion. He served as cultural attaché in charge of cinema promotion at the French embassy in Hungary, Japan and the US States from 1991-2001. In 2002 he became director of the Cinéfondation at the Cannes Film Festival and represented Le Marché du Film in the US.

He has been in charge of programming at COLCOA since 2004 and was assigned director and programmer in 2007 prior to assuming his current role in 2011. COLCOA runs in Hollywood from April 21-28.

What is the importance of the festival in Los Angeles?
It’s very important now. It is the most important festival in terms of a specific country. It is one of the biggest platforms for promotion of French-language films.

What is attendance like at COLCOA?
Attendance is unique in a way. It is open to anyone, however, most of the people are invited and come from within the industry. Also, the festival is produced by the DGA, the WGAW and the MPA, so those members are invited to the festival. We also have producers, distributors, agents, exhibitors and of course, journalists. 

Have you seen an upward trend in attendance?
We have a 20,000-seat capacity and are almost full. We are not able to accommodate every person that wants a ticket. Every year we add new screenings. We are reaching a capacity now that is the right size for the festival. Perhaps, 60,000 people will be there. It’s actually a situation where we have to deal with people who want to see the film but cannot. We like to create this kind of demand for French cinema. We want people to go to the theatre to see the film or on VOD during the year.

What are you excited about in this year’s selection?
It’s an amazing selection. We have 16 North American premieres. We tried to select a very diversified selection of films, ranging from art house types to mainstream movies from the last 12 months and released in France in the last three months. We also have some very new films that will be released this month.

Has the line-up been expanded this year?
This will be our biggest year yet. We’ve added three films since last year, bringing our total to 61 films including 20 shorts in competition. We have free screenings and reruns. We also have press screenings. At the end of the week we’ll have had around 90 screenings total. We start very early in the morning and the last screenings stop around ten at night. It’s pretty much like a multiplex during the week.

Are there any plans to make changes to the festival in the future?
We change it a little every year. This is a formula that works perfectly at this point. We definitely need to adapt ourselves to unique situations and particularly the digital market. COLCOA is becoming a brand for promotional films. Hopefully in the future, COLCOA will appear on digital platforms.

What are some of the standout events at the festival?
We have cocktails everyday for the audience. There are after-parties for the delegations. We have a lot of free events for the public as well, like the morning re-runs programme. The closing day is completely free. We have many opportunities for American and French filmmakers to come together during the course of the festival.

How would you describe the state of French cinema today?
As a programmer, something I’ve been doing for 11 years, it’s easier than it was before. Whether you’re talking about art house films or mainstream films, producers, writers and directors in France are more open to producing films that are universal and can be entertaining and interesting to an American audience. I have to say, we are producing a lot of films so I have to make some very difficult choices as we only have 40 spots for features compared to the 200 films produced.

What do you think of the Cannes selections that were recently announced?
It’s another exercise, another world, another side. Thierry Fremaux has a very difficult job and I think he is an amazing programmer. He’s able to find new talents all over the world. French films are in competition… I imagine it’s very difficult for him to make those decisions. I am very excited this year. I’m actually going to Cannes after COLCOA to start my programme for the next year.

Selection of films pictured clockwise from top right — Babysitting, Venus In Fur, opening night film We Love You, You Bastard. Credits: COLCOA