'The French are very curious about Indian cinema'
Serge Toubiana is currently the Director General of La Cinematheque Francaise, the French government body to look after the country’s film industry and its ties with other cinema industries abroad. Recently in India to participate in a festival of French films commemorating the Golden Jubilee of the French New Wave cinema, speaks to Utpal Borpujari of Deccan Herald.
India and France are having increased interaction cinematically. What do you think La Cinematheque Francaise can actually do in this regard?
We would definitely like to organise a tribute to Ritwik Ghatak in France. But prints of his films need restoration, and we would like to participate in the restoration process.
Otherwise, they will be lost treasures. Cinematheque Franicaise could support whoever takes up the work.
In 2008, Cannes Film Festival wanted to have a retrospective of Mrinal Sen, but could not do it because no good prints of many of his films were available. Would you be interested in restoring films by other such maestros too?
Thomson Foundation of France is interested in restoring Ghatak’s movies. We can discuss other ideas too. We could also partner Indian outfits like the National Film Archives of India which want to restore Indian films. We would also like to restore Mrinal Sen films , and it would be interesting to organise Mrinal Sen retrospective also in France.
How much interest do Indian films hold in France?
In the early 1990s, Cinematheque Francaise had organised a large programme dedicated to Indian cinema. About 100 movies were shown in that and the Indian delegation was very strong. For French people, Satyajit Ray, Ghatak, Sen and Adoor Gopalakrishnan are among the big Indian names. I would like to think about a new tribute to Indian cinema at the new building of the Cinematheque in the east of Paris, which has three theatres, a big space for exhibition and a library. We would like to have a Ghatak retrospective in 2010, and also find another project focused on India. There was a big Bollywood festival sometime ago in Paris and it was a big success.
The French are very curious to watch Indian films. We could also have a Ray retrospective because it has been a long time since we had one. Ideas like the ongoing Bonjour India festival help in understanding each other. With Namaste France festival next year, it is time to have something in France about Indian cinema.
In recent years, French cinema has become more visible in India through festivals and even limited theatrical releases. How do you think French films could become more visible here?
French cinema is very diverse. But the problem is the language. French is not as universal as English is. Films like Un Prophete by Jacques Audiard, which is France’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar this year could be very successful in India. It is a film that can travel to all parts of the world.
Do you follow Indian films?
Honestly no, because the Cinematheque work is keeping me busy, but I would like to explore. We need to have some projects together, because Indian cinema is huge and Cinematheque can help in restoration, finding DVD distributors and so on.
What was the idea behind the festival commemorating 50 years of the French New Wave?
We had decided to restore some classics like Pierre le Fou and we got support from a French-American joint fund. It is time we gave tribute to New Wave. The young generation has heard about Godard, Truffaut, but has not seen their films as well as of many others. It was a very strong moment in French cinema. It was very polemic – some loved those films, some hated. Today’s generation needs to get to watch these films.
Pierre le Fou changed my life as it was so different among all the work made in those times. It taught me to watch movies differently. That is why I wanted to get it restored. It showed that it was possible to make films out of the system, in small budgets, with new actors, new cameras, and with more freedom. I spoke with Martine Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and they told me they discovered these movies as students, and for them too it was very important as these movies taught them that it is possible to make such movies. It was a period of history of cinema that is very interesting. I think now we are in the same situation. Cinema is strong, but nothing as compared to TV and video games. Cinema has to invent a new language. We probably need a new New Wave.