French Department concludes 16th annual film festival


Courtesy Lucy Kalebjian

French Film Festival draws participants from all corners of the community.

Calvin University prides itself on promoting opportunities for educating students on the diversity of culture and language. One event offered to achieve that is the French Film Festival, where several French films are shown (with English subtitles), throughout the course of two weeks. Coordinating French professors were especially excited for this year’s festival, after being forced to cancel last year’s festival, with the only main change being a mask requirement. Since Calvin has movie nights for the student body regularly, the French program decided they wanted to designate certain nights to French films to educate the community. Professor Otto Selles called it the “highlight of the French department.”

This event began in 2005 after the program received a grant from the French government to buy film rights with the conditions that the festival be open to the public and free. The “free” factor brought a lot of awareness to the French program at Calvin. Now, years later, it has turned into a great outreach for the community and many community members are regular attendees who look forward to the experience.

“We’ve built an audience. Not just among Calvin students, but people who like foreign movies,” Professor Selles said. “There are Calvin faculty, and retired Calvin profs and staff. Beyond that, French speaking [people] from the Grand Rapids area. Also, local high schools and universities, including Grand Rapids Christian and Aquinas.”

The event is also supported by the Alliance Français, an international organization for the promotion of French culture. Calvin professor Jolene Vos-Camy is the president of the Grand Rapids chapter. The festival is very popular with members of the Alliance Français community.

This year, numbers have been lower than in past years, though Vos-Camy said it’s not just because of COVID. Losing their administrative assistant put a dent in how much advertising they were able to do.

According to Professor Carl Plantinga, this event benefits students by expanding their knowledge about different cultures. “A university like Calvin should have a wide array of cultural activities,” he said. “The French film festival is part of the rich tapestry of cultural opportunities available to Calvin students.”

Many students also appreciated the event. Christina Romano, a senior French major, loved sharing the experience of watching quality movies with others and encouraged non-French majors to attend. “I believe it is important that everyone branches out and has cross-cultural experiences. The festival offers a convenient way to have more exposure to the francophone world and thus to think outside of our own context.”

Emily Baas is a recent graduate of Calvin who still lives in the area and continues to come to the festival. It kept her connected with her friends and professors. According to Baas, the movies also helped her understand the language better in the way a class couldn’t. “Films are a casual setting that let students immerse themselves, as well as get an inside look into slang and other non-textbook ways of learning,” she said.

People also appreciated the films for how they are closer to reality than perhaps movies produced by Hollywood. “You don’t necessarily have happy endings,” Vos-Camy said. “Generally, the French attitude towards film is that it’s a slice of life and life is open ended.”