The Festival La Rochelle Cinéma (Fema) is a celebration of cinema, held since 1973 in early summer, with a large, loyal audience, and films of yesterday and today from throughout the world. In 2019 (from June 28 through July 7), 164 feature films and 41 shorts, from 38 different countries, were presented in 352 screenings.
The History of the festival
In 1973, RIAC (Rencontres Internationales d’Art Contemporain), a multidisciplinary festival of music, film, dance, theater, visual art, and discussions, was created in Royan, then, the following year, moved to La Rochelle. The films were particularly well received.
In 1980, only the film segment was retained and the La Rochelle Festival began its independent existence, directed by film critic Jean-Loup Passek, who would also head the film department of the Centre Georges-Pompidou: “We always thought, and we still think, that an awards ceremony is a game of chance, with films too different from each other to be fairly compared and judged. There is no competition at La Rochelle. The important thing for us is the spirit of curiosity, to go exploring in all the countries of the world.”
In 1987, RIAC became the La Rochelle International Film Festival, directed until 2001 by Jean-Loup Passek. In its selection of films, the festival has always been a bridge between cinema’s memory and its present, or even its future, showing young auteurs like Volker Schlöndorff as early as 1975 and Nanni Moretti in 1977.
In 2002, Prune Engler, Jean-Loup Passek’s right hand since 1977, assumed the direction of the Festival, together with Sylvie Pras (part of the team since 1986). Their plan was to maintain the Festival’s spirit, soul, and independence. In the early 2000s, the festival expanded considerably, creating different program sections (“Discovery,” “From Yesterday to Today,” “Music and Film,” etc.), hosting professionals, and year-round activities in La Rochelle.
In 2018, Arnaud Dumatin and Sophie Mirouze, part of the team since 2001 and 2003, assumed direction in their turn and changed the Festival’s name, returning to its origins by becoming Festival La Rochelle Cinéma (Fema).
Today, Fema La Rochelle is still non-competitive; instead, it is a great celebration of cinema, in early summer, with a large and loyal audience, and films of yesterday and today from throughout the world. In 2019, for its 47th edition, 164 feature films and 41 short subjects, from 38 different countries, were shown in 352 screenings.
Since 1991, the Festival’s poster has been painted by Stanislas Bouvier, an extraordinary bond between an artist and a festival.
Fema La Rochelle maintains its refusal of competition, prizes, and judges; its aim, every year, is to present eclectic and challenging films.
Fema La Rochelle screens about 200 films, from the silent era through today, with retrospectives dedicated to filmmakers who shaped the History of the 7th Art and tributes to contemporary directors and actors. Other sections are included in each edition: “Discovery” of the cinematography of a country whose output is not widely distributed ; ”Animation”, featuring a technique or a filmmaker; “From Yesterday to Today,” a selection of restorations and theatrical rereleases; and “Here and Elsewhere,” 40 of the year’s best feature films unreleased in France or previewed at the Festival, etc. Since 2009 the Festival has hosted a section on music in film with a guest composer and ciné-concerts. And since 2019 the Festival has presented a Lesson in light from a cinematographer. Fema La Rochelle holds a children’s festival with 3 screenings a day and a special program, as well as other regularly held and eagerly anticipated events, like the Retour de Flamme show. Finally, the Festival traditionnally closes with an all-night screening dedicated to a single subject, genre, or actor.
The festival year-round
Along with the Festival, the heart of its activity, Fema La Rochelle extends its efforts year-round: educational activities for all, support for artists. Developing multiple collaborations, the festival reaches out to young viewers and provides special access to cinematographic practices through different approaches, addressing both film students and those whose cultural opportunities are otherwise limited. Every year it hosts several directors in residence for short subject projects, written and filmed in the area around La Rochelle and beyond.
Since 1973, Fema has hosted celebrated actors and directors: Michel Piccoli, Anouk Aimée, Chantal Akerman, Mathieu Amalric, Gianni Amelio, Theo Angelopoulos, Fernando Arrabal, Dario Argento, Olivier Assayas, Rakshan Bani-Etemad, Giuseppe Bertolucci, Juliette Binoche, Jane Birkin, Gérard Blain, John Boorman, Sandrine Bonnaire, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Claudia Cardinale, Jean-Claude Carrière, Alain Cavalier, Pedro Costa, Béatrice Dalle, Jean-Pierre et Luc Dardenne, Jules Dassin, Manoel de Oliveira, Michel Deville, Bruno Dumont, Atom Egoyan, Benedikt Erlingsson, Stephen Frears, Matteo Garrone, Amos Gitaï, Jessica Hausner, Shohei Imamura, Otar Iosseliani, Joris Ivens, Miklós Jancsó, Pierre Jolivet, Niki Karimi, Anna Karina, Mika Kaurismäki, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Robert Kramer, Ken Loach, Dusan Makavejev, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Lucrecia Martel, Chiara Mastroianni, Jirí Menzel, Sarah Miles, Claude Miller, Avi Mograbi, João César Monteiro, Yolande Moreau, François Morel, Nanni Moretti, Bulle Ogier, Rithy Panh, Nico Papatakis, Roman Polanski, Micheline Presle, Frères Quay, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Satyajit Ray, Arturo Ripstein, Dino Risi, Francesco Rosi, Serge Roullet, Jacques Rozier, Raoul Ruiz, Dominique Sanda, Jerry Schatzberg, Volker Schlöndorff, Daniel Schmid, Paul Schrader, Hanna Schygulla, Ettore Scola, Ousmane Sembene, Abderrahmane Sissako, Jerzy Skolimowski, Alexandre Sokourov, Fernando Solanas, Alexandra Stewart, Alain Tanner, Liv Ullmann, Agnès Varda, Andrzej Wajda, Peter Watkins, Peter Weir, Wim Wenders, Bo Widerberg, and many others.
Every year, Fema offers exhibitions related to its programming (retrospectives, tributes, all-night screenings) in collaboration with La Rochelle’s cultural centers.
In 2019, Fema La Rochelle had 86,492 attendees, its second-best year historically in terms of attendance.
To better understand its audience, in 2013 the Festival commissioned a survey from a La Rochelle marketing agency (Les Nouveaux Armateurs). Here are some things we learned:
- More than one out of two festival-goers (57%) is from Poitou-Charentes; 47% are from La Rochelle.
- The Ile de France region represents the second most represented area, with 14.5% of festival-goers; 10% are Parisians. The remaining 30% come from other French regions.
- The atmosphere, ambiance, and conviviality of the Festival are highly appreciated. 73% rate the Festival’s atmosphere very good.
- Spectators have participated in 10.2 editions on average out of the 41 produced, reflecting great loyalty and fondness for the Festival.
- Festival-goers are true cinephiles: 54% of them go to the movies at least once a week, 23% of them several times a week.
- More than half of festival-goers (54%) say they come for the full Festival program.
- 88% of Festival-goers from outside the département came to La Rochelle especially for the Festival.
- The economic impact of the Festival on local businesses is evaluated at 1,180,000 euros.
Fema and professionals
Fema La Rochelle hosts many professionals. There were a total of 1,312 in 2019 (filmmakers, actors, musicians, screenwriters, producers, exhibitors, distributors, festivals, cinematheques, journalists…).
Professionals consider the Festival an opportunity to discover unreleased or little-distributed films.
The Festival invites associations of filmmakers, cinematographers, distributors, exhibitors, cine-clubs, and teachers, who, during the year, defend cinematographic diversity by encouraging the circulation of arthouse films and classics, support their study, encourage their preservation and restoration, and safeguard our network of cinemas.
Several movie house companies and groups hold their general assemblies, planning days, and meetings in La Rochelle.
During the year, the Festival forms numerous partnerships and involves itself in many networks.