Interview with Jean-Marc Therouanne: There is not ONE Asian Cinema, but many Asian Cinemas

We speak with Jean-Marc Therouanne about Vesoul International Film Festival and the love story that led to it, Asian cinema and many other topics

Jean-Marc Therouanne is the general manager and co-founder of Vesoul International Film Festival, the oldest Asian-themed festival in Europe.

We speak with him about the festival and the love story that led to it,  Asian cinema and many other topics



Why did you decide to start a festival about Asian cinema, and not any other region? What is the purpose of the festival?

My wife, Martine Thérouanne, always was very fascinated by culture, and mostly by cinema. She was pretty much involved in many ciné-club associations during her teenager years in the 1960s. As for me, my parents were cinephiles. I watched my very first movie together with my father in 1965, in Tivoli Theater in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe. This theater was just next to the sea. I watched Kaneto Shindo’s "Naked Island", which tells the story of the hard life of impoverished farmers working the dry lands of an island in Southern Japan. I could hear the waves’ undertow while watching the movie. This made a huge impression on me. I was barely 12 years old.

In 1995, my wife was a ciné-club’s president in Vesoul, France. 1995 marked also 100 years since the invention of cinema. The people who gave birth to cinema were all from our region: Lumière Brothers were born in Besançon, Franche-Comté and their photographer father was born in Ormoy, a village close to Vesoul; we were very eager to contribute to this important birth day.

The idea to create a film festival was born during one of the many meetings. My wife suggested to do a focus about Asian movies, since she – as well as myself – had a real passion for Asia since her childhood.

Actually, I met my wife August 23rd 1982 on Lamai Beach on the island of Koh Samui in Thailand. I lived in Paris at that time, she never left Vesoul. We got married one year later, on September 3rd 1983. We had two children and one film festival together. This film festival is a love story between a man and a woman and their common passion for Asia, its culture and the communities which makes Asian countries and give them their soul.

We really wanted to share this love with our audiences. We had this thirst for culture and transmission of those cultures within us. It is no coincidence we both were employed as teaching librarians.  Ever since the very beginning, we thought to focus on the whole of geographical Asia, from Close to Far East, thust the festival’s name of ASIAN CINEMAS. To put Cinemas as plural is very important.

Amidst many other reasons, we also wanted to promote our town, our department and our region. We wanted to go against common prejudices, such as saying that because you live in a small town, you have smaller knowledge / intelligence. Those kind of prejudices are totally despicable, but unfortunately very common.


Why did you choose Vesoul as the base of the festival? What are the benefits and what the issues with the particular choice?

The reason of Vesoul was because we lived there, both my wife and myself, as told before. It wasn’t easy to convince other people about our idea. My wife and myself, we put all our energy, our beliefs, our health into this project, even sacrificing our own social / personal life. We started very small, going around town and surroundings to try to get little financial help and support. We also tried to contact institutions in our department, region, on national and even international scale. We didn’t put up the film festival in one day, but during our whole life. We had to become one of the main events in our region; an event that would change views, something which would bring added value, something strong, which would also have a positive impact on the economical level for our town, the department and the region.

One of the many advantages you have when you organize such an important event as ours in such a small town is the time you save going around.  It’s to mark your town with your own identity, to support town and region during the film festival and to increase networks in different social classes in your town, department and region.

The difficult part regards the budget, which is  much more limited and smaller in scale. Furthermore, our town has no big university, so it’s harder to keep young volunteers on a long-term, after they finish their scholarship and leave to study abroad. We are also limited by the lack of accommodation to be able to welcome the many festival audience members coming from afar, the lack of infrastructures to reach Vesoul (roads, highway, train, plane,…). For example, there is no real road network / highway between Basel / Mulhouse International airport (France’s 4th biggest airport!) and Vesoul city, which is only 90 minutes apart!

The common practice among Asian film festivals is to focus on the SE part of the continent, and totally exclude countries like Israel, Georgia or Turkey which you have embraced. Can you tell us about this choice? In general, what is that you look for in the films included in the festival?

It is because we are interested in whole of Asia, from Urals to Pacific, from Suez Canal to Indian Ocean. We are interested in whole Asia! We decided to focus on whole Asia without excluding no part of the 5 continents.

The movies’ final selection – both fiction and documentary – is made while watching movies throughout the whole year. We watch over 800 fiction features and over 300 documentaries for our final selection. To be in selection, a fiction feature has to be at least French Première.


Each year, the festival, additionally, focuses on the cinema of a particular, but rather unexplored Asian country, with the examples including Laos and Sri Lanka. Can you tell us about the process of selecting a country and how do you manage to get and select films from there?

This is the result of the fruitful collaboration between artistic director Bastian Meiresonne and founder and president Martine Thérouanne and the Deputy Manager, myself.

At this point, I have asked Bastian Meiresonne to analyze the procedure of selecting movies for FICA Vesoul. 

Bastian: Hello, I am Bastian Meiresonne, Vesoul’s artistic ditector in collaboration with festival director Martine and delegate manager Jean-Marc.

All three of us are involved in artistic direction – we all have our own specialities, but are all three perfectly complementary –and Martine and Jean-Marc have final cut for final selection. All three of us on fiction and documentary competition. For fiction  features competition, we watch over 750 long features for 9 (at least) French Premiere selections – for the 8 documentaries in competition, we watch over 300 movies all in all every year.

Martine and Jean-Marc are more involved in main topic, Japanime and Youth Movies selection, whereas I am focused in lesser-known countries those last years, such as Cambodia in 2011, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka or Mongolia for the 2018 focus. Those movies are based upon quite a long-time research. I try to find out as much information and watch as many movies as possible over several months / years – for Indonesia, for example, I studied the cinema for 6 years and watched over 1.500 movies in total – for 2018 Mongolian focus, I watched around 250 long features of the over 500 movies produced in the country in total I also spend some time in those countries to be able to gather more info, watch more movies, meet young and older directors, in order to understand perfectly the culture, country and cinematographic history.
I try to trace back copies presumed  “lost” and / or very rare – that’s how we were able to screen several copies never shown outside their country and invisible for several decades about Thai and Sri Lanka Cinema in the past – and I hope to be able to do so again for Mongolia.

Those films are lesser-known and / or they is not much info available to access on Internet – nevertheless their cinematography is rich and incredible and we love to show authentic masterpieces in Vesoul for our audiences to watch for very first time.

Every movie is introduced ahead of its screening, detailed in our catalog and as discussed much as we can after the screening, so the audiences can have the whole picture and info about why we chose the movie.
Our purpose is to transmit knowledge, passion and some information about lesser-known cinema to our audiences – and try to make those movies travel to other worldwide film festivals after that.

Just because these movies have not been made  by Takashi Miike or Kim Ki-duk does not mean that they are not worth AT LEAST as much as movies by those famous directors - sometimes they are even WAY better...

Last year, FICA Vesoul presented 16 different awards, a large number compared to similar-themed festivals. How did you reach that number?

We have seven juries :

* The International Jury, which grants the Golden Cyclo, the Grand Jury Prize and the Jury Prize, as well as a special mention, if they want to grant more prizes to all those incredible features which request a lot of work.

* The Netpac Jury (Network For The Promotion of Asian Cinema, which grants one award and sometimes a Special Mention,

*The Film Critic Award, which grants one prize and sometimes a special mention,

*the INALCO Jury (Institut National National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations), which grants one award and a special mention

*The Guimet Museum (Museum for Asian Arts): one award and a special mention

*The High School Jury: one award

* The Youth Award: one prize

* Audience Award: For Best Fiction and best Documentary Feature

So we have one International Jury and some alternative juries, like in most other worldwide film festivals.

What is your opinion of Asian cinema at the moment? Are there any countries, apart from the known ones, that seem to be about to flourish? Any individual fillmmakers?

There is not ONE Asian Cinema, but many Asian Cinemas, as there is not AN European Cinema, but European Cinemas. Cinema is an artistic expression, which allows one national culture to reflect its soul and proper identity.

One should beware of the International Film Festivals’ filter, which focuses on one or the other national cinema, such as Asian cinema. It’s typical for western culture. For me it’s a sort of neo-colonialism and western central view.

There have ALWAYS been interesting Indonesian or Filipino directors, for example.  In Middle East, there always have been directors around. One might see a renewal of Lebanese and Palestine Cinema. Some young directors try to do less docufiction in favor of original scripts with a lot of social stayre in this part of the world. Georgian Cinema has a very interesting renewal. In Myanmar and in Laos, you have some very young and talented promising filmmakers, who try to (re)create a new cinematography – I really hope they will succeed in putting the seeds for a future cinematic blossom. There are plenty of new and old directors to (re)discover.


Can you tell us a bit about the financial status of Vesoul? Is the festival successful in that aspect? In general, how did the festival fared this year?

Most importantly, the festival receives funds from the Communauté de Commune, the National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image, the department (Conseil Départemental de la Haute-Saône) and some private investors. Another benefit is to have a festival built upon voluntary work – how many worldwide film festivals are being led by two directors for almost 25 years who never got paid? Our film festival is a real UCO (unidentified cinematographic object).

So the festival directors are not making any money out of this film festival; but 54% of the festival’s entire budget is reinvested into local economy, and that’s not counting what our over 31.000 audience members are spending on money.

The 31.000 audience members makes our festival one of France’s 10 biggest film festivals. It is also the oldest Asian Film Festival in Europe and one of the two most important in Europe.

Vesoul has been on for 23 years. Are there any episodes in the history of the festival you single out? Good and bad.

In a man’s life, you need fond remembrances to be able to go ahead. Amidst the most memorable encounters, there was the venues of Jia Zhang-Ke, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Jafar Panahi, Aktan Arym Koubat (Aktan Abdykalykov), Brillante Mendoza, Makhmalbaf family, Semih Kaplanoglu, Kore-Eda Hirokazu, Masahiro Kobayashi, Im Sang-soo, Eran Riklis, Rakshan Bani-Etemad, Jocelyne Saab, Joana Hadjithomas, Adoor Gopalakrishna, Mariko Okada, Koji Yoshida, ... so many great Asian directors attending Vesoul.

How do you imagine the future of the festival, and what are your plans for the next editions?

I sincerely hope our institutions will keep understanding the impact a film festival such as VIFFAC has on Vesoul, cinema, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region and even on France, “mother of Arts and Laws” as said Joaquim du Bellay. 

I sincerely hope that the sponsors will finally agree to give a decent salary to the artistic director, to grant another budget to pay an administrative director, in order for them both to support the director couple of 64 and 67 years old, to keep on running this film festival until the day we die.

The most terrible is that I don’t have enough years to live to screen all the focuses, the tributes and the topics I would wish to show and share.

Culture is a fighting sport, which requires an uncountable amount of energy.

COMMENTS

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Johnson,1,Maundy Thursday,1,Meghe Dhaka Tara,1,Memoir of a Murderer,1,Merantau,1,Michael Haertlein,1,Midi Z,1,Midnight Runners,1,Midori The Camelia Girl,1,Ming-Yeh Rawnsley,1,Mira Nair,1,Miss Zombie,1,Miwa Nishikawa,2,Mohammad Rasoulof,1,Mon Mon Mon Monsters,1,Mong-Hong Chung,1,Monologue,1,Moon Lovers,1,Mototsugu Watanabe,1,Mouly Surya,1,Mountains May Depart,1,Mourning Forest,1,Movie,2,Moving,1,Mr. Socrates,1,Mrs Fang,1,Mrs K,1,Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation),1,Mumon: The Land of Stealth,1,Museum,1,My Dad and Mr Ito,1,Myanmar,1,Nah Hyeon,1,Nandita Roy,1,Naoko Ogigami,2,Naomi Kawase,3,Naosuke Kurosawa,1,Naoyuki Tomomatsu,3,Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit,1,Neeraj Ghaywan,1,Neko Atsume House,1,Nepal,1,Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival,1,Nicholas Poly,4,Night Bus,1,Nikkatsu,1,Nikola Cekic,1,Nirbaak,1,Niwatsukino Norihiro,1,Noboru Uguchi,1,Nobuhiro Yamashita,1,Nobuyuki Takeuchi,1,Noise,1,Non-fiction Diary,1,Norihiro Niwatsukino,1,North Korea,1,Nurse Diary: Beast Afternoon,1,NYAFF,34,Odd Obsession,1,Old Boy,2,Old Stone,1,Old-School Kung-Fu Fest,3,Omar Rasya Joenoes,2,On the Job,1,On The Line Festival,3,On the Run,1,Onibaba,1,Ophilia,1,Ordinary Person,1,Osamu Sato,1,Our Happy time,1,Outrage Coda,1,Palatpol Mingpornpichit,2,Pale Flower,1,Panos,1,Panos Kotzathanasis,155,Paresh Mokashi,1,Park Chan-wook,2,Park Hoon-Jung,1,Park In-je,1,Park Ki- hyung,1,Park Kwang-hyun,1,Past and Future,1,Patrick Hofmeister,43,Pedro Morata,3,Pepe Diokno,1,Perfect Blue,1,Peter Chan,1,Peter Chen,1,Phanumad Disattha,1,Philippines,8,Pieter - Jan Van Haecke,2,Pieter-Jan Van Haecke,5,Pink Eiga,7,PinkEiga.TV,1,pinku eiga,1,Pinneyum,1,Poet on a Business Trip,1,Poolside Man,1,Posto,1,Press Release,1,Proshoon Rahmaan,2,Psychic,1,Rabbit and Lizard,1,Radiance,1,Rage. Lee Sang-il,1,Rahul Jain,1,Railway Sleepers,1,Rainy Dog,1,Raja Mukhriz,1,Randy Mckenzie,4,Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead,1,Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 2,1,Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead 3,1,Ravine of Goodbye,1,Re:Born,1,Real,1,Red Beard,1,Resistance at Tule Lake,1,Revenge: A love story,1,Review,5,Reviews,169,Riri Riza,3,Ritwik Ghatak,2,River of Exploding Durians,1,Robin Weng,1,Roman Porno,1,Rouge,1,RV: Resurrected Victims,1,Ryoo Seung-wan,1,Ryota Sakamaki,1,S. Korea,55,S.Korea,2,Saayak Santra,8,Sabu,3,Salaam Bombay,1,San Diego Asian Film Festival,6,Sanjeewa Pushpakumara,2,Sankha Ray,23,Satoru Hirohara,1,Satoshi Kon,1,Satyajit Ray,1,Sayandeep Bandyopadhyay,6,Scarlet Heart,1,Score,1,Seijun Suzuki,2,Sekigahara,1,Sexy S.W.A.T. 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Asian Film Vault: Interview with Jean-Marc Therouanne: There is not ONE Asian Cinema, but many Asian Cinemas
Interview with Jean-Marc Therouanne: There is not ONE Asian Cinema, but many Asian Cinemas
We speak with Jean-Marc Therouanne about Vesoul International Film Festival and the love story that led to it, Asian cinema and many other topics
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Asian Film Vault
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