Prune Engler, the new President of Aide aux Cinémas du Monde
General Delegate of the La Rochelle Film Festival from 2002 to 2018, Prune Engler has just succeeded Charles Tesson as President of the Aide aux Cinémas du Monde commission. As 2022 marks the the 10th anniversary of Aide aux Cinémas du Monde, she talks to us about her new post, the challenges facing the organisation, but also about her experience and her passion for cinema.
Published on 17/10/2022
Can you tell us how your passion for cinema started? Who were the directors who marked your life?
As a child, I was able to see a few "mainstream" films with my family at the Cinéma Monge - "Sissi – Fateful Years of an Empress", "Joselito, Song of the Nightingale" - which I didn't understand at all. But as I was lucky enough to live in the Latin Quarter, I later discovered the cinemas in rue Champollion. And there, a treasure chest was opened: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Eric Rohmer, Werner Herzog, Robert Bresson, Jean-Luc Godard, Kurosawa and Mizoguchi, all for me... And that chest remains open to this day.
What made you decide to work in the film industry? Did you have a desire to create, write or direct before?
Very early on I felt the need to work on shoots, as part of a team. I didn't have a desire to create but to discover. I was fascinated by the world of film making and I accepted all the offers I received at the time, the more disparate they were, the more I liked it: production secretary, actors' agency, casting, costumes, script and then, for a few weeks a year, I worked for the recently launched La Rochelle International Film Festival...
I really liked the collective and craft aspect of all these roles.
You were general delegate of the La Rochelle International Film Festival from 2002 to 2018. What do you remember from this experience?
It's not the period during which I was general delegate that is most important for me, but the date from which I started working for this festival, in 1977. If someone had told me one day that I would end up devoting my professional life to it, 42 years, I would obviously never have believed it!
So I was very young and, along with Jean-Loup Passek (films from Eastern and Northern Europe), whom I succeeded in 2002, Jacques Grant (German cinema with R.W. Fassbinder), Christian Depuyper (Italian cinema with Nanni Moretti and many others) we conceived of our roles in a fun and carefree, even unconscious way... Silent cinema was also already very present and was the subject of regular programming in the early years.
It is fascinating to gain access to the imagination, even the obsessions of the filmmakers who entrust us with their projects. This allowed me access to cinematographies that were still little known at the time and quite simply to learn to watch and listen to a film by literally being on the lookout for its qualities and what it could bring to our spectators in terms of poetry, novelty and wonder.
When I became general delegate, I found myself at the heart of the organisation, but what mattered most to me was the programming of the festival; to seek balance and coherence from one year to the next.
In 2021, you succeeded Charles Tesson as President of Aide aux Cinémas du Monde, co-managed with the Centre National du Cinéma et de l'Image Animée and the Institut français, which supports feature film projects destined for initial theatrical release. What is your role in this scheme?
I am president of the three colleges, which are assigned respectively to début and second films, to others and to those already made, in the process of being finished, which have not benefited from the fund. The scripts and films can be fiction, documentaries and/or animated films. It is not a solitary role, decisions are taken collectively even though I am responsible for them. I work with remarkable people, whether they are readers, committee members or members of the CNC and Institut français teams.
Between members and readers, with my vice-presidents, we discuss as much as possible, taking into account each other's arguments. This is a highly democratic process that allows us to have doubts and sometimes to change our minds.
How do you select the films that are and will be supported by Aide aux Cinémas du Monde? Is your experience as general delegate of the La Rochelle International Film Festival an asset for this task?
In a way, it helps me because it is important to take an interest in little-known cinematographies, forom countries where it is difficult to make films for political, economic or technical reasons. We are also careful to ensure that women are heard and supported. We want to avoid received ideas, to question our own preconceptions and judgements. There is a concern for openness in the choice of grants, where it is essential not to confine ourselves to a specific genre by welcoming all forms of cinema. We also look at the directors' previous works in order to find all the clues available to us about the qualities of the filmmaker we are going to support.
Aide aux Cinémas du Monde is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. What challenges does it face for the future?
That's a difficult question because I've only been here for a year, so I don't have an overall view of the work that has been done since the scheme was created. What I can hope for is that it will continue, because it is very important, known worldwide, and an exceptional tool, unique in the world. The demand for quality in the films must continue, because these features are selected at major festivals in great numbers. This is a recognition of the work done by the scheme, which is formidable and necessary. It is therefore essential to keep a close eye on the projects presented to us and to be vigilant so that they escape the sometimes predictable formatting of selections in international festivals.
After being hosted by the Fabrique de l'Institut Français, and then receiving support from Aide aux Cinémas du Monde, La Jauría, by Andrés Ramirez Pulido, won the Grand Prix of the Semaine de la Critique at the last Cannes Film Festival. What do you think of this film? Would you recommend other feature films accompanied by the scheme recently?
La Jauría was selected by Charles Tesson and his team. So I don't know the criteria that governed this choice. It is easier for me to mention two films that we have supported recently, from the 3rd college - which therefore came for finishing assistance - and which concern the Institut français more directly.
This is As Bestas, by Rodrigo Sorogoyen, one of the great successes of the summer, with over 250,000 admissions. It is a particularly gripping film that plays on the appeal of genre films, the thriller (for the tension that is constantly expressed), the western (for its anchorage in a still wild nature and almost clan-like confrontations) and which features characters whose complexity unfolds and evolves during the course of the story.
The second film is Plan 75 by Chie Hayakawa, which raises an issue that is as crucial in Japan as in Europe. It evokes the end of life, which is shown as being planned for the "good" of ageing people as much as for a society eager for profitability.
In your opinion, what is the reason for the drop in cinema attendance and what actions should be taken to all ow it to recover? Can the diversity of the Aide aux Cinémas du Monde selections be a factor for recovery?
It so happens that festivals still find their audiences, that is to say that they manage, by favouring the screening of films in cinemas, to perpetuate this tradition of exchanges between enthusiasts. So this continues to work in festivals. As for the question of cinemas, it is a very complex issue, which it is impossible to summarise. It is still a mystery why a film succeeds. In the case of As Bestas, for example, there are two very good actors, whom the public no doubt enjoyed seeing on screen, but things are more complicated than that. Even if it is difficult today to put oneself in the shoes of an operator, there is a lot of work to be done to bring spectators to films that are perhaps less accessible at first. For the time being, I can only join in the desolation of the community going through the current crisis and hope that it is only temporary.
What do you wish for Aide aux Cinémas du Monde in the years to come?
To receive even more resources in order to honour its splendid mission.
May it shine like a beacon in the eyes of filmmakers who, without it, would often have all the trouble in the world - despite their talent and courage - to make the images and sounds that speak to us and move us.
The Aide aux Cinémas du monde (ACM) is a selective fund reserved for projects involving feature films, animated films and creative documentaries aiming to be screened for the first time in cinemas. It may be granted before filming (production aid). Projects not selected for pre-filming assistance may be presented for post-filming assistance (postproduction aid).
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