Interview – David Wenham, ambassador of the 2023 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, talking about his love for international cinema

For 34 years, the Alliance Française network in Australia has organised the Alliance Française French Film Festival. Seen from France, Australia often appears as a huge distant country on the other side of the world, but we who have the immense privilege of living here know how close the two countries are and how we are bound by an unbreakable friendship. And with over 35 films available at the festival in 2023, it is lining up to be one of the biggest and best yet!

As the Alliance Francaise Film Festival begins it’s rollout around the country, I spoke with one of the festivals ambassadors, and Australian acting legend, Mr. David Wenham about his love for international cinema, the importance of celebrating different cultures, and his recommendations for this year’s festival.

Nick: As a lover of films, I feel very grateful that we live in a world where we are becoming more open to stories from other nationalities and cultures. How important is something like the Alliance Francaise Film Festival to you in regards to opening up a world of stories to Australian audiences?

David Wenham: It’s huge! We’re talking about one of the biggest, most respected film industries in the world. France makes over 250 films a year. They have an incredible history of filmmaking, right from the early days, through to the great filmmakers of the 60s and 70s, and now the contemporary filmmakers.

I think we’re fortunate to the fact that there’s a festival celebrating an amazing industry, but also audiences somewhat get the capacity to travel around that incredible country without leaving their cinema seat, and seeing a completely different, interesting way of life. There are about 35 films that are in this huge festival that deal with a whole heap of different aspects of French life. It’s fascinating.

Nick: You mentioned how this festival highlights a culture that is different to Australia’s, but something that is amazing about these sorts of film festivals is the communal experience that is shared. The times I’ve attended the French Film Festivals and events, it’s always so energetic and vibrant. What is it about French culture that seems to align so well with Australian culture?

David Wenham: Well, I think you just mentioned it. It’s really alive. The French culture is so entrenched in the French way of life. And the important thing is that people actually respect and love culture, and their government supports it hugely. They see culture as an essential part of their life. French people are confident people because they know who they are.

Australia is very young. We’re still trying to work out exactly who we are and work out our relationships with our First Nations people. Once we get all of that on board, then we are really going to know who we are. I think we’re going to produce even more interesting films and other pieces of culture because of it.

I think they’re two different cultures. The French are people who know who they are. And here in Australia, we’re still trying to work out exactly who we are.

Final Cut – playing at this years festival.

Nick: Looking back at some of your earlier film memories – do you remember the first film in a foreign language that truly had an impact on you and opened up yours eyes to a new world of cinema?

David Wenham: I was lucky, my dad took me to more obscure, left field films from a very young age. Around about the age of 10, I remember a couple of Italian films and retrospectives like The Bicycle Thief, The Tree of Wooden Clogs. With French cinema, I remember seeing Jacques Tati films at an early age. Things like Mon Oncle and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. They played an important part in my own creative journey.

From an early age, I saw that people lived differently in different places, and there’s really interesting things that people do. Some of the places they lived are completely different to where we came from, so it just opened my eyes to the world. I was fortunate in that regard.

Nick: Speaking of discovering new cinema and films, this year’s festival has a stacked line up with French box office hits, heartfelt independent features and everything in between. Is there anything you’re excited to see or can recommend to people having a tough time choosing what to watch?

David Wenham: It depends on what they want to see! But I’ve written about four pages of notes about the films I want to see! I went through all the notes and watched the trailers for all of them! The surprising thing for me is that most of the films that I picked out this year are actually comedies. So, I suppose that reflects on what I’m looking for at the moment.

Final Cut [Coupez] which is sort of a film within a film – a zombie-splatter-comedy that looks suitably ridiculous and hilarious. Another ridiculous comedy is Smoking Causes Coughing that sounds bizarre and over the top. The Innocent which was nominated for 12 awards in France last year.

There’s a film that’s been described as Indiana Jones meets Monty Python called Jack Mimoun and the Secrets of Val Verde. There is a documentary I want to see called Notre Dame on Fire. An amazing thriller which was huge in France called November, and another called Saint Omer which won a prize at the Venice Film Festival and is a tense courtroom thriller. There’s heaps of amazing films this year.

November – playing at this years festival.

Nick: I was lucky enough to see Final Cut at the Brisbane International Film Festival last year!

David Wenham: And?!

Nick: It was a sold out crowd, and they got so behind it! For the first 40 minutes, it’s just chaos and you have no clue what is happening. Then the reveal happens, and when everything falls into place it was such a hilarious, crazy and satisfying way for everything to tie together! One of my favourites of the festival, for sure.

David Wenham: That’s fantastic!

Nick: Closing out our chat, I wanted to mention one of my favourite quotes, which is from Bong Joon Ho’s acceptance speech at the Oscars. I’ll paraphrase, but he said: “if you just overcome the one inch barrier that is subtitles, you will open yourself up to a whole new world of cinema”. What would your words of encouragement be to someone who may see subtitles as a hurdle, rather than an entryway?

David Wenham: Trust me, it’s not a hurdle. It’s like a very low piece of string barely above the grass. You can easily walk over that! You’ll surprise yourself with how minimally a subtitle will affect your experience with a film. It won’t at all, trust me on that one! The benefit of seeing a film with subtitles far outweighs any of your fears about it. You will enter a world that you will be so thankful that you went into.

The Innocent – playing at this years festival.

Many thanks to David Wenham for his time, and thanks to Organic PR for setting up the chat! If you want more information, session times or tickets to the 2023 Alliance Francaise Film Festival starting on the 7th of March click here

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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