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French & Francophone Film: A Research Guide

Directors and Cinematographers

Lewis Wickes Hine, photographer.Paris. The Eiffel Tower is a most uncanny structure, no matter in which part of Paris one is visiting, the tower dominates the landscape. Here is the view the "doughboy" got of it from the doorway of an apartment house. 1919. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Francophone film world has long nurtured directors, cinematographers, and others on filmmaking teams who fundamentally change the art of cinema. This guide highlights the resources available in the Library of Congress catalog on various aspects of the Francophone film world, including directors, movements and history.

The first film directors, the Lumière brothers, Louis Jean and Auguste Marie Louis, pioneered the art of cinema when they branched out from photo equipment manufacturing to develop the cinématographe. In 1895 in Paris, the brothers screened their film La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon/Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon, the first movie premier. The brothers progressed from primitive documentaries such as La Sortie... and Le Repas de bébé/The Baby's Meal (1895) to fiction films. The novelty of the fiction form meant that film could tell stories, not just document reality.

One of the first films to include a narrative arc was L'Arroseur arrosé/The Sprinkler Sprinkled (1895), a comedy short about a gardener's frustration with a water hose.

Another of the first directors was Georges Méliès. He was in the Lumière's audience at the premier of La Sortie... in 1895, and was inspired to make fantastical films that included some of the first special effects and employed editing to help tell a story. For a list of the Library's silent films and resources on those and early Francophone films click here.

Later, Abel Gance continued to experiment with film, putting montage theory into practice through editing techniques, and experimenting with camera movement via tracking shots and other methods.

In the 1920s-1930s, avant-garde and surrealist directors rejected commercial features and instead tested the limits of narrativity and consciousness. Jean Vigo, Luis Buñuel, and others produced hallucinatory work throughout this era, and their films still shock audiences today.

World War II brought Nazi censorship to screens, and imported films were banned. Many directors fled to non-Occupied areas, and to England or America, where they had mixed success. Directors who stayed in Vichy France, such as Georges Cluzot, were later punished for perceived "collaboration."

New Wave directors of the 1950s-1960s are perhaps the most well-known Francophone filmmakers: Names such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, Jacques Demy, and Alain Resnais immediately evoke the stylized, young Nouvelle Vague cinema.

The geography of Francophone cinema spread after the war. The first African feature film premiered, Sembène Ousmane's La Noire de.../Black Girl (1966), and Canada's National Film Board financed more French-language films.

This confluence of French history with film history means that Francophone film continues to be made rich by many perspectives and voices throughout the French-speaking world. Beur cinema, transnational productions, multilingual films, and women directors (such as Yamina Benguigui and Claire Denis) expand the possibilities of cinema and help us interpret the world.

Links to resources outside the Library can be found here for researchers interested in film criticism, film industry news, film studies, and film institutes.

The bibliography below contains titles from the Library of Congress on influential film directors and cinematographers, in both French and English.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.