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French & Francophone Film: A Research Guide

Film Industry and Art

S. D. (Samuel D.) Erhart, artitst. Daily scene in the Louvre / Ehrhart. 1911. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

"Of all the arts, only cinema is dependent on this monstrous body [the film industry] which compromises its spiritual salvation." - André Bazin, "Reflections for a Vigil of Arms, July-October 1944"

This research guide provided by the Library of Congress is intended to inform readers and researchers about several aspects of the Francophone (French-speaking) film world. This section gives an introduction to that industry. Information and learning resources about genres, directors, Francophone film history, and more can be found in other pages in this guide.

Because of the enormously important role cinema plays in Francophone culture, the film industry is generally well supported through political, financial, and practical actions that nourish it.

Perhaps the example that best demonstrates this is the idea of l'exception culturelle (cultural exception), proposed by France during the 1993 GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations. France argued that cultural products are unique goods and thus should not be subject to the same controls and tariffs. Canada did the same during NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) negotiations.

Not only does French foreign aid support Francophone film around the world, a plethora of other assistance continuously promotes and enriches it: Festivals such as Festival de Cannes, FESPACO (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou/Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou), the Tournées Film Festival, and the Lumière Film Festival; grants through French embassies, Canada's National Film Board, and l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie; programming organized and promoted by the Alliance française, etc.

In the early days of Francophone filmmaking, production was mainly in Vincennes, just outside Paris. Pathé, Gaumont, Eclipse, and Lux studios were only a few of these, companies that not only made movies but also sold film equipment, managed distribution, built and ran cinemas, and more. The film industry at the time was chaotic, with little standardization of practice and minimal state oversight.

In 1940, however, the French film industry permanently changed during the Nazi occupation, bringing standardization and greater government control to the industry. Propagandastaffel (propaganda squadrons) set up the Office professionnel du cinéma (OPC) for censorship and oversight, which banned film imports from Allied countries, imposed the inclusion of propaganda newsreels with film screenings, prohibited Jewish people from working in the film industry, and banned films deemed anti-German, such as La Grande Illusion/The Grand Illusion (1938, Jean Renoir).

Aspects of this restructuring remain to this day. For example, the Comité d'organisation de l'industrie cinématographique (COIC) (Committee for the Organization of the Film Industry) eventually became the Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée (CNC) (National Center for Film and Moving Images), which finances, regulates, promotes, protects, and distributes French films, among other initiatives.

Another example: Through the COIC, Marcel L'Herbier helped found L'Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) (Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies) in 1944. The prestigious school still trains film professionals and is now known as La Fémis (Fondation européenne pour les métiers de l'image et du son/European Foundation for Careers in Image and Sound).

Protectionist measures such as quotas for the amount of French in a film, origin of the filmmaker, and nationality of co-producers are just some of the qualifications for film subsidies in some Francophone countries. The CNC also grants subsidies through SOFICAs (Les Sociétés de financement de l’industrie cinématographique et de l’audiovisuel/Companies for the Financing of the Cinematographic and Audiovisual Industry), that use tax breaks to encourage private investments in the French film industry.

Below are Library of Congress resources in English and French that explore this topic further.

The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.