Richmond’s French Film Festival shutting down

Richmond’s French Film Festival shutting down

The curtain has come down on the French Film Festival.

Peter Kirkpatrick and Françoise Ravaux-Kirkpatrick, the married professor couple who founded and directed the festival, have announced the popular film festival has reached the end of its run.

The French Film Festival at the Byrd Theatre.

The French Film Festival was annually held at the Byrd Theatre in the spring, and the last French Film Festival was held in 2022.

For one weekend every year, the French Film Festival turned Carytown into a taste of France.

“It has truly been an honor to bring more than a thousand directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, composers, editors, producers and other artist-technicians to Richmond for the public, and especially for our students since 1993,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement.

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Kirkpatrick, an associate professor of French at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Ravaux-Kirkpatrick, a professor of French and film studies at the University of Richmond, are both newly retired and emeriti. Both said it was the right time for the beloved festival to end.

“The reason the festival was created was to attract more students to the French major and minor, and it did,” Kirkpatrick said.

French Film Festival

The French Film Festival at the Byrd Theatre in 2014.

The French Film Festival created an internship program at both VCU and the University of Richmond, which included students from French universities, to help run the festival. Hundreds of interns worked on the festival every year, Kirkpatrick said.

“As teachers, that was a reward in and of itself: for students to get so much out of it and how it marked their lives,” Kirkpatrick said.

The festival brought dozens of French films to Richmond that often weren’t seen anywhere else in the U.S., as well as actors, directors and producers to mix and mingle with Richmonders.

Typical attendance for a film at the festival was 1,200, with dozens of films bringing more than 21,000 entries to the Byrd Theatre over the four-day festival.

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The festival became the largest French movie and culture showcase held outside of France. Every year, the festival would bring feature-length and short films, symposiums and master classes, as well as special, one-of-a-kind events.

Kirkpatrick and Françoise Ravaux-Kirkpatrick did not draw a salary for their work on the festival. Instead, “we spent every moment of our free time working on it,” Kirkpatrick said.

“We were all volunteers. We did it out of a love for the event and for cinema to make it happen,” Kirkpatrick said.

Many Richmonders expressed sadness at the loss of the festival.

“I always bought a pass to the entire festival. I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to be able to see these French movies,” Patty Smith, an English teacher at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg, said. “Big names came to the festival too, like Thierry Lhermitte. It was such a fantastic opportunity that I looked forward to every year.”


The French Film Festival at the Byrd Theatre

“The French Film Festival was not only a treasured cultural event for Virginia, it was a reminder that one person (or couple) with passion and perseverance, can inspire thousands,” Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office, said.

“Peter and Francoise nurtured and gifted a unique experience for so many years to this community; not for financial gain — but for a love of the art form of cinema. They know that through sharing films from other cultures and points of view — especially by celebrating the French culture’s reverence and appreciation for the process of filmmaking — could touch hearts and minds, inspire conversations, open eyes and yes, entertain,” Edmunds added.

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VCU and the University of Richmond were both sponsors of the event.

“It was unique in higher education for a private university and a state university to come together through us,” Kirkpatrick said.

“You both created something unique, downright amazing for French cinema. Your design of the festival, special events, and your hosting of guests on stage in the Byrd and during eye-opening Master classes just simply cannot be replicated anywhere else,” Laurent Mannoni, director of the Cinemathèque Française, told the couple in Paris.

Kirkpatrick praised the Byrd Theatre, which served as the venue for the event, and former manager Todd Schall-Vess, who was instrumental in pulling off the impossible at every festival.

In 2017, organizers brought a “magic lantern show” with imported hand-painted glass slides dating back to the 17th century from France.

“For the silent films, we were able to use the Wurlitzer organ. When we brought the magic lanterns from France with glass slides, we had to have a stage built in the middle of the seats in the theater. And Todd made that happen,” he said.

The French Film Festival was put on pause during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 and abruptly cancelled last year.

The French Film Festival is hoping to join forces once more with a project for the Pocahontas Reframed Film Festival, which celebrates Native American film, in the fall.

“We truly think we had the best possible career any couple could imagine,” Kirkpatrick said.

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