Jerome Rudes and Jacqueline Bisset

Avignon Film Festival Founder Jerome
with Actress Jacqueline Bisset.

Though born and educated in America-Texas, to be exact-Jerome
Rudes’ entrepreneurial spirit first took hold when he created the
French-American Film Workshop in Avignon, France 19 years ago. Today,
that event continues to prosper-though it’s now known as the Avignon
Film Festival-and its American sister fest, The New York Avignon
Film Festival, continues to stand as one of New York City’s film festival highlights. In
a conversation with MM, Rudes discusses the origination of his bi-continental
event, the process of running these two highly successful events
and the power of film to cut through politics.

Jennifer Wood (MM): Can you talk a bit about
the mission of the Avignon Film Festival? In addition to American independents, the event showcases new European films. Why do you think European films are important,
or of interest, to American audiences and vice versa?

Jerome Rudes (JR): Our mission is discovering
independent films from America and Europe, re-discovering classic films and master filmmakers,
and facilitating dialogue between young directors, industry experts
and audiences. Both festivals are international venues for independent
filmmakers from France, Europe and the United States, characterized by quality,
elegance, and cordiality. Film is an international art and it seems
essential to us to create this “crossroads” of cinema from Europe and America.

MM: The New York event is in its eighth year;
Avignon event is in its 19th. How do the programs work-is it
the same program in both places?

JR: Our American and French festivals are independent
but harmonious. Features and shorts may appear in both events, but
not necessarily. Both events are controlled by not-for-profit foundations.

MM: What are the differences in audience
sensibilities? For example, do American audiences tend to favor
one particular genre? Are European audiences more interested in
certain stories?

JR: French and American audiences are certainly
different, but it would be difficult to generalize except to say
that we are seeking films that speak beyond their frontiers, so
that the French films we show in New York should have some universal message, and the American films we show
in Avignon, the same universality.

MM: Do you think that the programming  process
at the Avignon Film Fest is different than other “international” film festivals,
which are deciding which films from around the world an American
audience might respond to?

JR: Yes, I think our programming process is
different because it’s a little more “pure” and “independent,” whatever
those adjectives mean in today’s film world. I mean to say that
we are not convinced to program films by other factors than their
quality, power to move an audience and ability to cross borders, not by politics, distributor backing, star power, etc.

MM: As festival director, what types of
films are you most interested in seeing submitted? What types of
films are you seeing too much of?

JR: We are mostly programming narrative fiction
in New York and Avignon, but we do have some very thought-provoking documentaries from time
to time. As a “film festival,” it took some time to get accustomed
to the wave of DV shorts and features that are part of the contemporary
indie scene nowadays, but we are screening official selections in
video now in both Avignon and New York.

MM: What would be your best words of advice
for moviemakers looking to screen at the Avignon Film Fest?

JR: Make the best film you can and stay true
to yourself.

MM: What are some of the things that make
your festival unique overall?

JR: The uniqueness of both festivals is the
informality and openness of the format, which permits audiences
to talk with filmmakers about their work. Another important factor
is our desire to bring filmmakers from Europe and America together in a ‘comradely’ atmosphere that fosters friendship.
The festivals are planned like feasts from which everyone present
can partake.

MM: How have the world events of the past
year affected your New York operation? Has the focus of your event changed at all?

JR: The events of 9/11 had a chilling effect
on both our festivals, and has made the New York event especially
difficult to organize because of the economic difficulties faced
by our participating sponsors. However, once a decision was made
to move forward, sponsors got behind the event wholeheartedly with
the means at hand. Americans coming to Avignon for our June festival may be less enthusiastic about international
travel nowadays. But the tragedy has convinced us more than ever
that cultural exchange through film is essential in a world with
so much chaos and misunderstanding.

MM: Can you talk about some of the Awards
presented by the Avignon Film Festival? Some past success stories? Who are some of the filmmakers
you’ve screened at your events?

JR: As far as the award winners, some may go
on to successful careers like Arnaud Desplechin, Matthew Harrison,
Yolande Zauberman, Agnès Merlet, Michael Corrente, Jean-François
Richet, Bob Balaban, Laurent Bouhnik, Bruno Dumont, Christophe Ruggia,
Eric Mendelsohn, Jacques Maillot, Elias Merhige and Virginie Wagon.
Others may not be heard of immediately, but are quietly working
on their projects. At our most recent festival, The Holy Land by Eitan Gorlin was bought by Arrow and we have high hopes for this
young filmmaker, too.

MM: In addition to screenings, what sort
of events do you offer festival attendees? Both in NY and France?

JR: In addition to screenings, we offer festival-goers
in both Avignon and New York a wide variety
of seminars, interviews, round-table discussions, Q&As, wine-tastings,
communal meals and receptions, all meant to foster cordiality and

MM: Film festivals rely heavily on the support
of corporate and individual sponsors. Are their any sponsors you’d
like to single out and mention for their ongoing support?

JR: The New York festival couldn’t exist without
Air France, Eastman Kodak, Grand Marnier, Florence J. Gould Foundation,
LVT Subtitling, the Roger Smith Hotel, among the most notable sponsors;
likewise, we couldn’t offer the Avignon festival without the assistance
of the Avignon Town Council, Eastman Kodak, Continental Airlines,
Canal Plus, CineClassics and the French Ministry of Culture.

MM: How can interested filmmakers learn
more about entering your festival?

JR: Most of the info about both festivals is
on our Website,,
including a filmmaker application.

MM: Anything else you’d like to add?

JR: Finally, we are preparing our 20th year anniversary
in June 2003 in Avignon and plans call for many of our Avignon alumni to attend.