By Kyle Osborne
Have you noticed those French flags everywhere around D.C.? No, the nation’s capital isn’t being invaded by the country who’s native son (Pierre L’Enfant) designed our city. Rather, the city is celebrating French culture with what is the largest festival of its kind in the world: The Francophonie Cultural Festival. The events run from March 1st through April 15th, and include a multitude of activities.
From live performances to amazing food, the six week run features films, culinary tastings, theatrical and musical performances, literary salons and fun things to do for kids. In fact, there are so many events taking place in so many different venues around town, that it’s best to get a full overview. The best place to start is by going to francophoniedc.org where you can see a complete schedule, buy tickets for the events that require them, and get more information.
The idea of the Francophonie Cultural Festival is to explore and celebrate the culture and artistry of the French speaking world. Dozens of countries have gotten together every year to put together a wide array of experiences all rooted in the Francophone culture — from Africa to the Americas to Asia to the Middle East. This year marks the 14th annual fest in Washington, D.C.
As someone who lived in Belgium for three years, I can tell you that French speaking people are much warmer than the stereotype with which they’ve been saddled. In my experience, they are exuberant, friendly and have a lust for life that you can taste in their cooking and hear in their music.
This year, participating countries include Austria, Belgium, Benin, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Congo, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Greece, Haiti, Iran, Laos, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mali, Mauritania, Monaco, Morocco, Niger, Québec, Romania, Rwanda, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, and the United States.
Among the vast number of artists participating this year:
Renowned French pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer will present a delicious and educational evening with “The Art of French Pastry,” which will begin with a screening of the documentary, Kings of Pastry, followed by a presentation and signing of Pfeiffer’s new book, as well as a tasting.
The bicentennial of the birth of Adolphe Sax (1814-2014) — Belgian inventor of the iconic saxophone — will be marked with a concert by the internationally-known French saxophone combo Ellipsos Quartet, as well as an insightful conference with American performer and musicologist Paul Cohen.
Literary salons will feature authors from a variety of styles and viewpoints, including Iranian author Nahal Tajadod, a 2007 winner of the Grande Médaille de la Francophonie de l’Académie Française who left Iran for France in 1977; Jean Portante, a native of Luxembourg who was awarded the Grand Prix d’Automne de la Société des Gens de Lettres for his entire life’s work in poetry; AJAR, a collective of six young Swiss authors who will present a humorous look at Francophone language and culture; and an examination of the work of Martinique poet and politician Aimé Césaire, a founder of the négritude movement in Francophone literature.
The legendary French actress Emmanuelle Riva will be celebrated through a cinematic retrospective of her most powerful roles, including Amour, Liberté, La Nuit, and Léon Morin, Priest. Mme. Riva will be present at the screening of Léon Morin, Priest.
This year’s Festival also highlights numerous African films, in partnership with the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. The 2014 New African Films Festival — the largest yet held by AFI — showcases the vibrancy of African filmmaking from all corners of the continent.
La Grande Fête, an annual highlight of the Festival, takes place on Friday, March 21, with more than 35 embassies and organizations presenting the culinary specialties and traditions of the Francophone world. The evening features a live headliner concert by France’s hypnotic psyche-punk rock collective La Femme, recent winners of the Best Newcomer of the Year album award at the 29th Les Victoires de la Musique (the French equivalent of the American Music Awards). Earlier in the evening, Grande Fête guests will enjoy Jomion and the Uklos, whose musical style fuses the rhythms of Benin with an engaging bossa nova vibe.
Among the activities for children are a “Francophone Cultural Day” in the DC Public Schools on March 18; a concert with Belgian singer-guitarist Andre Borbé; workshops with storyteller Raouf Mama of Benin; a virtual Francophone treasure hunt for students; and an afternoon with Swiss director Samuel Guillaume exploring the making of animated movies.
This list is only a fraction of what you can see, do and taste. Again, bet to visit francophoniedc.org for the big picture.
Venez à la fête. Tout le monde est bienvenu