Lost in Frenchlation brings French cinema to the international community in Paris by screening French films with English subtitles. We spoke to co-founder Manon Kerjean about her vision to share her passion for film with outsiders, intercultural relationships, and of course, her favourite films.
Join the Dots: Lost in Frenchlation was born from a passion for French cinema and desire to bring French films to those who don’t speak French. Tell us about the moment when you decided to make the project a reality.
Manon Kerjean: The project came about as a solution to an existing problem. When Australian co-founder Matt and I were studying in Berlin, we were able to see German films with English subtitles without any problem. But when we came back to Paris and I tried to take Matt to see a French film with English subtitles, I looked everywhere and I couldn’t find a single one. It really surprised us because we were sure that the concept existed somewhere, but most of all we thought it was a real shame; for me, French cinema is one of the most important, if not the most important aspect of French culture. We feel that if you’re in Paris, going to the cinema should be part of the experience. So we decided to go to my favourite cinema and ask whether they wanted to work with us – and they did!
Your project uses a very creative means to bring people together, which is something we feel very passionate about at Join the Dots. Has that always been an important part of the project for you?
Definitely. For us it’s always been completely 50/50. When we had the initial idea for the project, both [the film and social] aspects were just as important for us and mixing the two has become our USP. For us it’s really important to be able to show the films with subtitles and to create a welcoming, international atmosphere by having drinks before the film. We would have loved to have access to events like this when we were travelling and studying abroad in the past!
It’s great because we get to see people coming back every Friday, making friends and improving their French. When you watch films, you get to hear French in action, which is a really important part of learning a new language. We’d like to host more activities alongside our films too: debates, Q&As, live music.
We always want to focus on sharing and learning and having a good time, even if the film has a serious topic.
What’s your working process like as a team of two people from different cultures? Does anything ever get lost in translation?
Matt is the cofounder but he has his own job in London working in finance, and I work full time on Lost in French-lation. As we’re a couple, I find speaking in a foreign language difficult for twothings in particular: fighting and humour. I love making a point in French and I love making a pun! There’s an excellent book about this called When in French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins. It’s about being in a couple and having a language barrier and the linguistic dimensions when it comes to human relationships.
Thanks to Lost in Frenchlation, English speakers in Paris have access to a whole new world of French culture. Is there a film that’s opened your eyes to another culture in the same way?
I think it would have to be the film we screened about two weeks ago in colla-boration with Club de l’Etoile, our partner cinema. The film was We Blew It, directed by Jean-Baptiste Thoret. It’s an attempt to understand American society, from Easy Rider to Donald Trump and it’s somewhere between a documentary and fiction. We had a debate afterwards with the director, who knows everything about American cinema from the 70s up to now and I think it helped me to understand American culture a bit more in terms of the way people think and how Trump happened, etc.
Lost in Frenchlation just celebrated its 2nd anniversary (congratulations!) and has grown to be a huge success in Paris. Are there any challenges that you have faced along the way? Or any moments where things where you thought merde, things are not quite going to plan?
It certainly wasn’t easy! We had a lot of challenges in the beginning – only one cinema wanted to work with us, the distributors were completely baffled when asked them for a copy of the film with English subtitles and nobody was getting back to us. But once people have worked with us once and seen that the events are a success, they tend to be happy to work with us for their next release, too.
The most stressful moment was during the Cannes festival: all the distributors were away, no one was getting back to us and up until a few days before the event, we still didn’t know what film we were going to show! I would say the worst (but also funniest) moment was one night when I’d given a big long speech about how important it was to have films with English subtitles. After that we all sat down to watch the film and suddenly the subtitles came up… in German. I was completely panicked, but the whole room was laughing – luckily they saw the funny side!
Oh no! Is that something you’ve thought about doing – subtitles in other languages?
Definitely. I have two dreams: one is to work with as many independent cinemas in Paris as possible, cinemas with a great history or unusual locations to help our visitors discover new areas of Paris as well. The second is to open my own cinema with subtitles in every language, as well as a bar and a restaurant.
We’d love to see you make your dream a reality! Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own creative project?
First of all it’s important to be passionate because it can get really hard and sometimes you’re going to feel demotivated, so you really have to love what you do. People need to see that you’re passionate, so in my case, I have to love the films I choose. Secondly, it’s important to be persistent: in the beginning, everyone tried to discourage me and said there was no market for the project, but I think we proved that there was a huge demand for it. And finally, you have to be organised! When you have events with a lot of people and you want them to be a success, you have to elaborate a good communications strategy – which I had to learn from scratch!I
With thanks to Manon Kerjean from Lost in Frenchlation