There are some great films that even film connoisseurs have never seen. “The French Had a Name for It,” a French film noir festival presented at the Roxie Theater, gives film lovers the opportunity to experience spectacular films that have not been screened in the United States in more than four decades. The Roxie, the oldest operating theater in San Francisco, provides a uniquely historic atmosphere. While it first functioned as a traditional theater, it later was converted into a porn theater. Now, it is an art and independent film center. Renowned Roxie programmer Elliot Lavine and Midcentury Productions’ executive director, Don Malcolm, took the time to speak with The Daily Californian about the French film noir festival, which takes place next month.
The Daily Californian: What first sparked your interest in French film noir and inspired your decision to program this festival?
Elliot Lavine: My appreciation for film noir dates back to the ’70s, when I moved out here. With the large number of repertory theaters out here, my film noir education became swift. I became fully immersed in it and started making films in this style. Then I wound up here (at the Roxie) in 1990. It was the perfect opportunity to take that interest and really blow it up and get these films up on the screen here.
I have Don (Malcolm) to thank for my interest in French film. He convinced me to take a real hard look at these films. Once I did, I thought, “Whoa, we really need to capitalize on the opportunity to show these films, because they’re not the noir films that everybody knows.” These films are really going to captivate the audience. I’ve only been able to find one person who has seen even one of these films — and we hang out with people who watch this shit all the time! So, we’re really excited to be showing these films — largely because of their scarcity but mostly because of their brilliance.
Don Malcolm: Film noir really grabs you by the throat and takes you on a ride; you have to hope that you come out of it intact at the end. Back in 1980, people thought there were only 300 noirs, and they were all American. Now we know there’s more like 5,000 of them, and they’re from all over the world. We’ve been put in a very fortunate position to present films that bring a unique style of film back to life for the first time.
DC: How did you select the individual films for your festival?
DM: It was very difficult to figure out what to show, but as we learned more, it became clear that certain directors, actors and particularly a whole series of actresses shined. We wanted to honor them and get them more exposure. And, of course, we also felt that we could put in context some people like Brigitte Bardot, who was looked at in a sort of sensationalist, sexualized manner. We also really wanted to cover the range of what’s out there as best we could.
DC: How do you expect audiences will react?
EL: Hardcore enthusiasts are gonna be on their knees. It offers people who believe they’ve seen everything the opportunity to repudiate that and say, “Well, I guess I haven’t.” These are 12 films that most have not only never seen but also never even heard of.
I anticipate an outpouring of appreciation on the part of hardcore purists. This gives our audience a reason to support the Roxie: Keep coming, and you’ll be given a whole raft of movies you’ve never even heard of. This show is a great reminder that there may never be an end to the supply of interesting films.
DM: We just couldn’t wait to bring these films to the people who have been so supportive and so much a part of the noir experience. I hope that people will be as thrilled as we are to discover films that add something completely new and different to the noir lexicon.
“The French Had a Name For It” runs from Nov. 14-17 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.