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Luxembourgish animation films in Toronto

Published Monday February 03 2020

Luxembourgish animation films in Toronto

A conversation with Marcelle Lean, founder and executive & artistic director of Cinéfranco


It was the year 1973 when Marcelle Lean moved to Toronto, and it felt only natural to look for venues that hosted screenings of French films in this city that seemed to hide them. Her passion for cinema had been planted deep in her heart by her grandfather when she was a child. “My very first encounter with cinema occurred through the stories that my grandfather told the family about his days as a traveling projectionist in the remote mountain villages in Morocco. Years later, when he offered his services at Le Triomphe – an art film theatre in Casablanca – he used to describe to us the films that he saw. I must have been 8 years old when he told us about Hiroshima, mon amour by Alain Resnais. I could feel my grandfather’s passion and sense of wonder toward this film and many others to come,” recalls Lean. Since the age of nine she had been living in France with her parents and brother. “My nanny also used to take me regularly to watch Bollywood cinema that was shown in a small theatre at the bottom of our street. I loved the colors, the songs and dance and the memory of those powerful elements stayed with me forever,” she continues to reminisce.  

Marcelle Lean recalls that back in the 1970s the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was the “festival of festivals” and therefore, along with the programming at the Cinémathèque, those were her only sources of French cinema. “The latter tended to cater to those elitist viewers of intellectual French cinema who were particularly focused in the New Wave. As for the TIFF, I felt frustrated as I had to gorge myself with French cinema in the space of ten days and afterward had very little for the rest of the year.” Some twenty years later, Lean would join the TIFF as one of their press agents and become a translator for the late French filmmaker, Claude Miller, and his wife and producer, Annie Miller. Both experiences became her ultimate motivation to “do something” about the state of French cinema that was still lacking a strong presence in this Canadian city that – just as Ontario – does not offer a bilingual environment despite its multicultural character.

In the context of a city where Francophones are a minority, Lean decided to conceive Cinéfranco as a film festival that caters to this public along with Francophiles of all ages. In the creation of this initiative, “the largest stumbling block came from the fact that I had been a cinephile until then and knew nothing about the organizational side of a film festival. I also feared lack of funding, yet my spouse, Ralph Lean, gave me the push that I needed in this aspect. Debbie Kwinter, a film festival pro, taught me how to build a budget, create marketing strategies, design fundraising strategies and overall understand the inner workings of the film industry, particularly among distributors,” explains Lean, “Back then, however, the film programming was my true passion; as it is still today.”

As Founder and Artistic and Executive Director, Marcelle Lean leads a year-round research that involves attending film festivals around the world and regularly reading magazines specialized in the cinema industry. The films that make it into her selection – and that of her staff – must have English subtitles and, moreover, speak of themes that promote critical reflection and bring awareness on topics such as migration, the relationship between humans and nature, and the state of media today, to name a few. This vision helps explain why Lean recently decided to inscribe the section Jeunesse (Youth) into Cinéfranco. “When I used to be a French immersion teacher at an elementary school in Toronto, I wanted to take French outside the classroom limits in order to show my students the vibrancy of this language. I wanted to prove to them that French language goes beyond grammar rules as it also carries a rich cultural and social texture,” recalls Lean. In addition, she also remembers how she went as far as to create a film club for her preteen students despite the difficulty to obtain French films at that time. Moreover, Lean wanted to help other teachers ignite their students’ curiosity and interest in cinema. For this reason, she created descriptive files to inform teachers of the films’ content. She also created “dossiers pédagogiques” (pedagogical files) thus became a source of inspiration for teachers to engage with their students in activities around the films such as debates, collective research projects and creative thinking exercises. Therefore, it is thanks to this heritage from Lean’s professional expertise in education that the section Jeunesse follows the same model and continues to successfully cater to young audiences and their teachers at Cinéfranco.

This year’s edition of Cinéfranco features two animation films co-produced with Luxembourg that fall into the aforementioned section. Pachamama (2019) by Juan Antin is a beautiful tale of courage and love for nature in the context of the Peruvian Andes. Tepulpaï, a determined young boy, embarks on a mission to save a sacred treasure that has been taken from his village. In the portrayal of this heart-warming story through beautiful, colorful imagery, the filmmaker pays homage to the cultural richness of Inca civilization. The Prince’s Voyage (2019) is the second Luxembourgish co-production presented during the film festival. Filmmakers Jean-François Laguionie and Xavier Picard utilize exquisite animation techniques to conceive the story of an old monkey Prince who is found, injured and lost, by a 12-year-old boy named Tom. His parents, a couple of scientists, had been banished from their community because they had claimed the existence of other monkey civilizations. The arrival of the Prince into this community opens the doors to a fascinating cultural exchange through which Tom’s parents will try to prove the righteousness of their theory. Moreover, the friendship that develops between the old Prince and the young boy speaks about the harmonizing power of nature.

Luxembourg continues to attract filmmakers from around the world as a fertile ground for film production, particularly for the animation industry. “As I have been scouring international film programs for research, knowledge and inspiration, I noticed the incredible number of nominations that Luxembourgish animations have been obtaining throughout the years as well as the awards they keep collecting at highly respected film festivals such as Annecy,” explains Marcelle Lean. “The visual quality of these animated films, combined with the art of telling universal stories that are at once pleasing, challenging and pertinent to viewers of all age and in the context of our present times, make Luxembourgish animations a quite desirable property. In fact, aside from being a location for foreign productions, Luxembourg has successfully established its own training schools for animation and cinema technologies,” adds Lean.


The Prince's Voyage

For a film festival director whose favorite filmmakers as a teenager were Francis Ford Coppola, Ken Russel and Claude Lelouch, it comes as no surprise that her passion and taste for cinema continues to enrich the fresh, captivating programming that Cinéfranco presents in Toronto every year. The 2020 edition of Cinéfranco’s Youth Festival will run from February 18 to March 4 and showcase 11 films from around the world. À très bientôt in Toronto!

More information about Cinéfranco can be found at