The Oldenburg Film Festival has chosen two iconoclastic filmmakers to honor for its 30th anniversary edition: French actor/director Isild Le Besco and Canadian producer Jen Gatien. Both women have blazed a unique path in independent cinema, defying convention and expectations.
Le Besco has been working in front of the camera since she was eight, and was already a face of French author cinema in her early 20s, with two César nominations – for her performances in Benoît Jacquot’s Sade (2000) and that of Cédric Kahn Roberto Succo (2001) and a Best Actress award in Venice for Jacquot’s L’Untouchable (2006).
Her directorial debut from 2004 Demi-Tarif (Half the price), the story of three young siblings, Romeo (Kolia Litscher), Launa (Lila Salet), and the youngest, Leo (Cindy David), left alone in a run-down apartment in Paris, was an unmediated glimpse into the world of childhood and received praise from the likes of Mia Hansen-Løve, whose review in Cahiers du Cinema highlighted Le Besco’s instinct not to use films “to tell stories, but only (to) capture them with her camera.” A radical example of lo-fi, DIY cinema, the film was shot entirely with portable digital cameras and presented as found footage, with no subtitled dialogue and only Le Besco’s own narration dubbed over the video.
Le Besco continued to explore the worlds of youth with her second feature film, Charliethe story of Nicolas (Kolia Litscher), an adolescent boy on the run whose encounter with the slightly older prostitute Charly (Julie-Marie Parmentier) changes his life.
By her third film, Bas-FondsLe Besco had established itself as, in the words of one New York Times head, the ‘wild child of French cinema’. The film, about three young women living in a seedy shack in the French provinces, premiered in Locarno and was shown at the 2010 Oldenburg Film Festival.
The trilogy — Demi-Tarif, Charlie And Bas-Fonds – also demonstrated Le Besco’s unique perspective on the kingdom of childhood, her approach to depicting rather than explaining the struggles and desires of young characters, her exploration of the beauty and fragility of childhood, an exploration that continues in more recent films, such as the one from 2017 La Belle opportunitywhich focuses on two young siblings living near a circus and their chance meeting with a young girl.
Few producers can truly be called authors, but Jen Gatien’s career has followed the path of the cinematic maverick: backing films that amplify new voices and push the boundaries of the medium.
Gatien can be credited with helping discover Jesse Eisenberg, whose breakout role came in the Gatien-produced book Sacred Scrolls (2010), and director Xan Cassavetes, daughter of John Cassavetes, who produced her feature debut, Kiss of the damned (2012), which premiered in Venice. Then Deborah Kampmeier’s 2007 feature film Dogstarring a young Dakota Fanning, was attacked for its depiction of sexual themes involving young teenagers, producer Gatien defended the film’s artistic merit against calls for a ban on the film.
Gatien has been at least as influential in the field of documentaries Chelsea on the rocks (2008), a documentary about New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel, by legendary New York director Abel Ferrara; Spotlights, Billy Corben’s 2011 documentary about Manhattan’s iconic Limelight club, owned by Gatien’s father Peter Gatien; and, along with Spike Lee, that of Darius Clark Monroe Evolution of a criminal (2014), in which the director, convicted of a bank robbery in his teens, returns home to investigate how his actions affected the lives of his family, friends and his victims.
In honor of both women, Oldenburg will screen a selection of their films during the tribute celebration in 2023. The program includes Le Besco’s Demi-Tarif, Charlie, Bas-Fonds And La Belle opportunityas well as produced by Gatien Chelsea on the rocks and the 2015 feature Dixielanddirected by Hank Bedford and starring Riley Keough, Chris Zylka, Faith Hill and RJ Mitte.
The 2023 Oldenburg Film Festival opened on Wednesday and runs until September 17.