Paris launches the First European Spiritual Film Festival

Marc-Olivier Louveau (Lou Ma Ho) is a French film director and author who started his career as a scriptwriter for film and television. He has directed several commercials, documentaries and short films, which have received numerous awards and were selected at many film festivals worldwide. Parallel with his film career he has written several books in which spiritual themes are not uncommon. Marc-Olivier is an expert of the martial arts and has created his own school in Paris. He is the founder and president of the European Spiritual Film Festival, of which the first edition will be held on March 21st through April 26th in Paris.

Shohreh Jandaghian – ESFF is the first and only festival of its kind in Europe. Could you tell about the development of the festival?
Marc-Olivier Louveau – After having been selected for festivals across the globe for my film about Zen “A Monk’s Awakening“, there were few festivals based on spirituality such as Sun Valley, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Sau Paolo, New York and a festival in Tehran. I realized there was no equivalent in Europe and that it was void that had to be filled. We are one of the oldest continents in the world with numerous religions, beliefs, philosophies, mythologies and practices…, and we had no film festival with competing films dedicated to spirituality. There have been events organized either here in France or in Europe, yet no film festivals with such a theme.

You may want to ask me why “competing films or films in competition? A competition which is rewarded by a trophy engraved ‘Best Film’ of a given category accompanied by an envelope containing money…isn’t that contradictory of spirituality?”. As a spiritually-oriented person, I would say that yes, you are indeed correct.

However, as a film director, I would say that no matter what the subject, a film is a film, with its cost, sweat, difficulties and stress. Every film necessitates intervention from technicians, actors and musicians and requires massive amounts of energy, even more for films with imposed time limits of 59 minutes; Short and medium-length films. What I mean to say is that films of this duration are made on shoestring budgets. In many cases, the director pays costs directly out of his/her own pockets, and in some cases those of technicians and even the actors themselves (when it comes to fiction).

For those people, there is nothing more gratifying than acknowledgment and financial contributions. I speak from firsthand knowledge, having experienced the exact situation. When you succeed in receiving this crucial aid, it’s an enormous relief. If one is able to offer financial contributions to enable a filmmakers’ new adventure, why deprive oneself? An old Chinese adage says: “All that is not given is lost.”

Concerning the other films, either those not selected or those that do not win…For the former, in order to encourage filmmakers’ continuation we created Spiritual TV. The films are shown on the festival’s online TV and therefore touch a larger audience. In fact, programming began in early March. For the latter, we have established accords with other festivals, for example the Saint-Petersburg Festival in Russia. They would like to dedicate one week of their festival to spirituality by holding projections of our entire film selection.

Shohreh – Please explain some of the directions of the festival.
Marc-Olivier– The objectives of the festival are to introduce the largest audience possible to spiritual traditions and practices from all over the world such as Taoism, Christianity, Islamism, Buddhism, Judaism, Shamanism, Zen and Hinduism among others. People will be able to explore what is seen as sacred, mystic, religious and the inner experience due to the selection of European and international short and medium-length films. For the first year, the duration is limited to 59 minutes and includes three categories: Fiction, Documentary, and Animation. The main objective of the festival is to promote the discovery of filmmakers from Europe and other continents; those who create a different kind of cinema by searching for truth and understanding of the world, by offering worldwide diffusion of their work.

In keeping with this theme, we have created a film festival in two parts. The first is the utilization of the web in order to reach the maximum audience. We offer them the possibility of screening selected films and voting for the People’s Choice Award. The second is more traditional and will include screenings of all winning films and a closing ceremony. The event will be open to the public in a magical venue here in Paris, Le Divan du Monde. Interesting fact…Le Divan du Monde is the place of a former brothel at the beginning of the last century. Painters, including Toulouse Lautrec often went there seeking inspiration.

Shohreh – What is the most important consideration to select a film?
Marc-Olivier- The two most important elements that are considered when selecting films are: cinematographic and artistic quality (screenplay, image, sound, editing, treatment, actors’ interpretation, etc.) and the degree of spirituality (subject, originality, quality of the film’s message). Those are the two main directives. However it’s obvious that, as with all films, in the end it’s the emotion that comes out on top. As Picasso said with regard to paintings: “An encounter with a painting is like an encounter with a woman…either you like it or not.” The members of the selection committee include a journalist, screenplay writer, sound engineer, director, producer, automobile engineer and myself. We may or may not be captured by the subject, swept away or not by the adventure proposed. When we lose interest or fail to take an interest in the storyline, it is generally unanimous. One could say that all films selected for the 2008 film festival were chosen unanimously. There were very few oppositions.

Shohreh – How do you define “spiritual film” and how do you separate it from “religious film”?
Marc-Olivier– To answer that question is to redefine spirituality as we know it today.

Spirituality is the life of the soul. We are mistaken if we confuse it with religion, which is simply a way of living a practice of spirituality. Spirituality is a condition of human life and not the exclusive property of religions or a school. The word comes from the Latin word “Spiritus” and Greek word “Psukki”. In both languages, it is referred to as a vital breath, or breathing.

Whether it is religious or not, we are confronted by spirituality…God or the Absolute, infinity or entirety, meaning of life or lack thereof, time or eternity, prayer or silence, mystery or mysticism, praise or contemplation. For a believer, there is one object; God. For an atheist; the universe, infinity, silence, universal presence, universal destiny. A parallel definition has withstood different eras and cultures, the practice thereof leading to self-awareness, well-being and balance, all while cultivating notions of tolerance, love and peace.

Spiritual films are ones which transcend all of these notions. We did not make any distinctions between religious or non-religious spiritual films. In our view the same objective was targeted, yet the path leading up to it differed.

Shohreh – Do you have any larger plans for the festival in the future?
Marc-Olivier- After the success of this debut year, even if it’s a bit pompous to say so, we would like to open the festival to feature films. There was much demand, yet we had to refuse the majority due to the duration limit. On rare occasions, we allowed a longer run time of up to twelve minutes. We would also like to lengthen the physical duration of the festival to several days with more film screenings, discussion panels, and introductions to directors, while keeping the online aspect. We also hope to add a screenplay section and try to create a platform which could help filmmakers with production, but that’s another story. As often said in our practice,”It is not the end that matters, yet the path that brings us there.” This is why we set limits for the first year. It was a test year. We’ve receive a lot of encouragement to continue, so we’ll keep going !

Shohreh – You also work as a script doctor for films. What do you think turns a good story into a great script?
Marc-Olivier– When one asked Renoir what made a good film, he responded, “A good story, and…a good story.” I would never try to define what makes a good story. Structuralists and psychoanalysts who have examined the subject have largely responded, and I would only be repeating their conclusion.

But other questions come to mind like “Do a good story and a bad script naturally make for a bad film?”, or “Do a good story and a good script naturally make for a good film?”, and lastly “Can a bad story and a good script make a good film?”
Again, I’ll let others choose to respond.

I would, however explore one point, “What is a good script purely from a a theoretic and technical perspective?” Don’t forget that a script is only one stage of the process, killed by the director as we say, and only visible within the dialogue. This means that writers of screenplays and script doctors are writers lacking any great works. A script does not make a film. Don’t forget the importance of the role of director, particularly when he is also the writer.

In my opinion, a good script is a tool that has answered all of the drama-related questions within a story adapted for the screen, especially the parts which relate to the meaning of the film. A good script puts itself in the service of the story, regardless of the story, and intrigues the reader from start to finish without missing a beat. What I mean is that it uses the best narration techniques and organization of information to bring a storyline to its height, the two most powerful emotions in cinema; suspense and surprise.

It should be able to express the meaning of the story through a path, otherwise through the creation of a structure that prefigures that of the film.

It should highlight the images rather than dialog through clarity, simplicity, characters, and underlying story lines. It may seem contradictory to you, but a good script leaves the reader thinking, « I could have written that myself .» Of course, this would have to be elaborated further.

Shohreh – You have studied martial arts besides film and scriptwriting. Could you give a brief background to your martial arts training?
Marc-Olivier– I began as an adolescent by practicing the Chinese martial art of Wu Shu. My apprenticeship began with the study and practice of positions, fist and feet techniques, projection, seizure, immobilization, respiration, movements, cardinal rules, Taos and the first philosophic notions associated to it; Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism.

Whatever the practice, everything must pass through the body, then through the technique. It’s the chronology. The position determines the physique; the physique the mind; the mind the mentality.

Later on, I switched over to the Vietnamese martial art of Viet Vu Dao, directly inspired by the Chinese martial arts. I began with different arms techniques; the baton, nun chucks, the sword, the halberd, the fan and particularly techniques of meditation, deep breathing, non-thinking, better known as the Chan, or even more widely known as the Zen in Japan, lastly and above all others, a practice invented by Buddha. It was like a door opening onto new horizons, an unknown land, something much more difficult to find and master: the Self.

Shohreh – Themes of spiritual quest and enlightenment run throughout many of your works. Do martial arts or Buddhism influence or inspire you during the writing of a book or the making of a film?
Marc-Olivier- Everything I write, whether it be a book or screenplay, and everything I direct is a story which takes place in Asia or contains Asian characters. I use my projects as a vehicle to unite my practice of the martial arts with all values and philosophies which they represent. When I work, I’m practicing in every sense of the word.

Shohreh – What are you currently working on and what can we expect from you in the future?
Marc-Olivier- I’m currently working on the production of my feature film The Meanderings of the Mekong, a story between France and Vietnam which takes place during the 18th century in the south of Vietnam. There is one Occidental role in the film, an historic character whose name was L’Eveque Pigneau de Behaine, or Bishop Pigneau de Behaine. Lambert Wilson has agreed to take on the role. All other roles have been taken on by Asian actors like Huang Lu, Yusuaki Kurata and others.

Regarding the future, what I hope is that people, especially those who govern or possess, become more spiritual. The world will function better and the future of our planet will be happier without a doubt.

Shohreh – Thank you very much Marc-Olivier for taking the time to speak with us.


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