"The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
Lovers of French films often have limited choices at their local theaters, and traveling regularly to Paris to catch the latest titles isn't an option for many.
Enter MyFrenchFilmFestival.com, a celebration of contemporary French cinema, which launched in 2011 and is now back for a third year. The 2012 event attracted 1.3 million viewings in 174 countries in just three weeks. The audience was 30 times bigger than the festival's first edition.
The third edition of the online/on-demand festival, which begins Thursday, has expanded to one month, and films will be subtitled in 12 languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish.
Titles can be bought individually, starting at $1.32, or you can buy packages of films. A full pass costs $21.24.
Organizers have also upped the ante this year with the creation of a jury prize, headed by Academy Award-winning director Michel Hazanavicius of "The Artist." The festival also offers a public prize, an international press prize and a social network prize.
Since winning the Oscar last year, Hazanavicius has kept a low profile.
"I wanted to focus on writing my next movie," he said in a phone conversation from his home in Paris. "I had been very exposed with 'The Artist,' and I thought it wasn't too bad to be discreet."
Then Unifrance Films, the 64-year-old organization that promotes French cinema abroad and sponsors MyFrenchFilmFestival.com, asked him to lead the four-director jury, which also features Italian filmmaker Emanuele Crialese, Argentine director Lucrecia Martel and Chinese filmmaker Wang Xiaoshuai. The four will be voting on the 10 feature films and 10 short films in competition.
"It's quite a good way of promoting French films and young directors," said Hazanavicius of the festival. "So I agreed to do it. Besides, it's easy to watch movies."
Regine Hatchondo, executive director of Unifrance Films and creator of the festival, said the showcase was born because with the decline of art house cinema attendance in the U.S. and other countries, it's "more and more difficult for non-American films to exist," she said in a email interview.
"French cinema has a little bit more visibility lately thanks to big successes like 'The Artist' or 'The Intouchables,'" she noted. But the situation is complicated: Our production is diverse, but only half of it will be released abroad."
The 10 features in competition were released last year in France to critical acclaim. An executive committee looked at 50 feature and 50 short films before selecting the 10 finalists in each category.
"Some of them are really good," said Hazanavicius. Among his favorites are "Early One Morning," a drama about a 60-year-old banking executive who shoots two of his superiors when he gets to work, and the documentary "Leader-Sheep," about a group of farmers who resist the French government's plan in 1971 to expand a military base in their area.
Anyone can view and vote on the films online, at myfrenchfilmfestival.com. In addition, the films will be available in the U.S. and Canada via the on-demand television channel Eurocinema, as well as on the streaming service Vudu. And iTunes has also signed on as a worldwide partner.
And if you are going to Paris sometime soon, the winners will be screened for period of six months aboard all Air France flights.