March 25, 2021

The Alliance Française d’Adelaïde is much more than French flicks and Bastille Day celebrations

For more than a century the alliance has been linking Adelaide and France through language lessons and cultural ties. And this year its famed film festival will celebrate films not seen in France yet because of the pandemic.

Kathy and Bryan Fahy, (President Alliance Française) and Raphaëlle Delaunay (Director Alliance Française) at the opening of the 2021 French Film Festival in Adelaide.

Running schools of French as a second language in France, Raphaelle Delaunay always dreamed of taking her skills overseas.

Part of the dream was to live abroad, because of a love of travel, promoting the learning of French language and culture.

Little did she expect when she arrived in Australia almost 2 years ago after running schools for 15 years for it to be so prevalent already.

Raphaëlle Delaunay. Photograph James Elsby

“I really wanted to settle somewhere and I also wanted to have a deeper experience in cultural events,” Raphaelle, director of the Alliance Francaise of Adelaide, says.

“When I got here it was really, really nice – there was a real taste for everything French already.

“I found many people had already travelled to France, were interested in every aspect of the French culture and it was really, really surprising when you consider we are on the other side of the world.”

Raphaelle took on the role at Alliance Francaise of Adelaide at the end of 2019.

Billed as the “beating heart of French language”, the alliance, which celebrated its 110th anniversary last year, is an Australian not-for-profit dedicated to the promotion of French language and culture.

One story says French artist Berthe Mouchette and her younger sister Marie Lion founded the association after moving to Adelaide in the 19th century and becoming woven into the community.

Experienced teachers lead language classes for children right through to adults, and the alliance acts a cultural hub for events and festivals, such as the French Film Festival, the French Market, book launches and concerts.

Indigenous artist Elizabeth Close painted a mural on the side of its Unley home to mark its 110th year. The mural was also a way to honour the nation’s First Australians.

The alliance is one of 800 alliances across the globe, and one of the 30 in Australia. The Adelaide association is the third oldest, behind Melbourne and Sydney.

The Alliance Française’s popular annual French Market in the Unley Soldiers’ Memorial Gardens.

Raphaelle says learning French has become more popular in the past 30 years. Some classes are running at capacity, which could mean expansion plans for their Unley home.

“The amount of people learning French is really growing in Adelaide,” she says.

“Foreign language is important because it is just a way to open your mind and your curiosity. It’s also diplomatic language, so, many diplomatic organisations have French as an official language.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the school was forced to take classes online. Raphaelle says some ingenuity was needed to help keep students engaged while learning remotely.

“In the peak of the crisis, the main thing was to have everything online, so all of the courses and the cultural events and make sure that the students had a good experience,” she says.

“The biggest challenge we had was just to keep the link between the team and all the students and try to find a way to make sure it was a good moment for everyone.

“Also, to have opportunities to practice and use the language outside of the class time because, once again, this is why you are learning a language.”

The pandemic also spelled the end of last year’s French Film Festival, hosted at the Palace Nova Cinemas in the East End and Prospect.

French Film Festival patrons (pre-COVID) at Palace Nova Eastend.

The event was cancelled one day after it started, but was able to be held later in the year. This year’s event begins on March 23, and runs to April 20.

For Raphaelle, this year’s festival has a personal meaning.

Adelaide is one of the few cities in the world to be allowed to host events, she says, while many other cities endure lockdowns.

For that reason, it has a special meaning this year to be able to show movies unseen in France, the country they were originally produced.

“We have 37 films and four of them are international premieres and some of my friends and family in France, they definitely have not seen them,” she says.

“They may of heard about them because they were meant to be released in France earlier this year, but it’s not possible with the pandemic at the moment.

“I think it’s really something that we have access to some of the films that have not even been screened in France yet.”

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