Originally Published

Fancy watching a French documentary?

Here are five of the best recent releases, with everything from ballet to cinema.

1. Tomorrow (Demain) – 2015 directed by Cyril Dion and French actress-filmmaker Mélanie Laurent

This was the first optimist documentary film about ecology that’s more focused on solutions than problems; it raises awareness and warns us without being defeatist. The film helps us understand all the pieces that need to fit together in order to ensure a greener and more sustainable world.

The film crew travel through the US, Denmark, India, and Switzerland and meet different people along the way who are all leaving their individual positive marks in life, whether it be in agriculture, energy, the economy, democracy or education… proving that in order to change the world, you need to start individually and locally. This film should be screened in every school!

2. Lumière (Lumière! L’aventure Commence) – 2016 directed by Thierry Frémaux

Lumière reintroduces some of cinema’s early moments through restored short films from the Lumière Brothers, showcasing an historic period in the history of France and the cinema world. Fremaux’s engaging expert commentary is the perfect companion to these short films, which effectively capture the birth of cinema.

The short films themselves are fun to watch and are historically informative – depicting Paris in the early 1900s – with an amazing job being done in restoring them. Lumière is a wonderful tribute for anyone interested in the history of cinema and the power of the filmed image.

3. Little Gems (Les Pépites) – 2016 directed by Xavier de Lauzanne. 

Les Pépites follows a couple of French retirees who launched a school for young children living in an underprivileged area of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia. The couple started their association PSE – For a Child’s Smile – in 1996, shortly after retiring.

The film is filled with humility, reminding us that you don’t not need to be a superhero to achieve great things, and that our power is in the humanity that we put into our actions. Despite being a documentary, the director manages to create a film which feels like it was made for the best of cinemas with its panoramic image and seamless rhythm. Les Pépites is the perfect mix of enlightening and entertaining thanks to its incredible use of humor – it’s an absolute must-see!

4. Reset (Relève : Histoire d’une Création) – 2015 directed by Thierry Demaizière & Alban Teurlai. 

Relève documents the creation of the charismatic Benjamin Millepied’s (choreographer of Black Swan, the film where he met his wife Natalie Portman) first ballet upon taking on the role of Artistic Director of the Paris Opera Ballet – the oldest and one of the most prestigious national ballet companies in the world.

The film provides fascinating insights into what goes on behind the curtains, revealing the relationship between music and movement and showing the creative process that goes into making such masterpieces of ballet. Be warned: Millepied’s enthusiasm is infectious!

5. Journey Through French Cinema (Voyage à Travers le Cinéma Français) – 2016 directed by Bertrand Tavernier.

This is Bertrand Tavernier’s (a Godfather of French cinema) personal journey through French cinema, with the greatest of French actors and directors.

The 190-minute documentary really is a journey, starting in the 1930s and all the way through to the 1970s, highlighting important films and scenes while also showcasing hundreds of film that Tavernier comments on with historical insight and aesthetic precision. No one could have done a better job of this documentary than Tavernier thanks to his unparalleled knowledge, experience and enthusiasm. Bravo!