The French Institute in Serbia is one of the cultural institutions woven into the Serbian cultural fabric
At a time when Serbia is on the verge of full membership in Francophonie and when cultural and scientific cooperation with France is flourishing, we are talking to the director of the French Institute in Serbia, Mr. Stanislas Pierret.
The two nations have very strong historical and friendly ties. In your opinion, have these connections been preserved until modern times?
Throughout history, France and Serbia have maintained very strong and friendly ties. Today, they still exist in many social, political, and economic spheres, and we can see this in our everyday life. Referring to the cultural and academic fields, and creative and scientific industries cooperation, the ties between France and Serbia are increasingly dynamic and intense. Numerous bilateral projects influence the further rapprochement and exchange within the framework of interstate agreements achieved in film co-productions, education, and comics. The fact that the Republic of Serbia is well on its way to gaining full membership in the International Organization of La Francophonie reflects that we share the same values.
Confirmation of positive bilateral dynamics in the field of culture and science has been reflected in the recent visit to France of Mrs. Jelena Begović, Serbian Minister of Science, Technological Development and Innovation. During the stay, a meeting was held with Mrs. Silvi Retajo, Minister of Higher Education and Research, and Mrs. Maja Gojković, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture of the Republic of Serbia, whose upcoming visit to France will result in the renewed agreement on film co-productions with the French National Centre for Cinematography.
The French Institute has been present in Belgrade for over 70 years. How close is French culture to us in Serbia?
I have the honour of managing the French Institute in Serbia, one of the cultural institutions woven into the Serbian cultural fabric, and the programs and manifestations we realize are very well received by the Serbian audience. We are proud of that and the fact we are the only foreign cultural centre that, apart from Belgrade, also has branches in Niš and Novi Sad – thus actively participating in the decentralization of culture in Serbia. We implement projects such as the French Film Caravan, which, through the screening of three film cycles, visits over thirty cities and municipalities in Serbia per year and whose viewership estimates at over fifteen thousand viewers, as well as the Climate Caravan, which, according to the same principle, promotes ideas of sustainable development and innovative ecological solutions cities and municipalities in Serbia. By the above, we note that Serbian fondness of French culture has lasted for generations, reflected in the number of audiences and the willingness of partners in all areas to cooperate with France and accept the programs it offers.
Serbian fondness of French culture has lasted for generations
The recently held French Film Festival is just one of the numerous activities of the French Institute. How did this event go?
The French Film Festival is a product of French-Serbian cooperation that includes numerous partners, and we are very proud that it advances year after year. Despite the weather, this year’s fifth edition was a great success. We had the honour of hosting the directors Stefan Kastan, author of the film “Vincent Must Die” which had its world premiere in Belgrade after the Cannes Festival, as well as Olivier Babine, already known to the Serbian audience, who gave this edition a special note. The festival was organized not long after the prestigious Cannes Festival, and in addition to the latest French cinematographic achievements, its program also includes films that come directly from Cannes. We were also honoured by the famous Serbian director Srdan Golubović, whose co-production with France created numerous films, agreeing to be the godfather of the festival’s fifth edition. Most of the film screenings were in demand on higher levels. Including MTS Hall and MegaCom Film, and the French Institute as the founders of the French Film Festival, we owe a great deal of gratitude for the support to the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia, the Belgrade municipality Stari Grad, Silos Belgrade, as well as the Mlekoprodukt companies with their Ile-de-France product line, MPC Properties, and numerous media sponsors. Owing to those partnerships, we were able to hold the festival at as many as three prestigious outdoor locations in Belgrade, such as Kosančićev venac, the plateau between Ušće business centres and Silosi in Belgrade, but also in Niš and Novi Sad.
How well do Serbs know French culture and language? What is it that attracts them the most?
The number of people who speak French in Serbia stays at the same level despite the numerous challenges that modern times and political and economic circumstances bring. In recent years, the activities of the French Institute in this regard have focused on promoting France as a European centre for innovation in the fields of new technologies, education, and science in general, but also as a country open to talents from numerous other areas. The scholarships that the government of the Republic of France grants to young Serbian talents in various fields serve to strengthen the ties between our elites and represent a pledge for the future that will ensure the continuity and tradition of cooperation. Apart from French culture, art, and cultural heritage, which are traditionally popular in Serbia, we notice that the interest among young people is also growing in creative industries and innovative technologies. The French Institute also has a language school under its auspices, which offers participants, in addition to classical, accelerated, and thematic language courses, such as business French, conversation classes, and creative workshops for children. The popularity of the French language reflects in the number of participants at events organized as part of the Month of Francophonie, such as the Francophone Dictation and the Francophone Song Contest.
Besides cultural and language projects, the Institute also deals a lot with promoting science. What projects are you currently working on, and why are they significant?
Our department for university and scientific cooperation is extremely active on numerous projects. The best example is the “Ecology” competition in which numerous Serbian cities and municipalities participate and compete in the fields of sustainable development, ecology, energy efficiency, and water management. From year to year, their number grows, and this year there were sixty of them. Three hundred and sixty representatives of Serbian cities and municipalities participated in thematic workshops organized within the project, including thirty-five schools through the “Green School” program. France has much to offer in this area, and I conclude that the interest of the Serbian local authorities in this type of program and cooperation is growing. In addition, concerning new technologies and scientific achievements, programs like the Serbian-French Innovation Forum and scholarships for young scientists represent an excellent platform for strengthening ties and competences in both directions.
Owing to our activities, Serbian film, comics, but also street art, and the gaming industry are much more visible in France
Although the French Institute primarily aims to spread French culture in Serbia, are there any activities that bring Serbian culture closer to France?
One of the missions of the French Institute in Serbia is to promote Serbian culture and creativity in France, as this significantly contributes to strengthening ties. I believe that the most successful cooperation is the one that works in both directions. Over time, we established ourselves as the first address of French cultural operators for recommending artists and cultural content from Serbia to France. I can proudly say that owing to our activities, Serbian film, comics, but also street art, and the gaming industry are much more visible in France through projects that we realized with local partners, such as the Playing Narratives program, Co-production workshops in Paris realized in cooperation with the Film Centre of Serbia, crossover artistic residencies in the field of comics, French-Serbian film meetings, and so on. I would also like to highlight the regional program Teatroskop, which aims to bring regional and French actors closer together in the field of performing arts, contributing a lot to the visibility of the Serbian scene in France, especially regarding contemporary circus and contemporary dance.
What interesting content are you preparing for the next period?
In the fall, France will be the guest of honour at the prestigious Belgrade Book Fair. Our presence at this very important event, which attracts up to one hundred and eighty thousand visitors, is one of this year’s priorities for the French Institute in Serbia. In addition to the rich program at the French stand itself, with high-ranking French officials visiting Serbia on that occasion, as well as famous guests such as writers Mathias Hennard, Eric-Emmanuel Schmidt, Katrin Kisse, economist Tom Piketty, technological magician Luc Gilliat, comic artist Tony Valente and Magali Le Iche, we will organize a series of activities for the citizens of Belgrade during the entire autumn under the name “Ušća/Confluences” in cooperation with the National Museum in Belgrade, the National Library of Serbia, the National Theatre in Belgrade, the Belgrade Jazz Festival, and others. Each of the mentioned actors, in cooperation with the French Institute, will focus on French content during the upcoming season and thus create real French autumn. The citizens of Belgrade can expect exhibitions, French performances, concerts, and film screenings in the colours of France.
Our stand at the Book Fair will offer its visitors not only a large number of books in French, guest writers and a debate program but also other contents, such as expert panels in the field of publishing, a day dedicated to information about studies in France, and promoting books and meetings in comics, sports, and fashion. I believe this very important moment will serve as a wind in the sails of bilateral cooperation in culture and art between France and Serbia.
Long live French-Serbian friendship!