ELMA, European Languages and Movies in America, was founded by Pascal Ladreyt more than five years ago. For the fifth anniversary of Elma I had a chance to speak to Pascal and learn more about what ELMA does. But as a prologue to our conversation there would be nothing better than asking two of the festival directors working with ELMA to talk about their experience:
“ELMA’s unique focus on the promotion of European cinema, European culture and European artists in an increasingly cluttered Los Angeles festival milieu is a great boost to all of us”, says Vera Mijojlic, founder and director of the South East European Film Festival, an ELMA-supported organization. “With festival directors’ round table and on-going efforts to help establish closer ties between European festivals in L.A., ELMA is playing an active role in consolidating the ranks of European film festivals in a fiercely competitive market”.
And here is what James Koenig Founder/Director of the thirteen year old Scandinavian Film Festival L.A. had to say about ELMA:
“Cinema is truly ‘without borders’ in the shared stories of our lives that transcend national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries without devaluing identity. ELMA– European Languages and Movies in America—was founded by the wonderfully generous Pascal and Paulina Ladreyt, to celebrate and support the presence of European language film in the United States. Enter a loving line-up of film festivals showcasing cinema from places near and far that speak European languages. ELMA has given support and good counsel to such endeavors because it believes in the benefits of exposure and opportunity. ELMA helps us in our goal of bringing audiences and film makers together in the so-called ‘film capital of the world’ to share a different menu and a common humanity. European language films are the current ‘home movies’ of Western Civilization, which, despite their Euro-foundations, reverberate globally in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. ELMA helps us share! And I think you could say ‘We share film– but we instill a world view.’ “
Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us a little bit about your background and your affiliation to art and cinema.
Pascal Ladreyt: More than 20 years ago, I began running French cultural centers in Ireland, New York City, and then London. During my six years in Ireland, I created a small French film festival that continues to grow after 22 years.
During these years, I also completed an MBA in International Management which took me to Paris, New York, and Tokyo. Working as a management consultant set me on a career path in the private sector.
BT: How did you end up starting ELMA, and what actually encouraged you to start ELMA?
PL: I always had the dream to combine my business background with my passion for cinema.
I saw the need to showcase more foreign movies in the US. At the same time, despite my strong interest in Asian cinema, I knew I could be more effective by limiting my focus to Europe. It really started as a hobby and I feel lucky I am now able to do this full-time.
BT: What was the first year, and what happened during the first year of ELMA?
PL: We obtained not-for-profit status for our foundation in 2006, and moved into our current location in 2007.
BT: And what was the very first film festival that ELMA sponsored?
PL: Before starting ELMA, I discovered the Aero theatre, run by the American Cinematheque, just a few blocks from our house in Santa Monica. When I met with its Executive Director, Barbara Smith, and its programmer, Gwen Deglise, I offered to sponsor a “European film series” they would create. However, I knew little about our public, or the specific issues linked to foreign movie programming such as high shipping fees etc. Although Barbara and Gwen allowed me to dream, I quickly realized the challenges involved in creating and adequately promoting such events. Even if we think a film is important and thought-provoking, the relatively small “foreign movie audience” might not show up to see it. Furthermore, American audiences label movies considered “mainstream” by European audiences as “arthouse” films, simply because of their subtitles.
BT: Right now most European festivals are sponsored by ELMA, what do you think the result has been from ELMA supporting these festivals?
PL: Unfortunately ELMA cannot support all festivals. We try to have a very pragmatic and business-like approach even when our contribution is modest. Yet, while a business would monitor and assess the “return on its investment” in terms of dollars, we measure our success by the extent to which it furthers our mission and creates an impact.
Despite the difficulties of measuring and assessing the success of an event, we partner with organizations who like this approach. And, although box office revenue is not the only measure of success, not-for-profits sometimes need to compromise in order to pay their bills. Our partners possess creative drive, expertise, as well as the willingness to make huge financial and personal investments. At the same time, we want them to evaluate even the “best” event in terms of its impact and sustainability.
BT: Is there a favorite film festival that you have or a festival that you enjoy going to the most?
PL: Every film festival we support offers something unique. We tend to focus on existing festivals created by local individuals whose passion created the event and who achieved impressive results with limited fundraising and little help. Our goal is to help them go to the next level, attract more sponsors and reach a wider audience.
I should also mention the good relationships ELMA has developed over the years with the various European Consular Representatives in Los Angeles. They provide both logistical and financial help when they can.
BT: How many festivals does ELMA support each year?
PL: About a dozen. We have established relationships with the German, Greek, Spanish, French, Irish, Italian, Polish, Scandinavian, and Southeast Europe film festivals.
We also occasionally support smaller “film series” which lack the budget to invite guests and film-makers.
BT: How do you see the future of ELMA and what are the plans that you have for the future?
PL: We select festivals who follow our approach and find it most effective to support only a few events over the long-term. This enables us to experiment with different things.
Our goal is to introduce a new, wider, younger, more mainstream American audience to foreign movies.
The high school screenings we created in association with the French film festival (COLCOA) four years ago proved very successful. We now reach about 2,000 students over a four day period.
Of course, because of possible parental objections to nudity – rather than violence – selecting a film for high school students can prove frustrating!
More information at www.elma.org