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CULTURE

16 of the best festivals and events in France this summer

From old rockers to classic cinema, fireworks to modern theatre, here are some of our favourite French summer festivals.

16 of the best festivals and events in France this summer
Fireworks in Cannes at the Pyrotechnic Art Festival (Photo: Valery Hache / AFP)

JUNE

Festival de Nîmes

Starting mid-June and running through to July 24th, the Festival de Nîmes has brought modern music to the famous Roman Arena. This year, Gorillaz, Deep Purple, Gladiator Live, Kiss, Sting, Black Eyed Peas, Stromae and Sexion D’Assaut are among the headliners.

Fête de la musique

You will scarcely be able to move for musicians in France on June 21st, as villages, towns and cities are alive with the sound of music, celebrating the sheer joy of live performances and the breadth and diversity of musical genres.

It’s the 40th anniversary of the annual national, nationwide midsummer’s night festival. At l’Olympia in Paris, for example, Angèle, Pomme, Franz Ferdinand, Benjamin Biolay and Parcels are all performing in a series of concerts that will be broadcast on France Inter.

Rétro C Trop 

For three days between Friday, June 24th, and Sunday, June 26th, at the appropriately aged Château de Tilloloy, Hauts-de-France, there’s the ‘festival of old rockers’, this year featuring sets by Alice Cooper, acoustic ska band Tryo, Status Quo, Simple Minds, Madness, OMD, The Undertones, and Les Insus – you may know them better as 80s hit-sters Telephone.

Joking aside, previous festivals have featured the likes of Sting, Stray Cats, Tears for Fears, and Scorpions – so they know actually do know how to rock out at the 17th-century chateau. And also how to pace themselves…

Nuits de Fourvière

From the beginning of June  through to July 30th, the spectacular Gallo-Roman theatre at Fourvière hosts 60 equally spectacular performances of theatre, dance, music, cirque. There could surely be no better venue to watch Midnight Oil on July 14th.

JULY

Z’accros d’ma rue, Nevers

Theatre, circus and music are in store at Les Z’accros d’ma rue in Nevers in July, as they have been since the opening event in 1999. Most of the shows are free

The La Rochelle Film Festival

Rugby fans have rediscovered La Rochelle this year, but cinema-lovers should not ignore the Charente-Maritime resort between July 1st and 10th, as it hosts its 50th film festival, which this year pays tribute to the legendary Alain Delon.

Some 21 films featuring the French actor with eyes of ice will be screened during the festival. There’s also a retrospective of the films of the 50s queen of Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn – including Roman Holiday, Funny Face, Sabrina, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Other highlights include a day of Brad Pitt films, five films from Bulgarian pioneer Binka Zhelyazkova – whose works were frequently banned in her home country, and a celebration of the centenary of the birth of Italian visionary Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Festival de Carcassonne

Deep Purple, Orelsan, Rag n Bone Man, John Legend, Sexion D’Assaut, Calogero, and Jack White are among the acts gracing the music, theatre, arts, dance, comedy and cinema festival in the historic city between July 5th and 31st. Comedian Gad Elmalah will also perform, and there are numerous free off-festival performances.

Pause Guitare

Julien Doré, Orelsan (again), Bob Sinclar and Mika headline the four-day Pause Guitare programme. The relatively little-known music festival that routinely punches above its weight, runs from July 6th to 10th in the World Heritage city of Albi, southwest France.

Festival d’Avignon

No rundown of summer events in France would be complete without mentioning the Festival d’Avignon, which runs from Thursday 7th to Tuesday 26th July.

Celebrated Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, who’s currently banned from leaving his country, has been chosen to open the theatre festival. Whether he’ll actually be there remains to be seen, but the opening ceremony on July 7th kicks off three weeks of performances from some of the world’s leading stage performers across a range of disciplines.

Pyrotechnic Art Festival

Not satisfied with the bright lights of its Film Festival in May, Cannes turns on the lights again for its summer Pyrotechnic Art Festival, which runs from July 14th to August 24th. 

Nice Jazz Festival

Where would you find sultry chanteuse Melody Gardot, influential bassist Marcus Miller and punk’s grandad Iggy Pop on the same poster? The Nice jazz festival, which runs from July 15th to 19th. 

They’re not the only performers joining in the fun on the Riviera. Some 33 acts are taking part in the Festival proper, while several more are performing in the Off festival programme.

Fête nationale

July 14th marks France’s Fête nationale, known as Bastille Day in the Anglophone world, which is a public holiday. The big military parade is on the Champs-Elysée in Paris but most towns do something to mark the occasion, with concerts, parties and fireworks displays. 

AUGUST

MiMa 

MiMa is the International Festival of Puppet Art, held from August 4th to August 7th in the medieval town of Mirepoix, Ariège. The festival is open to young creators as well as artists who influence and update the recent history of puppet theatre, an inventive art with many faces. The line-up showcases a variety of techniques, with glove puppets, string puppets and marionettes portées.

Festival du Bout du Monde

The darkly named End of the World Festival takes place from August 5th to August 7th at Landaoudec Prairie on the Crozon Peninsula in Brittany, a few hundred yards from the wild Atlantic ocean. The wonderful Ballaké Sissoko is on the programme this year, as is the drum-and-trumpet fusion of Gallowstreet, as well as Julian Marley and Selah Sue.

Rock en Seine

Stromae, Rage Against the Machine, Arctic Monkeys, Jehnny Beth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, London Grammar, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Crawlers, and Baby Queen are among the numerous acts lined up for this year’s annual and mostly family friendly – if you don’t mind Zack de la Rocha’s swearing – Rock en Seine festival at Domaine national de Saint-Cloud.

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CULTURE

How Paris cinemas are surviving

Spinning once again, the sign above France's biggest cinema, the Grand Rex, is testament to how well Paris venues have weathered the twin threats of streaming and the pandemic.

How Paris cinemas are surviving

The 2,700-seat Art Deco venue reopened last week after a major facelift to mark its 90th birthday.

It has reason to be hopeful: ticket sales in France are down just 10 percent on pre-Covid levels, compared to almost a third in the United States.

That is partly due to the country’s long-standing love affair with its cinemas, immortalised in 1960s New Wave classic “Breathless”, in which Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg duck in and out of theatres along the Champs Elysees.

Paris is thought to have the highest density of screens in the world, and the atmosphere has influenced generations of filmmakers. 

READ MORE: The English-subtitled French film screenings for December you don’t want to miss

“I went to old cinemas in the Latin Quarter to watch retrospectives, screenings of old films from Hollywood, France or Japan,” director Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) told AFP recently.

“The first time I saw ‘Metropolis’ by Fritz Lang was here. I’ll never forget it!”

Diversification

Paris authorities say there are 398 screens across 75 venues — up eight percent on 2000 — and down just slightly from 411 in 2019.

Survival requires some creativity.

To coax viewers off their sofas, the Grand Rex has been offering “event” screenings such as manga previews and film marathons that cater to the biggest fans.

Its history has made it a popular choice for premieres, with Steven Spielberg next on the agenda for the launch of “The Fabelmans”.

It also requires diversification. The Rex moonlights as a nightclub, escape game venue — and most importantly as a concert hall, featuring everyone from Madonna to Bob Dylan.

“If we had to survive on the cinema alone, we would have closed the doors long ago,” said manager Alexandre Hellmann. He added that that 71 bigger halls have opened during the Rex’s lifetime but none have lasted.

‘Evolution’

While the overall picture is positive, the map of Paris cinemas is evolving.

Next year will see the reopening of the Japanese-style La Pagode, another mythic venue.

And in 2024, the Pathe Palace, billed as the most beautiful cinema in the world, will open next to the Paris Opera.

But this shift is coming at the expense of other historic areas.

Rising rents are threatening many cinemas, particularly on the Champs Elysees, where the renowned Marignan will soon shut for good.

“It was THE cinema district in Paris but it is disappearing, due particularly to the exorbitant rents,” said Michel Gomez, who leads the city’s “Mission Cinema” to support the industry.

“It’s hard to see cinemas close but cinema in Paris is a living fabric. It follows the sociological and geographical evolution of the city,” he said.

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