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What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco

The Fête de l'Ours, celebrated in parts of southern France, has been added to UNESCO's world heritage list - here is what you need to know about this quirky festival involving Frenchmen in bear skins chasing young women.

What you need to know about the French bear festival recognised by Unesco
A man dressed in a bear costume addresses the crowd during the "Fete de l'ours" (Festival of the Bear) in 2017. (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP)

Baguettes are not the only French cultural phenomenon to have been added to the UNESCO “intangible world heritage” list this week.

The Fête de l’Ours – or the Bear Festival – which takes place in the Pyrenees, along the border with Spain, also made the cut. Stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages, the festival has some surprising components.

The tradition involves a man dressing up as a bear and chasing humans. At the end of the festival, the humans catch the man in the bear costume, and ‘skin’ him (take off his bear costume) so he can “become human again,” Patrick Luis, the organiser of the festival in Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste, told Franceinfo.  

READ MORE: The decades-old battle between French farmers and conservationists over bears

It is a celebration of the end of winter, and while it was celebrated in all villages in the region up to the 19th century, it still occurs in three villages in the Haut Vallespir, located in the Pyrenees-Orientales département.

The application for UNESCO heritage status was made alongside Andorra, where two other Bear Festivals still happen each year. There is a slight difference though – the Andorran festivals celebrate female bears specifically.

Over the years, people living in this part of France have continued the tradition, even during times of war. The festival always takes place in February, and each year about 10,000 people participate.

Meant to symbolise the rebirth of spring, the festival has some interesting facets.

READ MORE: OPINION: 24 years after I first reported on wolves in France, they are at my door in Normandy

Robert Bosch, a specialist in the Bear Festivals, told Ouest France that the “bear man comes out of the wilderness to replenish the village.” In order to do this, the idea was that the man in bear costume would impregnate the young women of the village, and once that function has been accomplished, he is “stripped of his wild attributes and allowed to become human again.”

Requesting UNESCO status

Over ten years ago, several local elected officials in the Pyrenees came up with the idea of trying to get the festival recognised status. First, they managed to register the festivals in the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in France, in 2014.

Eight years later, they finally achieved the crowning moment for their region – being listed in the UNESCO “intangible world heritage list.”

For the inhabitants of the three French villages, UNESCO recognising their festival has given “a boost of life” and “a boost of importance,” one village resident told Franceinfo

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Bond actress Eva Green blames her ‘Frenchness’ for insulting director

James Bond actress Eva Green on Monday told a UK court her "Frenchness" led her to call a film director "weak and stupid" and accuse him of making a cheap "B shitty movie".

Bond actress Eva Green blames her 'Frenchness' for insulting director

The High Court battle revolves around never-made sci-fi film “A Patriot”, in which the French “Casino Royale” actress was due to play a soldier.

Green is seeking payment of her $1 million acting fee for the aborted project from UK-based production company White Lantern Film.

The production company is countersuing, alleging that she derailed the £4 million project by making “unreasonable demands”.

White Lantern lawyer Max Mallin read out messages sent by Green in which she disparaged the film’s producers and director.

Mallin read out an email she sent to her agent Charles Collier in which she said “I am very worried, they are super weak and stupid”, referring to director Dan Pringle and business partner Adam Merrifield.

Green responded in court that the messages were “my Frenchness coming out”.

“Sometimes I say emotional things I don’t really mean. Of course they are not weak and stupid,” the actress, wearing jeans, a black jumper and a dark green jacket, added.

The 42-year-old actress signed up to the project in 2018, but became increasingly uneasy as funding issues meant that UK producer Jake Seal began to assume more control.

She said in another message that she was worried his influence would turn the project into a “B shitty movie”, telling court that being involved with it could destroy her career.

“I don’t care about the money. I live to make good films. It’s my religion,” she told court.

Green was also angry that production of the film was shifting from Ireland to Black Hangar studios in southern England.

“I need my team around me so that I can handle anything evil Jake (Seal) throws at me”, she messaged her agent.

“My team will have to pull out and I will be obliged to take his shitty peasant crew members” from nearby Hampshire, she added.

Green claims that she was not given enough training for the role and accused the producers of “cutting corners”.

“Look at what happened with Alec Baldwin on the movie ‘Rust’,” she told the court. 

“Producers cutting corners, no safety measures in place, and a young woman got killed.” 

The trial, which began on Thursday, is due to last nine days.