“Our mission is to create and offer Hungarians innovative and unique programs in education and the arts that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French culture,” said the Director of the French Institute in Budapest, Francois Laquieze.
Institute Francais exists to promote French language and culture and to encourage cross-cultural exchange, according to Director Francois Laquieze, and also Councilor in charge of cultural and cooperative affairs at the French Embassy in Budapest. Soon after the interview wiith Diplomacy & Trade, he returned to Paris to take up a new position at the French Cultural Ministry.
“There is a growing interest in Hungary in French culture. This is a demand which I have tried to satisfy in the past four years. Today, this institute is the destination for French culture, presenting a unique mix of arts programs including music, dance, theater, cinema, and visual arts. It will maintain this position and will continue to develop in the future,” he adds with a reassuring smile. Isabelle Farcat, Cultural Attaché and Deputy Director of the institute agrees and adds that the institute seeks to generate new ideas and promote cross cultural dialogue through partnerships and new platforms of expression. “Some of our events get visitors up close with French designers, artists, and authors, with other events featuring culinary and wine events. We are very present on Budapest’s cultural scene, co-organizing a great number of festivals and exhibitions with Hungarian partners,” she adds. According to her, the institute has a routine of introducing the works of Hungarian artists who live and work in France, like János Bér in 2012. Also, they brought the Comédie-Française to Budapest’s National Theater and a large Cézanne and Gustave Moreau exhibition to the Museum of Fine Arts. “As for the future, Bastille Day is coming up, with concerts and a street carnival on Pala utca. The exhibition of Chagall entitled ’Between War and Peace’ that is currently on show at the Musée de Luxembourg, will arrive to the National Gallery soon. The Gallery will also host an exhibition to mark the 100th birthday of Endre Rozsda, another Hungarian artist who lived in France. We often work together with Budapest’s Trafó, most recently on the Jerome Bell theater project. In the long run, we are preparing to bring a Moliére play and Jeanne d’Arc to the National Theater, in 2014. It is important to follow the path of Monsieur Laquieze, who demonstrated perfectly how important is to identify new Hungarian partners and to maintain open dialogue with them.”
Under the leadership of Laquieze, an immense number of new projects and initiations sprung to life. The institute took a key role in supporting Hungary, with the help of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), while preparing for the EU presidency in 2010 with administration and language courses, targeting some 750 civil servants who were representing Hungary in the EU. Also, in the last few years, the French Institute has established affiliations with a number of universities, including the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME) and the Faculty of Law at the University of Szeged. “Despite the economic crisis, we have managed to maintain the number of scholarships,” director Laquieze notes. “Currently, students may apply for grants to receive a double MA degree: one in International Relations in European Studies from the University of Szeged, Central and Eastern European Specialization, and one from the Institute of Political Studies Lille, through a program that is led by László Trócsányi, Hungary’s ambassador to France.” The Director mentions the Kosztolányi Program, initiated by the French Foreign Ministry, as another great achievement. “The project that was originally EUR 15,000, that supports Hungarian publishers who publish French literary pieces in Hungarian language, has grown to a handsome EUR 70,000 project, with some 200 books coming out in the past four years,” he remarks, adding that a series of programs, focusing on architecture, building-protection and energy effectiveness, proved to be a huge success, as well.
French films rule
“The introduction of Francophone Film Days in 2011, as part of the annual Francophone Festival, is a success story. The large number of visitors attending this event every spring since has proven that French films are extremely popular these days,” the director continues. His willingness to open towards the countryside was also realized via this program series, as it was organized in the city of Szeged, too, bringing up to 6,000 guests in front of the screens. For those who are hungry for more French films, Laquieze suggests visiting Budapest’s ‘Holdudvar’ soon, for a new selection of French movies. “We started this open-air film club last summer. People were flowing in, begging for extra seats,” he notes. “This year’s repertoire includes Mark Fitoussi’s ’Pauline, the inspector’, Benoit Jackuot’s ’Farewell my Queen’ and Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s ’He is my girl’. Movies will be rolling from 35-mm tapes, presented in original language with Hungarian and English subtitles.”
The institution, that last year celebrated the 20th anniversary of its current location on Fõ utca, serves as a French hub and a second home for those 2-3,000 French living in Hungary, offering a library with a significantly large collection of 40,000 books, widely used by the French community. A digital portal named ‘Culturethéque’ has also been created, and is constantly being updated.