Karen Humphreys, director of the April in Paris Film Festival, came up with the theme "Crossing Borders" months ago, before the current president took office. But when travel bans and other measures began being implemented targeting some immigrants, the theme took on added relevance.
"It's about crossing borders, physical borders, emotional, metaphorical," Humphreys said.
The festival, a celebration of French-language cinema from the past and present, will be held April 2 to 8 at Cinestudio, at 300 Summit St., at Trinity College in Hartford.
Many of the films have recurring themes about immigration, making a life in a society that may not be welcoming, adapting to new realities in a new country.
The centerpiece film, "Montréal La Blanche," tells the story of an immigrant cabbie in Montréal, Amokrane, who helps a former celebrity, Kahina, with a problem, while suffering flashbacks from his troubled youth.
Bachir Bensaddek, the Algerian-born filmmaker now based in Montréal, will be present at the screening.
Bensaddek rode with a cabbie to research Amokrane's character. "The one in the film is much more troubled and tortured than the real one," Bensaddek said in an interview. He added that some of Amokrane's nightmares are inspired by his own nightmares during the Algerian civil war (1991-2002). "My parents were in Algeria and I was the only one safe in Montréal," he said.
Kahina was based on a former TV journalist who had to escape Algeria after her co-host was murdered. "Journalists and artists were highly targeted in the beginning and a lot of them were killed," Bensaddek said.
Canada has about 50,000 residents of Algerian origin, up from 4,000 before the war. Most of them are concentrated in French-speaking Quebec.
"The singer represents the past for my cab driver, this past he wouldn't forget. But she is someone else now, she changed, just like the whole country of Algeria did," Bensaddek, 44, said. "He is confronted to the fact that his regrets and nostalgia twisted his perception of the past and his relationship to it."
One of the film's sub-themes is the expectation of assimilation. The action takes place on a snowy Christmas Eve, which coincides with Ramadan. Native Algerian street musicians play Christmas songs and Amokrane's daughter bakes a Christmas cake during the traditional Muslim fasting period.
"Sometimes I just think we should all celebrate each others' holy feasts and party together," he said.
"Far From Men" also tells an Algerian tale, during a period of strife that happened long ago. It takes place in 1954, during the country's war with the French. The drama stars Viggo Mortensen as a European schoolteacher in a remote Algerian outpost, whose peaceful life is ruined when he is told to transport a native captive to prison. The script is based on Albert Camus' short story "The Guest."
"May Allah Bless France!" tells the true story of Congolese-French rapper Abd al Malik, who embraced Islam as a way to console himself after the death of some friends.
"Eastern Boys" tells a scary story experienced by many working-class immigrants: exploitation by their countrymen, who hide their passports and visas to intimidate them into obedience in an unfamiliar country.
"Chocolat," the classic Claire Denis autobiographical drama from 1988, is about a little white girl growing up in French-occupied Cameroon, whose best friend is the underappreciated African house servant.
The schedule is as follows. For more details on the festival, visit aprilinparis.org.
April 2: "The Italian Straw Hat," a silent film, with Patrick Miller on piano. 2:30 p.m.
April 2: "Pickpocket," Robert Bresson's 1959 story of a petty thief. 7:30 p.m.
April 3: "Chocolat," 7:30 p.m.
April 4: "Far From Men," 7:30 p.m.
April 5: "Eastern Boys," 7:30 p.m.
April 6: "May Allah Bless France!" 7:30 p.m.
April 7: "Tip Top," Isabelle Huppert comedy about Algerian-French police informants. 7:30 p.m.
April 8: "School of Babel," a documentary about immigrant teens in France. 2:30 p.m.
April 8: "Montréal La Blanche," 8 p.m., preceded by a reception beginning at 7 p.m.