A British film festival in Bretagne? Josh Ferry-Woodard hops the Brittany Ferry across the Channel and enjoys two scoops of the silver screen with a French connection on top…

Politics may divide us but during the Dinard British Film Festival at least, Britain and Europe still share a special relationship.

Walking through the quaint streets of Dinard, Brittany, patisseries on my left, crêperies on my right, I felt strangely anxious. “Am I welcome here now? Are the French going to hold me personally responsible for the Brexit vote?” These were my paranoid thoughts as I scanned the lunch menus of various cafés and bistros.

I felt strangely anxious. “Am I welcome here now? Are the French going to hold me personally responsible for the Brexit vote?”

But then I turned a corner and noticed row upon row of bunting hung between the buildings. There were French flags alternating with Union Jacks. I was delighted: unlike the majority of the British voters, the French Connection with the UK remained.

During the 19th century many British aristocrats fell in love with the small beachside resort of Dinard and decided to fill the town with stylish Victorian villas, which, alongside the iconic blue and white beach huts, create an unmistakably ‘British seaside’ atmosphere. The Blackpool of Brittany, you could say, just with elegant ice cream stands in place of the battered sausage vendors.

beach-cliff
An elegant version of Blackpool…

The Dinard British Film Festival was launched in 1989 in an attempt to revive the region’s ties with the UK and connect filmmakers and cinephiles from both sides of the Channel. In the decade following the festival’s inception British film production doubled. We all know that correlation does not necessarily equal cause, but the festival website is proud to publish that factoid.

My weekend adventure began in Portsmouth harbour on a Friday night. Having boarded the ‘Bretagne’ ferry, I joined a team of writers in the piano bar for a fabulously colourful cocktail that Del Boy himself would have been proud to quaff.

The Dinard British Film Festival was launched in 1989 in an attempt to revive the region’s ties with the UK and connect filmmakers and cinephiles from both sides of the Channel.

Later on in the evening one of the Brittany Ferry representatives, who kindly helped organise my trip, quipped: “Unlike flights – with all the queues, awful food and security checks – I always think that your holiday starts the moment you step onto the boat.”

A PR quote perhaps, but having just enjoyed an accomplished seafood buffet starter, a plate of poached sole and a greedy selection from the dessert stand, alongside a few glasses of red, I must say I was certainly getting into the holiday spirit.

Sunrise over St Malo
Worth getting up for

After a sound sleep in my cabin, I got up early the next morning for a Full English Breakfast onboard before we docked in the port town of St. Malo. We were just in time for a glorious sunrise. Why do I only have the discipline to get up in time for these when travelling?

Driving into the elegant resort town of Dinard I’m sure many passengers on board were mentally preparing themselves for a day of serious film watching. I, on the other hand, couldn’t take my eyes away from the Côte d’Émeraude and was already plotting to sneak out of the cinemas at some point for a swim.

I couldn’t take my eyes away from the Côte d’Émeraude and was already plotting to sneak out of the cinemas at some point for a swim.

Once our bags were checked into the deluxe Hotel Emeraude, the film buffs from the ferry congregated in the press area for a Q&A session with some indie actors and directors.

I headed for the short film selection, which included a beautiful story about a handsome typographer with a stutter, an insight into the unrelenting stresses of those who answer 999 calls and a painfully poignant two-scene film about the funeral of a girl who once made a mix-tape. The latter almost had me in tears, though it was only about 90 seconds long.

Dinard at high tide (Photo by Jean-Louis Vandevivere).
Dinard at high tide (Photo by Jean-Louis Vandevivere).

By one o’clock in the afternoon, at which point during a music festival I’d probably have just about dragged myself out from a sauna-like tent and joined the queue for a portaloo, I had already entered a new country, watched 10 films and was now sat in a busy French bistro awaiting an Orangina and a Croque-Madame – I felt this order may help ingratiate me with my French hosts, after all Orangina is to the French what Irn-Bru is to the Scottish.

By one o’clock in the afternoon I had already entered a new country, watched 10 films and was now sat in a busy French bistro awaiting an Orangina and a Croque-Madame.

Next up was the highlight of my festival: a hideous but hilarious film about a pregnant woman whose unborn baby (voiced by the actress who played Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films) has an aggressive desire to brutally murder a series of men whom she holds responsible for the death of her father.

Alice Lowe, who wrote, directed and starred in Prevenge, introduced the macabre film by saying: “I was 7-8 months pregnant during filming, and the bump you’re about to see in this film, is actually that baby over there.” *points to baby*.

I couldn’t help but wonder how her daughter will feel about being cast as a twisted serial-killer-in-the-womb when she grows up, but I’m really glad Lowe wasn’t afraid to find out. Festivals, whatever the genre, are great for broadening your horizons and I’ll certainly follow Lowe’s future work – though, unlike say a juggling workshop at Glastonbury or a ping-pong tournament at Boomtown, I hope not to experience anything I witnessed back at home.

dinard-beach
Down on the beach

As the viewers poured out of the cinema arena – most towards a screening of the eventual Golden Hitchcock Jury Grand Prize winner Sing Street – I sensed my chance and made a beeline for the beach.

True to its ‘British seaside’ reputation, the prospect of entering the sea got less and less appealing with every step towards the shore. And there were many steps: Dinard enjoys the largest tidal range in the whole of Europe, so what earlier looked like the sandpit for the triple-jump now seemed more like the steeplechase, complete with mound-of-seaweed hurdles and rock pool puddles.

Dinard enjoys the largest tidal range in the whole of Europe, so what earlier looked like the sandpit for the triple-jump now seemed more like the steeplechase, complete with mound-of-seaweed hurdles and rock pool puddles.

To my surprise though, the water wasn’t too cold and bobbing about in the shallows I had the chance to take in the grandeur of the town’s architecture. There were lavish Victorian villas on the hill and imposing palatial hotels and interesting curved modernist apartment blocks overlooking the beach.

Back in the hotel room, trying to match a pair of hiking boots with some pinstripe trousers and a patterned shirt, I noticed that a large crowd of photographers had formed outside. Oh the glamour! A ring-fenced red carpet had been laid out and a freestanding white board, emblazoned with the Dinard Film Festival logo, was stationed in the middle.

Feeling a little too much like Jeff from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, I ditched the voyeuristic approach and left my room to join the baying crowds below.

dinard-red-carpet
Rocking the red carpet

My first red carpet experience was every bit as odd as I thought it would be. It was, essentially, a load of people I didn’t know, looking vaguely important, milling about outside, trying to take pictures of another load of people I didn’t know, who looked vaguely stylish and were milling about outside on a crimson carpet.

A blogger I’d met on the ferry cornered Roger Allam and got an Instagram snap with him. Seemingly energised by the interaction, she then helped us front our way into the red carpet drinks reception, where we sat on our own sipping complimentary Bucks Fizz from pink flutes.

After typically tasty three-course French seafood dinner (which overran the last film of the evening) we headed to the cinema for an after party.

Prevenge: a festival highlight
Prevenge: a festival highlight

What was initially a mildly stuffy congregation of sitting down French speaking wine sippers in stylish clothing, instantly transformed into a pretty decent party the moment the DJ took to the stage.

Now I’m not saying that DJ Wake spinning an incongruous selection of songs from movie soundtracks in the plush Bar du Palais des Arts can compete with Radiohead on the Pyramid Stage, The Cure on the main stage at Bestival, or even an unknown Afrobeat act on a small rostrum behind the beer tent at four o’clock in the morning at Shambala. But, he did manage to get the French wine sippers and the British festival writers dancing together – something that looked very unlikely when we first arrived at the ‘after party.’

After mingling with some actors and actresses we strolled across the beach back to our hotel for some rest.

Boutique film festivals such as Dinard offer a totally different experience to the revelry of a weekend music festival. But in their ability to inspire, entertain and bring cultures together, all festivals share some very important similarities.

As the ‘Bretagne’ set sail from St. Malo the next morning, I peered out of the porthole in my cabin and watched the scenic harbour get smaller and smaller as we drifted further and further away from the continent.

Boutique film festivals such as Dinard offer a totally different experience to the revelry of a weekend music festival. But in their ability to inspire, entertain and bring cultures together, all festivals share some very important similarities.

Josh was invited on a trip to the Dinard Film Festival by Brittany Ferries, who run several routes from the UK to both France and the North of Spain. The festival takes place at the end of September each year and for Dinard travel info you can consult the town’s official website (in French). Love festivals? Check out more of our festive adventures

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