Competition, The: Claire Simon’s Remarkable Documentary about French Filmmaking Education

Claire Simon’s The Competition (Le Concours), an engrossing docu about French film education, begins with the image of a locked gate—that of the Fondation Européenne pour les Métiers de l’Image et du Son, or, as it’s more popularly known, La Fémis.

One of the world’s most prestigious film schools, offering hands-on training from working professionals, La Fémis attracts thousand of applicants hoping to fill the elitist classroom, which has only 40 annual slots.

Simon, one of France’s major nonfiction filmmakers, offers a unique look into the process whereby those lucky forty are selected, a process involving examiners from the French film industry which is highly personal and idiosyncratic and subject to the vagaries of taste–and sometimes personal prejudice.

Simon’s remarkable compelling docu concerns the actual workings and power of a major cultural gatekeeper.  The filmmaking apparatus is unwieldy and expensive, and the privilege of access to its operations is hard to earn

In a series of illuminating vignettes, The Competition shows in detail every stage of the process whereby young men and women are evaluated for their fitness as suitable raw materials to be shaped La Fémis, from written examinations to in-person interviews.

In every scene Simon subtly draws out the dynamics pertaining to gender, class, and race at work, a reality of human variability at odds with the French Republican ideal of neutral égalité (neutral egalitarianism).

Funny, penetrating, and suspenseful, The Competition offers a unique opportunity to see the inner workings of an institution at the center of the French film industry, and invitation to look at the assumptions and roadblocks that shape any national film industry, and higher education in general.

It’s a masterful work of nonfiction that urges us to consider the system that nurtures or pushes aside would-be filmmakers, and encourages us to think about why we see the films that we see.

The Competition opens February 22 at the Metrograph theater in N.Y., and then expanding nationally throughout the year.

About Claire Simon

Claire Simon is a French screenwriter actress, cinematographer, editor and director.

Simon began her career making short films, with La police (1988) and Scènes de ménage in 1991, starring Miou-Miou. She then discovered the practice of ‘direct cinema’ with the Ateliers Varan and made several documentaries such as Les patients (1989), Coûte que coûte (1995) and Récréations (1998).

Her first fiction feature, Sinon, oui! (1997), the story of a woman who pretends to be pregnant and kidnaps a child, was presented at Cannes Film Fest Directors’ Fortnight in 1997.

Her next film, Ca, c’est vraiment toi (2000), half-documentary, half-fiction, shot within the European Parliament, was awarded the grand prize at the Belfort Film Festival.

After working in theater, Simon returned to documentary with 800 km de difference–Romance (2002) and Mimi (2003), which premiered at the 2003 Berlin Film Fest.

Her second fiction film, Ca brûle, was selected for Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2006

She received the True Vision Award at the 2017 True/False film festival.


Metrograph Pictures release

Running Time: 121 Minutes