Frédéric Cassoly, man in the shadows of the Alpe d’Huez Festival

It’s already buzzing in the resort… from January 16 to 22, 2023 in Alpe D’Huez will take place the 26th general rehearsal of the International Comedy Film Festival orchestrated by Frédéric Cassoly, its director, alongside Clément Lemoine. In the shadow of festivals with the main mission of defending cinema, from Cannes to Alpe d’Huez via Lyon, he keeps watch with contagious energy. Encounter.

Who is behind the Alpe d’Huez Comedy Film Festival?

It is the “General Tour” agency specializing in cinema events: we produce the Alpe d’Huez festival from A to Z but we are also present in Cannes where I work as head of the audiovisual press for thirty years. The agency is also working on the Marrakech of laughter. For the little story Jamel and Mélissa (Debbouze) met in Alpe d’Huez, this gives an idea of ​​the atmosphere that reigns at this festival which has generated many meetings, vocations. Finally, we collaborate with Thierry Frémaux on the Lumière festival in Lyon which is a magnificent event on cinema and all its heritage.

How would you define yourself?

I would define us as a bit of craftsmen because we are a small infrastructure with the main mission of defending cinema. I arrived for the second year of the Alpe d’Huez Festival or rather the Comedy Film Festival because it took place in another resort (Chamrousse) and in the meantime we have known five generations of mayors and several places. Everything has not always been easy because this kind of event sometimes becomes a political subject but after a call for tenders that we won thanks to the involvement of our team but also some people from the municipality, we are at the ‘Alpe d’Huez in a festival that we have seen growing up as our own child (laughs).

This Festival, despite its great notoriety, remains family-oriented, how do you do it?

Yes, we want to keep this atmosphere intact which in no way excludes professionalism around this event which celebrates comedy. It should be noted that there are no other festivals in France or in Europe on this theme, even if there are many events around comedians.

Can we speak of typically French comedy?

We are strong in France in comedy cinema because we have a real specificity. And then the comedy evolves after having suffered for a long time from a lack of being taken seriously by the world of cinema: it was not chic enough and it was not necessarily easy to find partners or sponsors. We fought with Clément to get the comedy out of this somewhat cheesy and schoolboyish image. I still remember the reports for television in the first years of the Festival which put on the music of the “Bronzés” to illustrate their subject: that annoyed me because if this film is a reference and that we adore it, that reduced any our programming in snapshots. In recent years, we have seen its full extent with social comedies, even police like “la Daronne” (camped by Isabelle Huppert), even if we have of course very popular comedies like those of Philippe Lachau (Baby Sitting, Alibi. com…) or the Chtis. Moreover, Dany Boon now imposes on Pathé – we are very proud of this – to open his films with us.

It seems that personalities like Philippe Lachau are considered your “babies” of the festival?

Yes, we have many examples like Amhed Sila who exploded in Ascension, and of course Philippe Lachau, first an actor then established as a director with his film Babysitting and then alibi.com. The festival puts a foot in the stirrup to young talents. From year to year, we find young directors of short films selected by us who come back for a feature film like Yvo Muller with his film Maria Rêve last year (Prix du Public 2022 at the Cabourg Festival). Many of them who had no audiovisual funding have found their partner here. This is an achievement for us.

How to go further to help the cinema?

I have often been advised to also launch a film market, but I find on the contrary that our Festival lends itself naturally to these professional exchanges without our having to invest money to create a market: it is in this mix of professionalism and relaxation that often deals are made. Many projects were born here. It is a Festival which, of course, rewards comedy, but also a form of creativity, an ability to dare. It’s a Festival that won’t grow any more because first of all the hotel facilities aren’t expandable, but above all we want to keep this proximity that promotes encounters.

Why this choice of a very warm resort like L’Alpe d’Huez rather than ultra chic?

Jean-Yves Noaré, the mayor of the station told us that 40 years ago Johnny Halliday and other personalities had their habits here… but it was then built a lot. Fortunately, for two or three generations, they have been putting wood back on concrete and are very careful not to get carried away by the call of the concrete mixer! But before settling permanently in Alpe d’Huez, we were opened to other resorts, we were even offered to Nice! We are very happy to be here with a very loyal public who have sometimes been coming as a family for years. It makes sense to us. We are in the third week of January, excluding school holidays, which allows the resort to continue to fill up well with very positive feedback from traders.

What is your workforce for an event of this magnitude?

Throughout the year, we are eight permanent staff with twenty more people in the team, not forgetting about forty wonderful volunteers. This remains ridiculous in terms of staff given the size of the event, but finance obliges: we are only financed up to 20% by the institutional (region, departments and host cities…): the rest, namely 80% comes private partners. It’s atypical, and that explains why we are going back to the fundraising campaign almost at the end of the 2023 edition for the following year.

The festival is a model that does not generate enough revenue?

This does not only concern our festival, but in recent years, institutional subsidies have tended to drop. We have to reinvent ourselves, even if we have very loyal partners, some of whom have been with us for fifteen years, like Guillaume Jouy, the boss of OCS who was already there with the TPS brand. He is part of our large family of partners whom we will see regularly during the year, and this, from February in a sometimes informal way: we never leave each other and we invent things together. My role also consists of putting all these partners in touch with each other – which I don’t do at all in other events like Cannes or elsewhere – to precisely create things together. For example, last year we initiated our international opening with the comedy by Canadian Ken Scott.

What are the pitfalls to avoid in the production of a festival?

There is not much room for doubt, we are always moving forward and then I put things into perspective a lot. Events are obviously not an easy job and neither is this environment. I’ve been at the Cannes Film Festival for 30 years so I know how to take a step back and not forget that we are there above all for the love of cinema. Maybe one day we’ll want something else: set up a chip shop (laughs). But to make it short I would say that a festival is 20% super square stuff, 80% improvisation.

What can we wish for in cinema today?

May he be well! We have a beautiful French cinema and beautiful comedies.

You were talking about the cinema market, is it a lot driven by festivals?

In Cannes, you can’t compare because it’s an industry. If 20 years ago we could still see all the teams of the films in competition strolling on the Croisette, it is now impossible because everything is ultra secure in public places. In Alpe d’Huez we are on a human scale and we know -via the feedback from actors like Kad Merad or Franck Dubosc- that they are delighted to have their own festival. We have also become strategic for launches.

Can we say that with the current crisis, we have never wanted to laugh so much?

Of course, of course. What a breath of fresh air to be able to laugh in a room. Of course it’s laughter therapy in these uncertain times. When you see the public arrive from the first days with a smile, ready to relax, it’s a reward. And then it must be remembered that comedies are often Box Office hits, which fills theaters.

This year devotes the 26th year of the festival, doesn’t that make you dizzy?

No, there are already hundreds of highlights that have illustrated the festival: we are a real box of memories, between the cow -from the film with Jamel Debbouze- who came on site or Joe Starr who officiated in the evening at the turntables of the Chamois d’Or, without forgetting all the vocations that were born here with the transition to directing actors like Franck Dubosc (Alors on danse, …). And then we must remember that comedies are part of the successes of the Box Office, it fills the rooms. While they are still not represented at the Césars…

If you had to sum up the festival in one sentence?

It is a clever mix of confirmed talents and young generations

<<< Also read: Alpe D’Huez Festival: A Prize List Which Announces The Next Successful Comedies >>>

Frédéric Cassoly, man in the shadows of the Alpe d’Huez Festival – Forbes France