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French Women Filmmakers • Euzhan Palcy

  • Thursday, February 15 • 6:30 p.m.

  • Free for members and students* • $15 Non-Members

  • On Site - Enter via 54 W. Chicago Ave

  • In French with English subtitles


Rue Cases Nègres / Sugar Cane Alley (Euzhan Palcy, 1983, 103 min, Martinique)

Euzhan Palcy strikes me as proof that great directors can come from anywhere, but they must know they are great directors and trust they are great. -Roger Ebert

A cliché in detective fiction, “look for the woman” means to look for the source of mayhem to solve the mystery… This is exactly what we’ve done – look for la femme behind the camera to bring you the most memorable films made by women from France and beyond.

On a sugar cane plantation in Martinique live Jose, a bright, mischievous 11-year-old, and his grandmother, a tough, wise woman determined to save him from the hard life she has known. When Jose wins a scholarship, she is ready to sacrifice everything for his chance at an education and an escape from the fields. This critically acclaimed movie went on to win the prestigious Cesar award (French Academy Award) for best first film making Euzhan Palcy the first black director (male or female) to be granted this prestigious award. [In total,] Sugar Cane Alley (Rue Cases Nègres) won more than 17 international awards.

With a complimentary glass of Bourgogne Louis Jadot. Enter a chance to win Sofitel’s Le Bar gift certificate at this screening!

Post-screening discussion with Nick Davis, Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies at Northwestern University. Series curated by Nick Davis, Aimée Laberge and Paprika Bonnin-Occansey

* Entrée Libre for students with ID on-site/.edu addresses online. High school, college or university.

About Euzhan Palcy

Euzhan Palcy was born in the French Departement d’Outre-Mer of Martinique on January 13th, 1958. Her interest in films began when she was ten, but at the time, there were no filmmakers in Martinique who could have inspired her to become a film director. Her father, a strong feminist, nonetheless supported her dreams of wanting to produce films. As a teenager, she taught herself how to use cameras and created short films that were submitted to her local television station. Soon after Palcy felt inspired to start writing scripts on her own.

Palcy’s first experience in writing scripts and screenplays came with the book Sugar Cane Alley, written in 1950 by Joseph Zobel. This was one of Palcy’s favorite books as she identified with the main character who was depicted as a poor, struggling student who fought to reach her goals, despite the color of her skin.

While in school, Palcy would recite her screenplays to classmates each time she wrote another part of her script. One of her classmates who listened to her screenplays happened to know French film director Francois Truffaut’s daughter. Palcy’s script was shared with Truffaut in the hope that he would give her advice on her work. About a week after the script reached the French director, Truffaut insisted on meeting Palcy in person, and he became Palcy’s mentor on her Sugar Cane Alley project.

In 1983, Sugar Cane Alley became Palcy’s first directed film and brought her into the spotlight of the film industry. The film won seventeen awards around the world and became her most well-known work. After this film was released, Palcy was approached by major Hollywood studios but as she expressed in a 1987 interview “I never thought that I would fit in” and “I never thought that Hollywood would be a place for me. So, I was not attracted at all.”

For her follow-up feature, Palcy decided to do the impossible by luring the legendary Marlon Brando out of retirement to co-star. Brando had not made a film in 9 years, but he agreed to co-star in A Dry White Season (1989) and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In directing this movie, Palcy also made history for being the first black woman to direct a film that was produced by a major Hollywood studio, as well as the first and only woman to have ever directed Marlon Brando in a feature film. Palcy directed several more films after, most notably Siméon (1992) and the 2006 documentary Parcours de dissidents. 

In recognition of her amazing work to the international film community, Palcy was decorated with the National Order of Merit medal in September of 2011, one of the highest honors awarded to a French civilian, by the country’s then-President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Trailer here

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