Featuring 30 films, the – renamed – fifth French Film Festival of Athens and the Balkans opens next Friday, March 19. During the first week, previously unseen films in Greece will be screened at the Apollon Filmcenter cinema, while the second week – featuring special tributes – will take place at the French Institute. «Greece is a geopolitical meeting point and in this spirit, the upcoming festival is not just about seeing French films, but about building solidarity and that’s why we are enlarging its scope, to include the Balkans, with films circulating in other countries,» said French Ambassador Bruno Delaye at a press conference earlier this week. For the first time this year, French actors and directors will be present at screenings every day – the festival’s honorary president, Claude Lelouch, may or may not be attending the festivities, though a number of his films will be screened. «Cinema is art and French cinema is an industry,» noted Delaye, before proceeding with some interesting figures: In 2003 in France, out of the 75 million movie tickets sold, 34 percent were to French movies. Adding another 48 million tickets sold for French films around the world, there were 100 million viewers of French cinema around the globe. «For a country to develop its own production of images,» Delaye said, legislation and politics are crucial. In France alone, policies such as tax benefits, quotas for channels to broadcast French productions as well as corporations (such as Canal Plus), which are obliged to participate in local productions, are key. «Every year, 4 or 5 billion euros are invested in the production of 200 films,» he said. «Then, it’s up to the public to make up the difference.» As for the future, Delaye noted that the European Union should continue its resistance against «free trade,» citing cinema’s qualities as «a cultural exception.» Meanwhile, he said, the paradox of European cinema continues, with one European country’s films not screened in another, while big US studio productions continue their blockbuster streaks. Delaye also spoke about encouraging co-productions and the necessity to develop state-of-the-art European studios. The films Pierre Salvadori’s comedy «Apres Vous…» featuring Daniel Auteuil acts as the festival’s curtain-raiser next week, though its first screening is by invitation only. Other films on the festival’s agenda include: Marc Esposito’s «Le Coeur des Hommes,» the story of the friendship between four middle-aged men; provocative «Nathalie» directed by Anne Fontaine, starring Emmanuelle Beart (also in Andre Techine’s «Les Egares»), Fanny Ardant and Gerard Depardieu; Christophe Barratier’s touching «Les Choristes,» starring versatile actor Gerard Jugnot; «L’Esquive» directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, an adolescent love story set in a rough Parisian suburb; Michael Haneke’s no-man’s-land «Le Temps du Loup;» «Stupeur et Tremblements,» a film by Alain Corneau, based on the real-life experiences of Belgian author Amelie Nothomb in Japan and Claire Devers’s «Les Marins Perdus,» featuring Bernard Giraudeau in the role of a Greek merchant marine officer. French animation is represented by Jacques-Remy Girerd’s «La Prophetie des Grenouilles,» while a «Cinema and Music» tribute will feature films such as Yves Angelo’s «Sur le Bout des Doigts» – the story of three generations of pianists – as well as musicals such as the landmark and restored «Peau d’Ane,» directed by Jacques Demy and featuring Catherine Deneuve as well as movies with baroque music themes, such as Gerard Corbiau’s film on famed castrato «Farinelli» and Alain Corneau’s «Tous les Matins du Monde» featuring Gerard Depardieu. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s success, «Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain» and Gerard Jugnot’s «Une Epoque Formidable» will be screened as an homage to late French actor Ticky Holgado. Expected in Athens is an array of actors and directors – though organizers have not ruled out a few last-minute surprises – including actors Bernard Giraudeau, Gerard Jugnot, Francois Cluzet, Patrice Chereau (also a director) as well as directors Diane Kurys, Marc Esposito, Abdellatif Kechiche and Pierre Salvadori. Katerina Didaskalou, the Greek actress and leading lady of Eric Rohmer’s new film, «Triple Agent,» will also make an appearance. Marking the end of the festival will be the Public’s Award, as well as a new prize, the Prix de la Jeunesse, featuring a committee comprising seven young movie fans picking out their favorite flick (one of whom has already been chosen to be a member of the jury of the equivalent award at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival). Sponsoring the event are Renault, Pernod-Ricard, Zolotas and Air France.