Professors at the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University are co-hosting the 20th annual French Film Festival from March 29 to April 1 at the Byrd Theatre in Carytown.

Francoise Ravaux-Kirkpatrick, a French professor at the University of Richmond, founded and designed the three-day festival along with her husband, Peter Kirkpatrick of VCU.

"It started as a very small event with only five films, and we didn't have the money to invite any directors and actors from the films," Ravaux-Kirkpatrick said. "Little by little the event grew, and we now have 55 actors, directors and film professionals coming from France."

The festival has been nationally recognized by the officials at the French Embassy in the U.S., which has deemed it the most "highly regarded French film festival in the country."

"Peter and I were knighted with a medal called 'Arts et des Lettres' as a result of the screenings," Ravaux-Kirkpatrick said. The award is considered France's highest honor in the arts industry and is presented to significant contributors to fields of the arts and literature.

The weekend screenings will show 12 feature films and 12 short films, all from French directors and filmmakers. Each film will show subtitles in English, and will be followed by question-and-answer sessions with the creators of each piece.

Because this year is the festival's 20th anniversary, there will also be three free film screenings at the Byrd on Friday, preceded by a three-day symposium March 26th to March 28th in University of Richmond's Ukrop Auditorium.

"The symposium is called French Film: Arts, Science & Technology at Work for Humanity," Ravaux-Kirkpatrick said. "It is a free event that is aimed toward the student community, since academics were our primary focus when the event began. We wanted to promote French culture and French cinema, but also to give an awareness of what film is all about."

There are several student interns who work in event production for the festival, reaching out to French filmmakers, booking flights for the visitors and even editing the subtitles on some of the pieces.

Lisa McElhenny, a junior at University of Richmond, said the Richmond interns did most of the local advertising for the festival, as well as translating for some of the French exchange students if language barriers arose.

One of the French interns, Astrid Renet, said her main responsibility was to correspond with people coming to the festival from France.

"I invite all of the directors, actors and film experts to the festival and construct their itineraries," Renet said. McElhenny said: "It's a really big deal. I don't think the community realizes how famous these people are in France."

Both the symposium and the festival are open to the public, and students can purchase tickets through the festival office for $65.

Contact staff writer Laura Allen at laura.allen@richmond.edu