Audrey Diwan eager to bring Venice winner ‘Happening’ to USA

French filmmaker Audrey Diwan’s life changed forever when her sophomore film “Happening” won the top prize at the Venice International Film Festival exactly one month ago. In the four weeks since, Diwan has garnered several awards, secured a North American distributor in IFC Films and FilmNation, and is in the process of representing France at the 2022 Oscars.

“Happening’s” Golden Lion victory surprised many simply because of the high-profile competition that included people like Jane Campion and Paolo Sorrentino. Hers was a subtle film about a college student in France in the 1960s who seeks to terminate an unexpected pregnancy and plays a relatively unknown, Anamaria Vartolomei. And yet it broke through as the unanimous choice for the prestigious award from a decorated jury that included “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho and “Nomadland” director Chloe Zhao.

“We really did not expect anything. There were so many talented people. We were really happy and humble,” Diwan said. “I had so many emotions at the same time. I thought of the movie. I thought of my actress, I knew it would change everything for her. I thought of (author) Annie Ernaux because it’s a true story and it is her story. And my last thought was that the subject was in everyone’s mind. “

It has been a banner year for female filmmakers in France. Earlier this year, Julia Ducournau became the second woman ever to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for her wild body horror-slash family drama “Titane”. Ducournau’s film is also in the running for France’s Oscar submission, which will be decided on Tuesday. The last time France chose a women’s film for the Academy Awards was in 2015 with Deniz Gamze Ergven’s “Mustang”.


Louise Orry-Diquero, left, Luàna Bajrami and Anamaria Vartolomei in a scene from "It happens" by French filmmaker Audrey Diwan.

Louise Orry-Diquero, left, Luàna Bajrami and Anamaria Vartolomei in a scene from “Happening” by French filmmaker Audrey Diwan.
Greetings from IFC Films

“I think that says something really strong about the industry in general. What basically happened is that they allowed more women to make films,” Diwan said. “And it’s a math question: If you allow more women to make films, they will of course be rewarded. But you have to look carefully at the beginning, the moment the industry gives you money to make your film.”

Diwan didn’t actually take a camera until she was in her 30s. She studied journalism and political science and wrote novels and screenplays before deciding to direct. Her first feature, “Losing It”, was released in 2019.

“I now feel like I’m ready for what I want to do because I’ve had so many different experiences,” Diwan said. “I’m finally ready for it.”

“Happening” was not an easy film to make, despite praise for Ernaux’s novel, which was in the process of a Pulitzer. Diwan set out to do something plain and honest about a young woman with a less privileged background who is desperate to continue her education, as well as the reality of “backward” abortions.

Although the film takes place in the 60s, she is acutely aware that it is still relevant. She wrote the film with Poland in mind. On her way to Venice with the finished film, she read about the ongoing situation in Texas.

“I made this film for what it means to me. I love making films not to provide answers, but to ask questions,” Diwan said. “I strongly feel that the film somehow meets the moment and we have something to discuss and share around it.”


Anamaria Vartolomei plays the lead role in "Happens," a film by French filmmaker Audrey Diwan that takes the award scene by storm.

Anamaria Vartolomei stars in “Happening”, a film by French filmmaker Audrey Diwan that takes the award scene by storm.
Greetings from IFC Films

She has already been enthusiastic about the conversations and reactions to the play. Recently in Paris, she said, a young male student told her he was against abortion, but after watching her film, he was no longer safe.

“Art means something and can open debates,” Diwan said. “Venice was great because the jury unanimously enjoyed and understood the film. But it matters because they were different genders, ages and from different cultures. It was one of the first times I thought we might be able to share it with lots of different kinds of people. “

Should her film be chosen to represent France at the Oscars, Diwan said it would only help expand that conversation. But she is also just looking forward to bringing it to the US, where it will be released in 2022.

“We are proud to bring this amazing film to American audiences and introduce Audrey as an exciting new voice in cinema,” said Arianna Bocco, President of IFC Films. “The film allows audiences to feel and be challenged in ways that only the best cinema can.”

Diwan said she would show the film where she can and open up for discussion.

“I do not like controversy,” she said. “I like discussion.”

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