Say What?


on audiovisual and literary translation, subtitling, and the French & American film industries

The Year of the Avatar: translation and American film, 2009

This past year, American film discovered the world.  After Slumdog which was utterly bilingual and foreign, but made with USA/UK financing, American filmgoers were swept away by Taken, which seemed utterly American in its take-no-prisoners brevity, yet was 100% French from start to finish (see my interview with Unifrance’s John Kochman earlier this year), and managed to make it into the top 20 box office films of 2009.  (Something that Slumdog, even after umpteen Oscars and a delayed wide release last year, could not do.)

International film production, as not just a soup with different ingredients, but a real mix that can serve varying continental palates, finally, in the US anyway, seems not only viable but necessary and a reality.  By year’s end, Avatar was feeding positive messages to eight-year old boys about the difference between chosen and necessary warfare (via subtitles no less!), and It’s Complicated was subtly reinventing the American romantic comedy in a highly nuanced way, reminiscent and evocative of the other American south (as in “of France”).  And Nine, a remarkable translation of film to Broadway musical to Hollywood musical, announced itself as a flashy triumph of multi-ilingualism, with a literal and figurative tug of war for Daniel Day-Lewis’ heart and soul between the wonderful Marion Cotillard and the amazing Penélope Cruz, and Judi Dench mixing things up with her show stealing “Folies Bergères” number in French.

Having been smitten with both Italian film and Italy in my youth, I could understand why critics might fault the film for its stingy imagination cinematographically, confining the characters’ ruminations to a soundstage.  But certainly Cinecittà was a destination for Fellini and his contemporaries, professionally, and the tribute is fitting I think.


Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry, translation, US film industry, , , , , , , , , , ,

Dear World, remember me?

What loads of work will do for one translator!  Julie Powell-like (boo-hoo), I wonder is anyone reading this anyway, but have missed plugging into the blogosphere (so I guess that means I like it).

In the midst of my brisk autumn, I happened to catch sight of this dissertation that somehow made its way on to the ATA‘s monthly news roundup.  I can barely make heads or tails of it, but it’s pretty interesting (from a purely academic POV, and even then Swedish language skills would probably help) to see how small words and phrases generally end up in the trash, even as multi-lingual viewers get tripped up from not actually seeing what they hear, but no one else notices.

Otherwise, on the subject of rabbit holes, recently making my way out of mine, I “discovered” The Da Vinci Code (the film, not the phenom), and was pleasantly shocked to see a bilingual Hollywood film?  Incroyable, but true!  Looking to see Angels and Demons soon enough to see how much if at all la bella lingua turns up in that.  Meanwhile, dear readers, stay tuned for a posting-packed end of year, as I try to fold in at least a month’s worth into ten days.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, subtitling, translation, Uncategorized, , , ,

Five minutes with Noah Harlan of 2.1 Films

I first met Noah, co-founder and producer of 2.1 Films, over a year ago at an orientation for IFP/NY members participating in the Cannes Film Festival and Market.  I’m delighted he sat down with me to talk shop, and was very happy to learn he is such a conscientous filmmaker regarding audiovisual translation.  He also has some terrific things to say about script translation, and the future of distribution (as the New York Times recently mentioned as well).

One thing he mentioned that didn’t make the final cut:  Truffaut’s 400 Blows, and the translation of the title.  Noah considers it a mistranslation into English, but I’m not so sure, especially in context of its time.  Doubtlessly a UK translator did it, but it probably resonated with Americans of that time, and Britishisms aside, I think tampering with a classic is a tall order at the very least.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, subtitling, US film industry, , , , ,

Protected: 5 minutes with John Kochman of Unifrance

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Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry, US film industry, , , , ,

Cannes 2009: Not (quite) the end of the world as we know it

Courtesy Getty Images

Courtesy Getty Images

I wish I were posting this from a sunny café table (or better yet a yacht) on or near the beach, but instead am in a sundrenched apartment on the Upper West Side.  Last year, Cannes was almost an augury of the financial tsunami to come–at least as far a wave of mostly disappointing films.

Being a translator at a film festival is a bit like being a bookkeeper at a corporate annual meeting:  generally, people understand what you do and why you’re there, and some might have some use for you, but “not right now” is more often than not their response.  Especially when they’re desparately trying to justify their own presence there by showing their bosses/investors/partners they can bring home . . . something.

This year, in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, predictions of doom and gloom haven’t seemed to entirely been bourne out.  While there hasn’t been a surge of activity (“Hollywood Reporter”  refered to it as cherry picking), business is going forward as last year’s indie distributor shakedown coupled with the financial credit freeze is adding up to a new Darwinian math amongst the existing players, according to “Variety”.

What does all this mean for audiovisual translation?  One Cannes-related item I found mentions Fox remaking some titles from its library (“Working Girl” and “Man on Fire”) in Russia for the local market there.  So instead of exporting local stuff (hawking their wares annually through the market circuit from Sundance through Toronto), perhaps (in the way of globalization) we’ll see more remakes of foreign titles . . . globally (even in the US?), tailored to individual markets?  Meaning (to attempt to answer my own question), that professional translators will be just as vital if not more so, to have the original script to work off of for whomever is re-making it. InshAllah . . .

Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry, US film industry, , , ,

5 minutes with Jerry Rudes of LVT

Jerry Rudes heads the French subtitling company LVT‘s New York operation, which French-subtitled a number of films for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, including Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock”, playing in competition.  He also founded and ran the Avignon Film Festival for over two decades, which also had a New York counterpart for a number of years as well.

I’m honored and delighted Jerry took some time out of a very hectic schedule last week getting ready for Cannes.  He’s a wonderful starting point for this virtual conversation on translation and film. Hopefully the video speaks for itself–it’s my first!

One question I didn’t ask him, was why Americans have such a hard time with foreign films, when many other cultures than ours put up (with reading) or “shut up” (watching the orignal English or having US films dubbed).  I for one hope, after the fall elections, the more the US begins to open up to the world, the more we let the world in.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, French film industry, subtitling, US film industry, , , , ,


I’m a French<>English audiovisual translator, and am authoring this blog on audiovisual translation, subtitling, and the French & American film industries.

To start off with, I’m fascinated by the very idea of subtitles in film themselves–antithetical to the very nature of the medium.  In this red, hot, bright moment of change, in everything and the business and craft of film, I wonder about how much longer we’ll be seeing/reading/using them.  As a translation professional, I’ve often wondered about the process of making subtitles, and plan several posts in the future to show how the professionals do it (in part, because I’d like to do it myself).

I also, more for other translators and industry professionals, want to explore the translation interaction between filmmakers and translators, for TV and film scripts, and into the subtitling process.  Lastly, because it’s my business, I’ll be picking out news from out west (Hollywood) or east (France) that seems worth commenting on.

Filed under: audiovisual translation, subtitling, , , ,