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, , , , , , , , , , ,

As the ball falls: the ATA Conference in Times Square

OK, OK, so this all happened two months ago, but certainly we would have liked and appreciated a contemplative look back from the swank perspective of the Marriott Marquis tonight.  Like many sectors in the global economy during the past year, the translation industry has grown and contracted in all directions during 2009.  I was able to take in just one day of the wonderful ATA Conference in October, and was very happy to speak with a few fellow translation bloggers about their insights on the past year and what could lie ahead.

Judy Jenner is one of the”It” women of the translation blogoshere.  With her sister Dagmar, she not only runs a cross continental business covering a handful of languages, but blogs, and solo frequently contributes to the ATA Chronicle (and I believe will have a regular column in it shortly).  Her business acumen about translators seizing their both vision and control of their financial destinies is spot on.

Corinne McKay and Eve Bodeux are two other “It” women in our field, generously sharing their extensive knowledge and experience through a series of podcasts they jointly host, along with their separate blogs.  Both have also done professional service, in particular Corinne through the book she’s published on getting started in the translation business.  I’ve whittled down our quick meets to about a New York minute for each.  Happy New Year to all, and to all an awesome year ahead (we hope) in translation!

Filed under: translation, , , , , , ,

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, , , ,


still photo from the  Piccolo Teatro di Milano and Teatri Uniti di Napoli's production of Goldoni's "Trilogia della villeggiatura"

still photo from the Piccolo Teatro di Milano and Teatri Uniti di Napoli's production of Goldoni's "Trilogia della villeggiatura"

My second theatrical supertitle encounter within less than a week was in Italian, via a production of Trilogia della villeggiatura, also presented by Lincoln Center Festival.

The rapid fire nature of the original dialogue, mentioned in one review I saw, sounded much more attractive than what I was reading though, the translation written as it was in a formal, stuff English register.

One instance stopped me cold, “marriagable”.  I didn’t note the context or complete phrase on the spot, but researching the word afterwards, I think the actual meaning had little to do with the original source.

Because I immediately remember thinking, why not just say “marrying” something more readily understood and used by Anglophones?  Perhaps the translator wasn’t one, or worse neither Italian nor native English speaking?

Other translation choices only made my departure at intermission that much easier, e.g. the non-translation of several Italian card games (which is understandable), and whose exact meaning and definition seemed that much more interesting than the production hélàs.

Filed under: divers, ,

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, , , ,