Interview with Rebecca Brite

It is my great pleasure to interview Rebecca Brite, a colleague from the Ecole Polytechnique! She teaches a class on American cinema that I would love to take. After work, it was such a treat to talk to her that I am sad our school year is already over!

In addition to teaching, Rebecca leads a cinema discussion group, gives walking tours of Paris, writes, edits, and has created an app for anyone who loves Paris and history. I hope you will enjoy reading her answers and getting to know this amazing Parisienne.

You’ve been in Paris since 1980. What brought you to the City of Light?

Originally, it was one of those stops you had to make if you came to Europe. I didn’t have a particular interest in France or Paris. But a colleague at my newspaper in the US had headed up the automation project for the International Herald Tribune and recommended some people there for me to contact. I did, and thanks to that, I later went to work for the IHT.

What keeps you here?

Love of Paris, great health care – and the freedom to be an outsider. Here, I don’t need an excuse for not exactly fitting in.

How did you decide to begin the cinema discussion group?

The idea dated back to late 1984, when Milos Forman’s “Amadeus” came out here. I was amazed at how many of my friends thought it was a biopic, telling some kind of truth about Mozart and his life. It’s a great movie, based on a great play, but has little to do with historical reality. I thought then, people need something like a book group for movies, where they can get some background and engage in informed discussion. It took 10 years for the idea to bear fruit. The first meeting was in February 1995, the film (only one in those days) was Kenneth Branagh’s “Frankenstein” … and I was the only person who showed up.

But we now have a core group of around 10 people, some of whom have been coming for a very long time, dating nearly back to the second, more successful meeting. And we’ve never missed a month – we meet even in August and December, when much of France grinds to a halt. I’m proud of that, and delighted that so many people who have come to the meetings say how much they enjoyed seeing films they probably would not have gone to had it not been for the group. We now discuss 3 to 4 films a month.

Tell us about your American Revolution in Paris app.

Lire et Partir, the walking tour association I belong to, was approached by Blue Lion Guides, a Franco-Italian tourist app company, whose publisher, Antonio Ca’ Zorzi, had been looking for a tour on the Founding Fathers in Paris to turn into an app. Lire et Partir does literary walking tours, with readings from or about the people and places concerned – the Founding Fathers tour is a bit different from its usual offerings. Antonio liked it, so the three of us who had developed the tour wrote up our spiel, Antonio suggested some additions, and then he packaged it all with pictures and some background documents.

It’s available for iPhone and iPad  and can be read or listened to – I recorded the text – either from an armchair at home or while walking to the sites on the itinerary in the 6th and 7th arrondissements of Paris.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to create an app?

Find a publisher! We didn’t really have to do anything except write and record the text. Antonio took care of the rest, including finding photos and getting rights for them, where needed. We’d never have known how to do it on our own. We even received a small advance, and will eventually get some royalties, we hope. Too many app publishers expect you to give them your material for free, “for the exposure.”

What is the best advice you have ever received?

I left university twice, not really sure what I wanted to do. After the second time I dropped out, I was working the night shift in a carpet factory, babysitting a giant machine and rapidly getting very bored. An acquaintance – I no longer remember who, alas – said something like, “You know, you should try journalism. A lot of mavericks end up there.” Enrollment at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was about to close; I signed up for its highly respected journalism school and never looked back.

What books are on your nightstand?

Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine from May 1999, Jean Giono’s Prélude de Pan, a 1928 Cosmopolitan magazine collection of stories by people like Ring Lardner and Fannie Hurst (handed down from my mom, who was born in 1928 and died last May), the 2012 Bloom Where You’re Planted guide from the American Church in Paris (I’ve been asked to update the tourism section), The Wallet of Kai-Lung by Ernest Bramah, and – oh, my plan de Paris. I wondered where that had got to.

What’s next?

Many ideas in the hopper for tourism and teaching, such as a tour of movie locations in Montmartre (my neighborhood) and a class on gender and development. But I’m a terrible procrastinator (see above: 10 years from idea for movie group to first meeting; also this questionnaire, which you sent me 2 months ago), so it’s anyone’s guess when I’ll get around to them. I hope that two of my usual annual editing gigs, for the Louis Vuitton City Guides and the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report, will be starting soon. As a free-lancer, though, I can’t count on anything, even jobs like these that I’ve done for 10 years or more. Fortunately I seem to thrive on what the French call précarité.

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