Romain Tarrusson – a Chat with the Founder of the What a Trip! Festival
By Liam Klenk
Romain Tarrusson is the founder and president of the annual What a Trip! festival in Montpellier. The festival encompasses an amazing selection of travel documentaries, a film competition, workshops, conferences, exhibitions, and the “Village du Voyage”, a lively tent village with information, food, events, and daily concerts.
In September 2020, I had the privilege to experience the 4th edition of the What a Trip! festival in Montpellier, France.
Due to Covid, it wasn’t quite as lively as it surely would have been otherwise, but the fantastic selection of documentary films was still a rare treat.
Following up on my personal experience of the festival, I got in touch with its founder, Romain Tarrusson. It was a pleasure to speak with a man who had so much obvious enthusiasm and passion for his project.
Hello Romain, what gave you the idea to create this vivid and inspiring event? And what does the festival aim to achieve?
I created this festival four years ago, but it was in my mind since five or six years ago.
Usually, I work as an event manager for corporate events and communication projects.
Five years ago, I was event manager for a company in Annecy. Whilst there, I discovered a film and book festival named Le Grand Bivouac which is held annually in Albertville.
Seeing this festival immediately sparked something in me. I knew, this is exactly the kind of thing we need in Montpellier as well.
We are a very cosmopolitan city. We have students from all over the world. Montpellier is a place where you can find people with an adventurous soul.
The idea took root in my brain.
After a while, I quit my job in Annecy and came back to Montpellier to create the What a Trip! festival. A non-profit organization managed by volunteers.
In order to do so, I contacted twelve people. Friends. Old clients. Old colleagues. People whom I knew well and of whom I knew that they too have a passion for travel, social interaction, and non-profit organizations.
We created the organizational framework, of which I became the official president.
That was five years ago. And we immediately decided to launch the first edition of our What a Trip! festival one year later.
This was quite the challenge because one year is not a big amount of time to bring something as big as this festival from its idea and planning stage to reality.
I wanted to create something which allows people to explore different aspects and faces of international culture and travel.
At the same time, I also wanted to convey that travel is not just about going thousands of miles away. You can experience beautiful adventures close to your home. Especially here, in the South of France, we are blessed to be surrounded by an abundance of nature and culture.
You can travel by being curious and by exploring your surroundings. No matter where they might be. No matter how far or how near. That is the message.
In addition to traveling and exploring the planet, everyone in our team is also passionate about culture and parties.
When we created the festival, we wanted to have an official film competition, conferences, workshops, and exhibitions.
But, we also wanted to have a place in which people can move and meet. That’s why we came up with the “Village du Voyage” which, for the duration of our festival, is always located in the centre of Montpellier on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulles.
In the “Village du Voyage”, people can find books, conversation, education, lectures, international snacks, drinks, and parties.
The 2020 edition you saw was quite limited due to Covid19. Normally, there will be thousands of people partying. We will even have concerts every night. A diverse selection of musicians from many cultures around the world. Last year, for example, we had Manu Chao on one of those nights.
2020 was the festival’s 4th edition. Next year we will celebrate our 5th anniversary!
It was a horrible year. The worst year ever. Until the very last minute of the festival we didn’t know if we had the right to organize it or not. We waited for the decision of the prefecture.
Whilst doing that, we just went ahead with all the planning anyways, and hoped it’ll somehow all work out. It was a very difficult situation.
In June, we had several partners who approached us and said that unfortunately, due to the crisis, they can’t sponsor us anymore. So, at the last minute, we had to find 40’000 Euros to make the festival happen. And we did.
These were stressful times until we finally got the green light and all was in place. On top of it all, Covid stressed the entire population. We made sure we met all safety regulations. But, of course, it wasn’t the same lively ambiance as in previous years.
Nevertheless, we are happy we managed to organize our festival. It was cool in its own way and one of the few events that was given permission to be held.
Our slogan was: On ne lâche rien! We’re not letting go!
I’m glad you didn’t, Romain. Even in its reduced form it was a wonderful experience. How do you choose the films that get to compete during the festival?
Our festival takes place in September each year. Thus, each January we launch a call for applications. Then the producers send us their candidatures.
We’ll usually have about two-hundred candidates. Then we’ll have a commission inside our organization which is tasked with watching all the films.
Each film is seen at least two times by two different people. These people look at the overall quality of the work but also make sure the film matches our requirements. For example, the films have to be at least fifty-two minutes long, because that is TV show format.
If anyone who reads this is interested: Every year, we are searching for volunteers to help us organize the festival.
We are also implementing more and more pedagogic projects into the event.
Each year, we permit three-hundred children to come and see the films. They then also get to meet the producers and adventurers.
For 2021 we want to go a step further and introduce a school award.
We are also thinking of expanding in the sense of organizing film projections throughout the year in different venues throughout Montpellier as well as in other cities.
Many festivals are now already cancelling for 2021. It is just such a high risk. No one knows how things will develop and if there will be any sponsors… or if we’ll be allowed to run with it when the time comes.
However, we will definitely not cancel. We will risk it. The 5th anniversary edition of our festival will take place.
I just hope we’ll then also be given the right again to have our concerts in the “Village du Voyage” in the evening. It’s not the same without them.