The French Order of Arts and Letters has designated Cécile Mouette Downs longtime heroine of the Sacramento film community as a chevalier, or knight.
The order honored Downs, the Sacramento French Film Festival's founder and executive director, and a native of France, along with about 200 other artists and arts organizers in its most recent chevalier class.
Denis Bisson, the San Francisco French Consulate's cultural attaché, is to present a medal to Downs on Friday, opening night of the 12th annual Sacramento French Festival, running Friday through June 23 and June 28-30, at downtown Sacramento's Crest Theatre.
"I was surprised and happy" to learn of the award, Downs said. "I think it is nice they are going to come give it to me on opening night, so I can share it with all the (festival) board members and planning committee members and the Sacramento audience. If the audience wasn't here, I would not have (presented) 11 previous festivals, and there would be no medal."
The presentation will happen before the 8:30 p.m. screening of "Cloclo," a biopic of French pop star Claude François. Fittingly, "Cloclo" director Florent-Emilio Siri was just named a chevalier, as well, though he will not be in attendance on opening night.
Raised in a Paris suburb, Downs received a master's degree in history with an emphasis on film. Before moving to Sacramento, she worked at the French Embassy in New York, where she helped promote French film.
In honor of Downs' award, the festival's planning committee changed the suggested dress code at Friday's opening-night party (6-8 p.m. at the Crest ) from 1980s fashion to formal awards attire.
In 2011, prescient Sacramento artist Kent Lacin, who creates all the SFFF's posters, depicted Downs in battle gear as Joan of Arc.
"Sacramento made me a knight before the French government," Downs said with a laugh.