Thierry Frémaux • Artistic Director, Cannes Film Festival
"It was the perfect opportunity to be bold"
by Fabien Lemercier
- Thierry Frémaux, Artistic Director of the Cannes Film Festival, chats to Cineuropa about the 2018 selection and his take on current developments
With just a few days to go until the 71st edition of Cannes Film Festival (8 to 19 May), Thierry Frémaux, the festival's Artistic Director, chats to Cineuropa about emerging new talent, artists and human rights, European cinema, selfies, world premieres and media timelines.
Cineuropa: This year’s competition includes ten new entrants and three filmmakers competing for the second time. Do you feel like you're delivering a particularly daring line-up this year? Was it an easy decision to include so many new faces and to ignore some of the "big names"?
Thierry Frémaux: We don't start the selection process with the intention of updating the line-up, because that would be an insult to the filmmakers who have been the pride of Cannes and who might wonder why their personal prestige should pay the price. But it turns out that the winter of 2018 was the perfect opportunity to be bold – having seen some beautiful films by young filmmakers. Cannes is sometimes criticised for selecting the same directors, but I hope that both the press and festival-goers alike will follow our lead and welcome this new cinematic talent with open arms.
A successful selection is also one that has a diverse range of styles. What does this competition promise us in terms of stylistic diversity?
Well you have to look at the competition in two different ways. If we’re talking about challenging current cinematic styles then yes, Cannes will no doubt be presenting content that is as stylistically diverse as are the directors who are competing, who all come from diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds. I don’t want to single out any one film in particular, but let's just say that this year’s selection ranges from intimate Asian settings to the streets of Lebanon, from an anti-globalisation protest to the hopes of a young poet, from armed female combatants to black power activists. And the mise-en-scène of all of these films is equally as diverse!
The second way to look at the competition relates to what cinema is promising us in a world that is now full of images, and in which it's no longer the dominant force. And I think this aspect is just as exciting. How do you exist in the golden age of the TV series? At a time when there are so many small formats online? With the emergence of Internet platforms? The films that succeed and, this selection proves it, have reinvented themselves in some way.
Jafar Panahi and Kirill Serebrennikov, whose freedom has been somewhat limited in their countries, have both been selected to compete. What role do you think Cannes plays in defending human rights?
We primarily select films based on their qualities, and it was exactly the same process for these two films. These two directors are under house arrest in their own countries but, and this is the paradox, they have not made "political" films by any means. However, we are aware that sometimes poets can shake things up even more than activists.
The Un Certain Regard section includes a significant number of debut feature films.
That’s just how it should be. It’s important to prepare for the future and show off young filmmakers in order to help them develop in a global media environment that tends to focus more on the familiar.
French and Italian films remain the pillars of Cannes’ Official Selection. What do you think about the state of European auteur cinema?
I would say that it depends on the directors of each country, and there are some great filmmakers throughout Europe, but this year’s selection also proves that European cinema is evolving at great speed. The selection also includes a lot of Asian films, from Korea and Japan – two major film countries – which have three films in competition.
Do you think that it’s a shame that the American industry’s obsession with the Oscars deprives Cannes of certain films due to timing issues and film release strategies?
I do think it’s a shame, but I get it. It’s obvious for American auteur films to want to take shot at the Oscars and therefore wait for the autumn. It's a shame, because many US films presented at Cannes are often selected for the Oscars. And most of the foreign films that win awards at the Oscars also come from Cannes. Take Cannes 2018 for example, we have directors (Spike Lee, David Robert Mitchell, Ramin Bahrani), three studios (Disney, Universal, Warner) and Kristen Stewart and Ava Duvernay on the jury. Plus, John Travolta, Ryan Coogler and countless other guests will be making an appearance. Cannes is still American!
Your decision to ban selfies on the red carpet and give priority to official world premieres over press shows inspired this comment from your Venetian counterpart, Alberto Barbera: "Thierry Frémaux is brave, but it’s going to take more than the actions of one individual" What’s your response to that comment?
Alberto is right: we are brave! When it comes to selfies, Venice doesn’t quite have the same problem, as the public doesn’t come near the red carpet. The Cannes Film Festival wants everyone to enjoy the mythology of Cannes. As long as you don't spoil its beauty and strength. I don't think that asking people to respect places, as they should everywhere, is a ridiculous thing to do. Also, the grand entrances take too long these days.
In terms of changing our schedule, obviously it wasn’t directed at the press, as some people seem to have interpreted it. It was more about having a world premiere without the numerous screenings that take place beforehand, ultimately resulting in viewers who can't help but spread information about them on social media. World premieres will stay world premieres, simultaneous with the press, or almost.
Beyond Netflix’s choices in relation to Cannes Film Festival, what is your opinion on the current media timeline in France?
That’s a difficult question to answer because I'm no expert on what is ultimately a very complex issue, but an issue that nevertheless also demonstrates the strength of the French system. At the moment, films are released in cinemas, then on DVD, and then they are broadcast on TV channels such as Canal+, etc. Everyone is aware that this particular timeline, which pushes operators such as Netflix back by about three years, is in need of a review. Like many things in France, the timeline hasn’t been restructured in line with the emergence of new technology and new viewing habits. Both professionals and the state have announced that they'll think about it, which seems like a good place to start to me.
(Translated from French)
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