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CANNES 2021 Critics’ Week

Thomas Rosso • Programme Manager, Critics’ Week

"We’re working with the future in mind"


- The new programme manager for Cannes’ Critics’ Week looks back on the 7th edition of Next Step which unfurled in December, and also touches upon Critics’ Week 2021

Thomas Rosso • Programme Manager, Critics’ Week

Named programme manager for the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics’ Week having notably worked for La Fémis, the Les Arcs Film Festival’s Talent Village, Why Not Productions and L'Image Retrouvée, Thomas Rosso looks back on the 7th edition of the Next Step programme which unspooled in December within Cannes’ parallel section (read our article).

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Cineuropa: How was the 7th edition of the Next Step programme, for which you’re now the new director?
Thomas Rosso: It was a very unique edition given that it unfolded entirely online. Next Step was designed to be a bridge between short and full-length films, a means to support young male and female directors of short films with their first feature film projects. It’s quite a straightforward idea, but it doesn’t involve any calls for projects; instead, it starts with the filmmakers whose shorts have been selected for Critics’ Week and with the idea that all of them are first and foremost artists who might also have something important to say via feature films. So it involves taking a gamble and offering a workshop to creators who are at very different stages in their work, because the shorts selected in Critics’ Week are directed by a wide range of people: there are student films, so youngsters who are barely 20 years of age, but also filmmakers who have already directed lots of short films. There are no firm and fast rules. There’s that famous step to be taken between short and full-length films and, as a festival, a selector and an event organiser, we have a role to play in this. We can help them to take this step, acting as friendly and efficient allies. Over half of the filmmakers who took part in this 7th Next Step programme had never attended a workshop before, so it represents a real helping hand which allows them to get a foothold in the industry.

As such, in December, these directors were invited to attend a week-long workshop in which they first presented their projects to six consultants (specialists in screenplays, direction, music, production, sales and distribution). It’s a bespoke programme. Some filmmakers only come with a treatment, some come with the first draft of their script while others are practically on the verge of filming: so the support we give is tailored to the individual. The second half of the workshop is given over to meetings with French industry professionals: producers, distributors, sales agents, who offer feedback from a business perspective on each of the projects. Lastly, meetings are organised with young composers so as to drive home the importance of filmmakers taking the film’s music into consideration very early on in the creative process.

Why did you decide to go ahead with Next Step, despite the various constraints involved in its virtual unspooling?
As with the films selected for the 59th Critics’ Week which it ultimately proved impossible to screen in Cannes, but which were nonetheless screened outside the festival’s walls (in Angoulême, in Paris’s Cinémathèque, etc.), the idea was to not let the authors, creators and film professionals down, to continue with the support we provide. Obviously, we dropped the idea of an in-person residency because it would have been impossible to get directors from all over the world together in one place. So we organised the online workshop. It took a great deal of discipline, but everyone adapted to it really well. There was a real appetite for coming together, for meetings, for telling ourselves that life goes on, that we’re working with the future in mind and that we won’t be beaten, but there’s also the great familiarity everyone has now developed with digital tools. Clearly, it’s not at all the same thing to take part virtually, a little cut off from the world; to be at home, creating a mini community in the Normandy countryside and removing oneself from the day-to-day to spend three hours on meetings and projects. Of course, we were constrained by having to work online, but the discussions which took place were of excellent quality and the feedback very positive. And our professional meetings, which usually take place across a day in Paris, drew in the same number of participants. Everyone turned up with a strong desire to stand firm.

How is the 2021 edition of Cannes’ Critics’ Week looking?
We’re getting ready for a May edition which will also mark the 60th anniversary of Critics’ Week, so we really want it to be a huge celebration toasting the recovery of the film industry and our coming together again. But obviously, we’re also making sure we’re ready for the eventuality of the event not going ahead in May. Last year, we were caught off guard by the brutality of the health crisis, and changing our dates wasn’t an option. This year, whichever decision Thierry Frémaux makes regarding the Cannes Film Festival, we’ll follow suit. We’ll get ourselves organised: if it’s in June, it will be in June, if it’s in July, it will be in July and if it’s in August, it will be in August. We know that Berlin has changed its dates, so that might cause further changes, but reactivity is key, and we will be ready for all eventualities. That said, we do need a few guarantees because the hardest thing to manage is the incertitude, in the sense that we can’t change our dates at the last minute because we have to mobilise partners, find funding, etc. But the most important thing is that the Cannes Festival takes place at a time which allows it to unfold in the most normal conditions possible, or at least the best possible conditions for the films. Because ultimately, our biggest worry at this point in time is whether cinemas will reopen and films will be released, because the young filmmakers selected for Critics’ Week will be presenting their first feature films. It’s a first for them, and an especially crucial moment in their career.

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(Translated from French)

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