film festivals

[Only IN Hollywood] Thierry Fremaux ‘sure’ Cannes film fest in July will be in-person

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] Thierry Fremaux ‘sure’ Cannes film fest in July will be in-person

CANNES. Clint Eastwood and Thierry Fremaux at the Cannes Film Festival.

File photo courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival

'A film festival is about being together, fighting each other about a film, being in the same room and in two hours, critics decide the destiny of a film,' he says

“We are sure that Cannes will take place in July,” declared Thierry Fremaux, director of Cannes Film Festival in our recent video conversation.

Thierry vowed that the world’s most prestigious film festival, which he has led since 2004, will go live, in-person from July 6 to 17 this year.

He said in reference to the coronavirus pandemic which has impacted the world and forced the cancellation of many major live events, “We will have all the film festivals, which have been canceled, back. We can go back to the normal life by being there.”

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of the caption for the above photo mistakenly identified Clint Eastwood as Costa Gavras. We regret the error.)

The COVID-19 health crisis shut down the film fest on the Croisette last year. The only other time that the Cannes fest was canceled was in 1968 due to nationwide student riots, in which cinema gods Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut participated.

Started in 1946, Cannes Film Festival attracts filmmakers, producers, movie distributors, exhibitors and cineastes from around the world.

Cannes, through the late Pierre Rissient, helped push Philippine cinema in the international scene when it championed Lino Brocka’s films, beginning with Insiang, which starred Hilda Koronel, Mona Lisa and Ruel Vernal. Insiang was the first Philippine film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

[Only IN Hollywood] Thierry Fremaux ‘sure’ Cannes film fest in July will be in-person

The late Brocka’s subsequent entries to the preeminent film fest paved the way for Cannes breaks for films by other Pinoy filmmakers, including Lav Diaz and Brillante Mendoza, who became the first Filipino to win the best director prize in Cannes for Kinatay.

Brillante famously beat Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) and Ang Lee (Taking Woodstock).

“Going to film festivals – for critics, for us professionals, filmmakers and especially for audiences – is something so important,” stressed Thierry, who is also director of the Institut Lumière and the Lumière Film Festival.

He earned his master of advanced studies in film history from Lumière University Lyon.

“We had a lot of film festivals which have been canceled,” Thierry added. “I don’t criticize but I hate the idea of a virtual, digital film festival.  That is a contradiction.”

“A film festival is about being together, fighting each other about a film, being in the same room and in two hours, critics decide the destiny of a film,” said the affable 60-year-old who is grateful to his electric engineer father for opening his eyes to the joys of cinema.

Thierry pointed out the importance of a film festival exposure to filmmakers by citing an example: “Two hours before (his film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days screened in Cannes), Cristian Mungiu was nobody. Two hours after, he had this position on the map of world cinema.”

“That is the magic of a film festival. That is the magic of building a buzz about a film, a filmmaker, an artist.”

“We miss that a lot. There is nothing comparable to being in Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto, Sundance or in a small film festival. We are all doing the same job.  There is nothing comparable to being together and anticipating about the film we are going to see.”

The harsh reality of pandemic in France and Europe may intrude on Thierry’s plans. As the COVID cases still increase in France, with highly contagious coronavirus variants being detected in parts of the nation, France’s President Emmanuel Macron ordered an extension of the nationwide lockdown.

Thierry was hopeful but our Zoom chat happened before France entered a third lockdown throughout the country.

He said, “It makes me happy, especially because our President said good things about culture, about the reopening of – he didn’t say cinemas – but we are quite confident to have the cinemas reopened mid-May.  We can’t have a film festival without cinemas.”

“So if movie theaters reopen in mid-May, we are even more confident for the beginning of July.  What makes me happy is the prospect of having Cannes in July and to have the filmmakers, the audience, the professionals back.”

“And while it would be the first big world culture event post-pandemic, I hope it will be possible to have dinners together. The film festival is a live show.  We all go together during 12 days in one place and we are there together to celebrate cinema.”

The cinephile, who has a black belt in judo and wrote a book, Judoka, about his life guided by the Japanese martial art, is also feistily optimistic that the contingent from the United States, which brings in the star power, will come.

“We know that the pandemic is in a much better shape in America because of the vaccine campaign so we are very confident,” he remarked.

File photo courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival
Wim Wenders and Thierry Fremaux / Crédit/ Festival de Cannes

In the meantime, Thierry and his team continue their search for entries. A movie reportedly being considered is director Michael Sarnoski’s drama Pig, starring Nicolas Cage and depicting a truffle hunter searching for his beloved foraging pig who is kidnapped.

Asked to name some of the entries so far, Thierry laughed and demurred.

“Regarding films, I, of course, won’t tell you any title except the films that we all know were already selected from last year, including by Wes Anderson (The French Dispatch) and Paul Verhoeven (Benedetta). They will be back in the official selection.”

“With the rest of the films, we started two, three months ago, and we are working. We hope to make the announcement of the selection at the end of May or the beginning of June.”

“And we are watching good films. This Cannes is very important, not only for cinema. It will be the big comeback of culture, Cannes, but also of the way we used to live.”

Also being buzzed as entries are Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria, Naomi Kawase’s Comes Morning, Mia Hansen-Love’s Bergman Island and Leos Carax’s Annette.

I am hoping there will be more entries from the Philippines and the rest of Asia this year.

The film festival world’s top leader commented on the future of cinema amid the rising popularity of streaming platforms, which, of course, led to the topic of Netflix’s controversial presence, or absence, in Cannes.

A tiff between Cannes and Netflix has been going on since 2017 when Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories and Bong Joon-ho’s Okja stirred controversy for being allowed as fest entries but not following a French law that requires films to wait 36 months between theatrical run and streaming service play.

“With my friend (Quentin) Tarantino, I used to tell him, you are too pessimistic because you are American but maybe I’m too optimistic because I’m French,” he quipped with a smile.

“In France, we still have a conviction about the difference in watching a film on television, because whatever we watch on Netflix, Apple and the other platforms, it is television.”

“It’s a much more sophisticated television, with a lot of wonderful content. But in France, we are still fighting for the movie theaters. We still think that for a film to be nobly considered, the first place for movies is a movie theater.”

Kristen Stewart and Thierry Fremaux. Photo courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival

“But I’m saying that at my age. I’m not sure that the young audience today will say the same. My own kids can watch a film on the platform, press the pause button, then go to watch a film on DVD and then go to a movie theater when theaters were open.”

“From the point of view of the directors, I think the situation won’t change. It’s still the same although now, it’s ideal for them because they can choose (various options).”

He cited his friend, the late director, Bertrand Tavernier. “But with some people who are still fighting for what traditional cinema is…Bertrand Tavernier was fighting and trying to make a last movie, an ultimate film. It was very difficult for him because it was a film which was supposed to be shot in Florida.”

“So the film was quite expensive for a French producer. Bertrand was saying, if I don’t find any money, I will accept any money even if it comes from a platform, like Netflix.”

“This year in France, we can’t blame distributors or producers because they couldn’t make money with the films so they sold their films to some of the platforms.”

“But of course, it’s clear that we never stop our discussions since the first year in 2017 when we invited Netflix because I wanted the distribution platforms in Cannes and not in some other festival. I knew, of course, the scandal we would have and we had it with the exhibitors in France.”

“And I want to mention again the rule we have – that every movie in competition must be released in movie theaters in France. But (films) playing in out-of-competition, it’s possible even for Netflix.”

“So I’m still trying to convince them to say, we can have a good life in Cannes out-of-competition. The studio films, when they come to Cannes, they are rarely in competition. They prefer to go out-of-competition and to have a wonderful gala screening.”

“But the Netflix people – my friend Ted Sarandos – they are competitive. They want a Palm d’Or, an Oscar, a Golden Globe. They want those awards and I can understand that.”

“But if you want to be in competition in Cannes, your film must be sold to a French distributor. I don’t know what they will choose. I hope that we find a solution for them and to welcome them in Cannes.”

“I’m talking about Netflix because we are already working with Amazon, Apple and other platforms. Netflix needs us to get a kind of legitimacy.”

“During the pandemic, we could see, of course, the power of platforms. We could also see how we miss cinema, the sadness of the lack of cinemas. So what we did in France, when they reopened this past July, people went to watch films in movie theaters.” (The cinemas are closed again.)

“I always give the same example,” continued Cannes’ head honcho who is not only a judo black belt but also a big fan of a rock star, it turns out.

“I’m one of the world’s greatest specialists on Bruce Springsteen. I have at home a lot of bootleg concert CDs of Bruce from everywhere in the world.”

“But there is no comparison between a concert on CD and a real concert. And to me, cinema is the same. I’m in the country house. I have what is almost a professional screening room.”

“So I watch films in a very good condition. But taking the car, going alone or with some friends, entering a movie theater, watching on a big screen, we could check that the desire of going to the movies is still strong.”

Spoken like the true cinephile that Thierry is. –

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.