Frémaux cruises into gear in Cannes

Festival director on Top Gun star, Ukraine and looking to the future

by Richard Mowe

Festival director Thierry Frémaux: 'The job [of a film-maker] is not the same and we want to explore what the younger generation think of it all at what is an important crossroads'
Festival director Thierry Frémaux: 'The job [of a film-maker] is not the same and we want to explore what the younger generation think of it all at what is an important crossroads' Photo: Richard Mowe
Given that Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Frémaux probably is one of the most wanted men on the Riviera, he looked remarkably chipper as he fielded the flack from the world’s press ahead of tomorrow’s evening launch of the 75th edition.

First up was a salvo about the stark contract between Cannes glam and glitz and the war in Ukraine. Frémaux was quick to point that there was no “official” Russian representation in the Festival - and there were no journalists or film professionals who toed the party line.

There were some Russians at the festival - but mainly those who had “escaped”. Frémaux sympathised with some hard-line Ukrainians who wanted a more radical response. “After all they’re living with bombs,” he said, adding that the Festival had made its position clear in support for the Ukrainian people.

Mantas Kvedaravicius, who was killed in Mariupol while working on the film Mariupolis 2
Mantas Kvedaravicius, who was killed in Mariupol while working on the film Mariupolis 2 Photo: UniFrance
Frémaux was asked about the inclusion of Tchaikovsky’s Wife, which was part financed by oligarch Roman Ambramovich, and directed by exiled filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov, lauded for his previous films, Leto and Petrov’s Flu, (shown in previous editions of the festival). Frémaux underlined that the festival had adhered to the spirit of the sanctions but the film had been produced and financed before they had come into effect.

Two films by Ukrainian filmmakers: Sergei Loznitsa’s The Natural History Of Destruction and Butterfly Vision, from director Maksim Nakonechny, are in the selection alongside Mariupolis 2 by Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius, who was killed in Mariupol, the Ukrainian city heavily bombarded by Russian forces, nearly a month ago while working on the film. His fiancée Hanna Bilobrova, who finished the project, will present it.

As for the frenzy around the long-awaited première of Top Gun: Maverick in the presence of Tom Cruise he suggested there was no discrepancy in showing a blockbuster at the festival any more than there was anomaly in director Ken Loach resplendent in a dinner jacket for the screening of one of his hard hitting social dramas.

Frémaux who’s association with the festival stretches back over 21 years, applauded Cruise’s commitment to cinema as an art form. “He is one of the few stars of his stature who has resisted any overtures from platforms or series or even clips,” he says. “If you want to see the latest Tom Cruise then it has to be in a cinema.”

Following French Government advice the festival has become unmasked after two disrupted years although Frémaux pointed that was no obligation to not wear a mask if individuals felt safer with one. To make everyone feel more comfortable all the hostesses and controllers in the Palais des Festivals would still be masked.

Cannes' Truman Show inspired  75th artwork
Cannes' Truman Show inspired 75th artwork Photo: Richard Mowe
Five years ago the festival celebrated its 70th anniversary by looking backwards towards its origins and achievements. For the 75th edition the emphasis will be towards the future and role of the filmmaker in an age of consumption across multiple platforms. “The job is not the same and we want to explore what the younger generation think of it all at what is an important crossroads,” he said.

Frémaux defended the festival’s position on gender balance and female inclusion. “France is a country where are a lot of female filmmakers, more so than most places. Major prizes including the Palme d’Or were awarded to women. Twenty or 30 years ago who could have imagined it. We don’t have any quotas and I don’t think it’s necessary."

Despite major hiccups with the online ticketing system and a tsunami of complaints on social media by the journalists and film professionals, partly because a bug attacked the system and nuked it for a few hours, attendance is looking buoyant across the board with between 30,000 and 35,000 accreditations issued and still rising. “I think it’s a much better system than last year,” said Frémaux to incredulous journalists. “We were attacked by robots who ordered 1500 tickets in one second and we’ve tried to fix that.”

One outlet, Deadline, had accused Frémaux of censorship after he sought copy approval of interview and allegedly took out some of his own remarks. "I like making sure what I say is correctly reported. I don’t care if the journalist attacks me. I prefer speaking normally and freely. It’s not a big deal."

The festival opens tomorrow with a zombie film, Final Cut (Coupez!) by French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, who changed the title from Z, like Z to take away any reference to the letter which has become associated with the war in Ukraine. The festival runs until 28 May.

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