Cannes’ Frémaux enters the fray

Director schmoozes the media ahead of festival opening

by Richard Mowe

Cannes Festival director in the firing line: Thierry Frémaux does his best to allay journalists’ fears among other hot topics
Cannes Festival director in the firing line: Thierry Frémaux does his best to allay journalists’ fears among other hot topics Photo: Richard Mowe

Who’d want to be the director of the Cannes Film Festival in the post-Weinstein era, battles with streaming giant Netflix, selfies on the red carpet, the legal manoeuvring over Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and flak from some of the media about restructuring the screening schedules?

With a day to go before the official opening tomorrow (with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz ascending the fabled red carpet for Everybody Knows ) Thierry Frémaux, the Festival director, took the unusual step of summoning the media for an impromptu pre-Festival gathering so that he could expound further his views on the issues of the moment. Despite the pressures he looked as chipper and voluble as ever.

On parity for women in the film business, Frémaux made it clear that he believed in 'positive discrimination' in the film business and elsewhere to maintain the gender balance, but as for applying such a quota to films selected for the Festival the only criteria was artistic merit. For some years the Festival has striven to ensure an equal balance of men and women on the Competition jury which this year is headed by Cate Blanchett, an actress whose efforts in this domain Frémaux applauds. The President of the jury alternates between the sexes from one year to the next.

On the vexed topic of Netflix, who have no titles in this year’s line-up, Frémaux was adamant that relations remain cordial although the Festival was of the view that the proper place to see films first was on the big screen. French cinema owners have lobbied the Festival to exclude titles that are not on offer to them first with a three-year window before they can be shown on Netflix. The streaming platform decided that they could not wait that long. One of the films affected by the ruling is Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, which Fremaux said he had hoped to have in the Competition.

As for all those selfies and other amateur photography on the red carpet Frémaux reaffirmed that what he considered a “tawdry” practice slowed down the ascending of the red carpet to the extent that films habitually started late. “Cannes is a place to watch and see … not to be seen,” he said sternly.

With the threat of legal action threatening to veto Festival screenings of Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (aggrieved producer Paulo Branco has brought the case) Frémaux said the Festival expected to hear the outcome of the court’s deliberations on Wednesday afternoon.

One journalist asked about the return of Danish director Lars Von Trier who was banned after making Nazi remarks on a previous occasion. Was it part of the deal that he did not do a press conference for the Out of Competition title The House That Jack Built. Sensing a stitch-up Frémaux flashed a suspicious smile. Von Trier was being welcomed back because of the integrity of his film about a serial killer rather than any other motive. The Festival had always supported artists in good times and bad.

Stressing to the assembled throng that the Festival appreciated the work of journalists, Frémaux insisted that the rescheduling was designed to keep the element of surprise for red carpet premières and no other ulterior motive. The previous custom had been to allow Competition titles to be screened to the media on the morning of the evening première. He hoped the new move would allow critics to give more considered views rather than labouring under the pressure of earlier deadlines - the media will attend a separate screening at the same time as the red carpet one. “If you go to a production at the Avignon Festival you would not expect to see it in advance in the morning,” he said, surveying the room where not everyone was remotely in agreement.

The Festival runs from 8 to 19 May.

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