Juniors steer familiar film fest course

PARIS — Anyone expecting a radically different and more Yank-friendly Cannes Film Festival this year had better wise up — just ask the fest’s new artistic director Thierry Fremaux, who will be dashing around Hollywood this week.

The newcomer will surely set the record straight: Despite Fremaux’s recent appointment, reports of Gilles Jacob’s demise as fest chief aren’t just greatly exaggerated — they’re totally off the radar.

In an interview with Variety, fest prexy Jacob, 70, flanked by Fremaux and the fest’s new general manager, Veronique Cayla, indicated politely but firmly that from now on, Cannes is going to be run by the three of them — together.

“What we have is a collegial management in which everyone has his role but also advises everyone else,” Jacob says, exchanging smiles with the new recruits in his high-ceilinged second-floor office, nerve center of the fest’s headquarters on Paris’ Boulevard Malesherbes.

Sharing the load

Skeptics wonder if the festival’s new “overlapping” three-way organizational structure, introduced in the wake of Jacob’s retirement after 23 years as artistic director, isn’t a ploy by the canny fest chief to maintain his artistic control.

But Jacob says the new hierarchy is entirely consistent with the growing burden of running a festival that is getting bigger and more complex every year.

In line with the fest’s ambitions, new initiatives this year include a bigger, better Web site that Jacob says will “enable Hollywood moguls to follow the festival without leaving the Hotel du Cap.” The site will also follow the international box office performance of Cannes-selected films throughout the year.

As for the fest’s artistic vision, Jacob promises that “continuity” will be the watchword for the foreseeable future, though it is “possible,” he says, that a couple more mainstream films might make it into this year’s selection. Indeed, notes Jacob, finding such pics was one of Fremaux’s briefs.

“The festival is doing well: 2000 was a very good year, both critically and commercially, so why change it?” says Jacob. “We will continue to steer it along the successful course that it has followed for many years.”

As for the nomination of Jodie Foster as this year’s jury president (see story on page 23), perceived by some as a pro-American shift, Jacob insists it is merely “in accordance with the festival’s wish to bring in talented young filmmakers, like Luc Besson last year.”

Restrained rookies

In the threesome’s first sit-down interview with a journalist, it became clear that Fremaux and Cayla do not intend to openly question Jacob’s judgment at this critical stage.

Look what happened to the outspoken Olivier Barrot, whose dreams of becoming artistic director last year were dashed in just a couple of months — the result of his haste to take over from Jacob.

The new artistic director, plucked from the Institut Lumiere in Lyon, is playing his cards much closer to the vest.

When asked how he intends to put his stamp on the festival, Fremaux shifts a bit in his chair, turns to Jacob and asks, “What did you say to that question 23 years ago?”

Having joined the Institut Lumiere as a volunteer in 1982 and headed it artistically since 1993, the hard-working Fremaux has acquired a vast knowledge of film, and his tastes are wide-ranging.”I like to break away from the notion of categories, and judge films for themselves,” he says.

Institut Lumiere president Bertrand Tavernier, who says he “cannot praise (Fremaux) highly enough,” declares that “the role of artistic director suits him very well.”

In the hot seat

But choosing films for the archive in Lyon is decidedly less political than selecting the 50-odd movies that will receive international exposure at Cannes, and many wonder how the good-natured Fremaux will handle the pressure.Contrary to some initial assessments, the forthright Cayla, who at 50 is a decade older than Fremaux, has every intention of getting fully involved.

“What grabbed me about this job was that it wasn’t just a managerial position — that I would be involved in all aspects of the festival’s business,” says Cayla.

Fremaux says he intends to approach his new task with “modesty and humility” and will seek out Jacob’s guidance as much as possible, believing that “someone has to ensure continuity” at the festival.

“Sometimes I have to drag Gilles away from his desk for his advice,” Fremaux says. He notes, however, that of the two to three films a week he has seen since November — the quiet period in the festival’s calendar — Jacob has missed just a handful.

Regardless of who is making the final decisions at the fest, Hollywood players will no doubt share their idea of what’s good for Cannes with Fremaux during his Stateside visit this week.

And the new artistic director will be all ears.

“I want to understand,” he promises. “I will be gathering information and asking lots of questions.”

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