From scouting films to pre-selecting and organizing screenings and pressers, Christian Jeune is the fest’s behind-the-scenes hero. “Scheduling the screenings of 50 films according to the films’ status, the talents’ schedules, superstitions, along with other parameters is total hell,” says Jeune, a discreet and friendly man. “It’s like playing a big domino game.” Jeune begins his job every year in the fall, traveling across Asia, notably China, Japan, South Korea and India, to dig up cinematic gems and do some PR for the fest. Industry insiders — from filmmakers to sales agents — know him well: He’s the guy who says “no” to 90% of the films that don’t make the official selection cut.
Jeune remembers the almost-disaster of Wong Kar Wai’s “2046” in 2004. The competition contender got to Cannes in pieces. Literally. “We had to reschedule the morning press screening to the evening, but even then, we only had the first half of the reels,” Jeune notes. While “2046” was unspooling for the bejeweled crowd in the Palais, the remaining reels were flown straight from the lab to Mandelieu, about 20 minutes away from Cannes. “We sent our staff on motorcycles to pick up the material at the airport and deliver it to us at the Palais during rush hour. It was mission impossible, but we did it. Audiences only noticed a brief black screen between the two halves of reels,” Jeune says.
A devoted cinephile who grew up in Toulon, on the French Riviera, Jeune worked his way up through the festival ranks. He started in low-level jobs around the fest in 1983, while studying languages at a college in Nice. A few years later, he was offered a stint as chauffeur for the fest. “I told them I couldn’t take the job because I wouldn’t be able to see the films. It was daring but it worked — I got a gig at the press department,” Jeune recalls. In 1988, Gilles Jacob, then Cannes’ prexy, offered him a job in the festival’s Paris office. He quickly made his mark and took the reins of the fest’s film department in 1994. By 1998, he had begun traveling around the world, screening films and building the relationships on which the festival now relies.
Jeune owns a firm that subtitles and translates films into French, and he personally tackles about three to four a year. His subtitling credits include Sam Mendes’ “Skyfall” and Nicole Kidman starrer “Stoker.”
NAME: Christian Jeune
FUNCTION: Scouts for films; pre-selects pics; negotiates with filmmakers, producers, film commissions and sales agents; coordinates screenings and press conferences
DOMAIN: Cannes Film Festival’s Paris office
YEARS ON THE JOB: 19
NUMBERS OF FEATURES HE’S WATCHED THIS YEAR: 1,800-plus
NUMBER OF REJECTION EMAILS HE’S SENT THIS YEAR: 1,700-plus
NUMBER OF CANNES SCREENINGS COORDINATED: 950-plus
(Local Hero is a tribute to the people who are invisible but invaluable: They’re not in the spotlight, but the biz couldn’t function without them.)