Programmer seeks to add joy to fest

Fremaux wants 'more humanity' at Gallic gathering

LONDON — If new artistic director Thierry Fremaux is the future of the Cannes Intl. Film Festival, then that future could see the grande dame of fests letting her hair down a bit.

Neither a member of Paris’ fractious film elite nor a full-time habitue of the international circuit, Fremaux, 40, brings a simple film buff’s enthusiasm to one of the most powerful jobs in festdom.

Born in Grenoble, and for the past decade director of the Institut Lumiere cinematheque in Lyon (headed by director Bertrand Tavernier), he maintains an apartment in Paris — fittingly, on the Rue de Lyon — as well as a home in the southeast of France.

Though he’s done little in his first year except tweak an increasingly predictable formula, he clearly has no shortage of ideas for the future — and brings a very different style to the post in comparison to his stately forerunner, Gilles Jacob, 70, now fest president.

“I want to bring more humanity — a greater sense of joy — to Cannes,” says Fremaux, who admits he’s an unabashed admirer of Telluride, with its enthusiastic, informal atmosphere. “Our free, open-air screening of ‘Amelie From Montmartre’ for everyone on May 13 is a start towards that.”

He’s also aware that the Competition, with its annual line of favorite auteurs jostling for inclusion, has taken on an increasingly fossilized and predictable look in recent years.

“I think you’re right –there’s not so much room (to) maneuver there,” he admits. “But this year we had some 20-25 great filmmakers with new works ready. We’ve tried to change the style a little this year, with ‘Shrek’ (the first animated pic to compete in 48 years), and the Bosnian and Spanish entries, both by young directors with a very different style of filmmaking.”

Meanwhile, Fremaux is trying to beef up Un Certain Regard to dispel the notion that the sidebar is just a dumping ground for second-leaguers.

“The idea is to show that it’s an equal part of the Official Selection but simply without a competition. This year we have names like Jacques Doillon, Abel Ferrara, Todd Solondz and Hal Hartley.”

And the much discussed subject of Hollywood on the Riviera?

“When I took the job, Gilles said to me, ‘Your first task must be to visit L.A.,’ so in January and March I went and met with studio people, friends and agents. The message I got was: one, May is not necessarily a good time for us; two, we can never seem to win — we send wonderful movies to Cannes and don’t understand why this or that film gets the Palme d’Or; three, taking part can sometimes be counter-productive, especially if a movie is attacked by the press; and, four, it’s very expensive to go to Cannes.”

With two major studio productions (“Shrek” and “Moulin Rouge”) in Competition, Hollywood is clearly giving Fremaux the benefit of the doubt this year.

“I met (Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman) Jim Gianopulos in January and the next month he came to Paris with a tape of ‘Moulin Rouge.’ He was just like a young filmmaker — so shy, so anxious! He said, ‘I need a very quick answer,’ but that was no problem, as we loved it immediately. The same with DreamWorks’ ‘Shrek’: I’m not an animation specialist, but I just thought it was a wonderful film.”

Fremaux’s open-ended deal with the fest — “under French law, my contract is for as long as I want to do the job” –allows him six months in Lyon (June to November) and six in Paris. But he admits that it could be increasingly difficult to separate his two posts.

“In the summer and fall I’ll still be taking trips for Cannes,” he says, “so we’ll have to wait and see.”