In a rare masterclass, delivered Tuesday at Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur, Thierry Fremaux talked of opening up Cannes, his love of Argentina, taking Cannes – and its films – to the world, “Welcome to New York’s” Cannes launch, and his banning red carpet selfies.
Talking in fluent Spanish – Fremaux has lived in Argentina – to a SRO audience in Buenos Aires, Fremaux said he’d didn’t want to give away too many ideas about where he’d like to take Cannes in the future. But in a far-ranging masterclass, laced with his hallmark humor and audience engagement, the head of the Cannes Festival hinted at least at ways forward for the world’s most important festival.
“When Gilles called me he said: ‘I’m also interested in having new tastes at Cannes.’” The largest narrative of Fremaux’s tenure – co-selecting with Gilles Jacob over 2001-03 as artistic director, selecting from 2004 and delegate general from 2007 – has been the opening up of Cannes to a broader range of movies and industry initiatives.
Admitting to being “mad about” the Hong Kong films of John Woo when he first saw them, in 2004, his first year as sole selector, Fremaux screened Park Chan-wook’s “Old Boy,” which won the Special Jury Prize. “When the press asked me what kind of cinema ‘Old Boy’ was, I said: ‘Good cinema.’”
Selecting Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible,” which played in competition at midnight, Fremaux was “very much on my own,” he said. Another case in point, in 2014, Fremaux told the Ventana Sur audience, was the Cannes Competition berth for Argentine Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales.” “Part of the intellectual French pressdidn0’t know how to take it.” “For them, Lisandro Alonso’s “Jauja,” which played a won a Fipresci nod in Un Certain Regard, should have been out-of-competition or a Midnight Screening, he added.
Fremaux was adamant about banning red carpet selfies. “Enough egocentricism!” he exclaimed.
But, significantly, he did not condemn Wild Bunch’s Internet launch out of Cannes of Abel Ferrara’s “Welcome to New York,” one of the biggest stories for the press at this year’s Cannes.
“I saw ‘Welcome to New York’ early on and for me it wasn’t a Cannes Competition film. When Wild Bunch knew that, they decided to launch straight to Internet, using Cannes for marketing, and that didn’t bother me.”
“For a film to be selected in Cannes, it must have a theatrical opening. But cinema is increasingly, how shall we say, ‘impure.’ When Martin Scorsese and David Fincher shoot TV, are they still making films? That’s an interesting question. I can also open up along that road, Fremaux said.
He added: “Wild Bunch has announced that it will increasingly release films straight to online: If exhibitors don’t want their films, or only want to run them for a week, then they will go straight to Internet, to allow them the chance to find their audience.”
“These are difficult questions, which have to be treated carefully, like 35mm and digital, because nobody is right, or everybody has arguments. And I say this because a festival like Cannes has a duty to be an example, and screen theatrical movies.
What has Fremaux achieved at Cannes? The victory wasn’t to succeed Gilles, but to do the job well once I was installed. People firget that when I began people were saying that it was impossible to succeed Gilles and my personal victory is that I’ve managed that.”
Contrasting with Jacob, Fremaux said he had a more “industrial” vision of cinema. The Cannes Film market has grown its attendance in 15 of the last 16 years. But for Fremaux and his team that isn’t enough.
The masterclass, and indeed Ventana Sur – Latin America’s biggest film market that was launched in 2009 by Argentina’s Incaa film agency and the Cannes Festival and Film Market – form part of a drive to aid the industry around the world. Another initiative is the Cannes Festival Filmm Week, a Buenos Aires showcase for Official Selection films.
Cannes has to “Be today in Buenos Aires, in Rome, Madrid and China. Talking to the communities in every country in every continent: Cannes isn’t a French festival, it’s a festival in France, a Festival which belongs to the public, professionals and artists.”
That may make likely more Producers’ Networks, Cannes workshops, or film weeks are likely, or showcases at Cannes such as the Blood Window Midnight Galas or BAL Goes to Cannes.
Digital, the communication revolution, has in a way made Fremaux’s job more difficult. “We have to have our eyes open in every part to f the world, but also have Cannes Windows open as well.”
Cannes is no longer just two weeks in France.