Thierry Fremaux on Pedro Almodóvar, Film Docs, Lumière Festival Growth

The Lumière and Cannes Festival head talks with passion about the Festival’s sixth edition, which kicked off Monday on Lyon

thierry fremaux
Copyright Institut Lumière/Photo Jean Luc Mège

He who dares, wins. Now entering its sixth edition, Gran Lyon’s Lumière Festival, launched by Thierry Fremaux and Bertrand Tavernier from the Institut Lumière, is firmly established on the festival calendar as one of the two major meets in Europe for classic film specialists, with the Bologna Cineteca’s Il Cinema Ritrovato, and also, remarkably, a major hit with the people of Gran Lyon who flock to its screenings. There seems nothing like it in the rest of the world. Having added a Classic Films Market (MFC) in 2013, its rise is now not only a reflection of, but also a driver of the heritage movie business. Variety talked to Fremaux, the Lumière Festival director – as well as head of the Cannes Festival – days before its the 6th edition.


After five editions, to what extent do you think that the Lumière Festival is now a global event?

The Lumière Festival aims to be a major festival, like the big festivals, but of course focused on classic cinema, We are really now approaching the size of a big festival. And because it’s classic cinema, it makes this event unique. One of the very good things about this festival is the presence of artists and of an audience, of people. Of course we have in the future to work on the presence of foreign professionals. We have a lot already, but being the place to be is not something you can decide. You have to build it. You have to work at that year after year to have the reputation of a great festival. The Festival is also an accessory for people, and for professionals, for people to spend one week inside this sort of cinema. I can tell you that Quentin wanted to come back, but he is preparing his new film so he told me recently that he couldn’t make it, but he would have loved to be back, without any award. Just to watch films. It’s a way for people to ensure that one week in a year they are dedicated to the history of cinema.

One thing that is exemplary about the Festival is that each screening is rather like a live event, happening very much in the here-and-now. You try to get somebody to introduce the film to relate it to the present so that it’s not just an artifact in the past.

Yes, that was the project, based on the idea of cinema is also a way to create discussions, to create disagreement. And yes, every screening is introduced, sometimes by artists, sometimes by directors, sometimes by critics or journalists, or people of the Lumière Institute. But you’re right: each screening is like its own event. It’s like a concert. When you go to a big music festival you have a big concert and you have some small concerts that have five songs in a bar, so we have big events for the Lumière Award, and we have other kinds of events that are small events. Or the screening of a documentary…We want to make it really unforgettable. For example we have that documentary, “Side by Side,” produced by Keanu Reeves, and Keanu is coming for that, not because he is Keanu Reeves, but because he’s part of this film, and I think it’s a very good film, and it’s the ideal film, coming after the year of Quentin Tarantino, to discuss the future of digital, of 35 mm. This film is really perfect for discussion.

Could you mention any other stars, actors, directors, who will be present who will be introducing films?

Pedro Almodovar. Like Clint Eastwood did the first year, like Quentin did last year, he has two cartes blanches, one based on his love of Spanish cinema, the unknown Spanish cinema and he has chosen some films, which are totally unknown by French audiences. And because it’s touched by the fingers of Pedro Almodóvar, it means that people are very interested. His other Carte Blanche is a kind of list of seven-or-eight films that are screened inside the films of Pedro Almodóvar. So Pedro will introduce some films, Marisa Paredes will introduce some films, and Chema Prado will introduce the tribute we pay to the Filmoteca Española. But we have also Bertrand Tavernier who will be as usual the record man of introductions. He also has his own program about rare, unknown French films, because he is making a documentary. As Martin Scorsese did for American cinema, he wants to do for French cinema.

I introduce myself other films. But for the rest, you have Tony Gatlif presenting a Frank Capra film, Alan Parker introducing a documentary a French director did about him, Michael Cimino is coming back, we pay a tribute to Ted Kotcheff, Nicole Garcia, Laetitia Casta, who is a great movie buff, Tonie Marshall, Luc Jacquet, Isabella Rossellini, we have Paolo Sorentino who will also make some introductions, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who made the fourth “Alien” film, so he will introduce the whole “Alien-“ night; Guillaume Gallienne…

And coming back to Pedro Almodóvar, and you can say the same about Tarantino, when you look back on their films, you can see how their passion for films has been key for their cinema, how they couldn’t have made the cinema they have without that passion

Yes, you know I used to say that three of the greatest directors of movies are Tavernier, Scorsese and Tarantino, but we can add a lot, whom we know, especially Pedro Almodóvar. Almodóvar is really a great cinephile. And it’s always very interesting to talk with him about cinema. He reads everything, even about his own films, and he is very, very close to our world. And of course he is one of the greatest directors in the world, but he is still…before Cannes he’ll call and say “O.K., talk to me about the selection. What do you think? I can’t wait to see that film. He likes to call me for that.

In Pedro’s case, much of his enjoyment of life as he grew up was catching films that transported him to another world

Yes, I think that someone has to write a book about loneliness and the passion of cinema, because a lot of people Quentin, like Pedro, like Guillermo del Toro, when they grew up, they put their energy and their desire into cinema, and with good results. Bertrand Tavernier, as well, was a child who was a little bit alone, so he became a movie buff.

In Pedro Almodóvar’s case he could escape Franco’s Spain…

Pedro’s love of cinema existed at a time when being a movie buff was rare. All the great Spanish directors before him tried to be artists despite the Francoist censorship. What is wonderful iis of course that he started at a time, when Spain was very different, and we have a good insight into the movida in his films, but his films of today are totally something else. And he became a real artist, not the movida’s official film-maker. He is Spain, like Bergman was Sweden, like Fellini was Italy. That’s why he deserves a special award.

One of the most obvious evolutions of the Lumière Festival has been the launch of a Classic Films Market with this year a stronger push on documentaries on cinema…

With my experience at Cannes, I know how connected is art and industry, and how a film festival, even if a film festival was born for artistic reasons, must be a support for people who are involved professionally in cinema, and for us in classic cinema. We want to help them in many ways; that’s why one of the themes this year is how to be a director of documentaries about cinema because the market is not so easy and making a documentary about cinema is making cinema about cinema. I really love documentaries about cinema. But I’m not alone in that, watching interviews, testimonies, explanations, about what is cinema…

Could you suggest some highlights? Special treats? Hidden treasures?

One major highlight of course is Faye Dunaway. I like this woman personally, and she is the bridge between Old Hollywood and New Hollywood, between one way of being a star and of being a real actress, being open to auteur cinema. We also have the two big live concerts with “Nosferatu” and “The Last Laugh,” tributes to Murnau, of course all the events surrounding Pedro Almodóvar, Ted Kotcheff showing one of his first films, “Wake in Fright,” a great film, and people sometimes don’t know that. They think that Kotcheff is just “First Blood.” It’s our job and our passion to show these kinds of films. And more remake of the Lumière brothers’ “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon.” Last year the directors were Quentin Tarantino, Jerry Shatzberg and Michael Cimino. This year it will be Pedro Almodóvar, Paolo Sorrentino and Xavier Dolan.