Cannes: 5 Big Questions Facing This Year’s Festival

Cannes Placeholder Red Carpet
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Cannes kicked off Wednesday with the usual mix of bold-faced names, splashy gowns, wild parties, and an army of paparazzi on hand to capture the A-list action. But look beneath the the glamorous exterior, and there’s evidence of a movie business in the throes of change. The way people are consuming content is shifting, as are the companies buying films. The future is coming faster than many of the companies and directors coming to the South of France this week might like, but there’s no stopping the tectonic shakeup that’s transforming the industry. It’s evolve or die time. Here are five big questions facing this year’s Cannes.

(1) What’s with all the TV?
For a celebration of the big-screen best, there’s an awful lot of denizens of the small screen. “Twin Peaks” and “Top of the Lake: China Girl” will get splashy premieres at this year’s Cannes despite the fact that neither are coming to a theater near you. That’s led to lots of pearl clutching among festival traditionalists, but there’s reason to be fearful. In the past decade, television, not film, has been the home of some of the boldest visionaries. Will Cannes change its mission?

(2) Will Trump overshadow the great films?
The U.S. president is sure to loom large at this year’s gathering. His stances on immigration, women’s rights, and free speech put him at odds with the left-leaning festivalgoers. He’s sure to be a topic of discussion at press conferences and red carpets. There’s a danger, however, that he may end up eclipsing any of the parties and premieres with the wave of scandals buffeting the White House — from the James Comey firing to Russia intelligence sharing to calls for impeachment, there’s a new outrage seemingly every hour. Some are even hoping, likely in vain, that the current president will be a former commander-in-chief by the time Cannes ends next week.

(3) What Oscars hopefuls will gain steam?
Cannes usually unveils at least one Oscars heavyweight — so what will join the likes of “Foxcatcher,” “Carol” and “Hell or High Water”? The early buzz is that Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck,” starring two unknown young actors (as well as a supporting turn by the director’s favorite redhead Julianne Moore) is the one to watch. Amazon Studios, which is releasing the film, has already staked out a fall release date.

(4) Will Netflix Rule Cannes?
The streaming giant has conquered the festival circuit from Toronto to Sundance, but the South of France has been trickier. French distributors were so up in arms that two of its films were premiering here, they made the festival changes its rules to no longer accept movies that debut on a streaming platform. So this could be Netflix’s first (and last!) Cannes. How well the experience goes will depends on the critical receptions for “Okja,” a sci-fi epic starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton, and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” which already wins the prize for the strangest cast (Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller and Emma Thompson).

(5.) Wither China?
The Middle Kingdom was once a huge source of capital for Hollywood, but the Chinese government has turned off the spigot in recent months, limiting investment in entertainment properties. At the same time, ticket sales in the country have shown signs of softness. The fear is that the slowdown will ripple through Cannes, convincing Chinese buyers to leave their wallets at home and endangering the financial underpinnings of production companies and other players who depend on Chinese cash to make movies. As China goes, so goes Cannes.