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Cannes’ Thierry Fremaux on Netflix: ‘The Door Is Not Shut’

Cannes Film Festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux has been taking the heat all day.

The official selection lineup, which he described as bold and full of surprises at midday in Paris, has sparked some criticism: for the lack of Netflix films, the underrepresentation of women in competition, the low number of American films and titles from established filmmakers. Add to that the voices of film critics and journalists complaining about ending morning press screenings ahead of gala premieres.

To be fair, the artistic director’s position towards Netflix seems to be much more political than philosophical. Last year, Fremaux had selected two Netflix movies, Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories,” to open in competition, but faced a massive backlash from French exhibitors, who are well-represented on the board of the Cannes Film Festival and control, in many ways, the local film industry. The exhibitors’ lobby put pressure on Fremaux to pull the films from the competition roster because Netflix wasn’t planning on having these movies play in theaters because of France’s strict window release schedule. Although the two Netflix pics remained in competition, the run-in with exhibitors led to the creation of a rule excluding films without a theatrical release in France from competition. One of the films affected by the rule is Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” which Fremaux said he had hoped to have compete.

Speaking to Variety after the press conference, Fremaux said that the discussion with Netflix isn’t over. He also said that at least two or three more films could be added to the lineup in the coming days.

Do you think you will find a compromise with Netflix?

I believe in miracles. We’re even showing a documentary about Pope Francis in the official selection (Wim Wenders’ “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word”). We’re having constructive discussions with Netflix and the door is not shut. I saw Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” several times and it’s a marvelous film and we wanted to have it in competition. As far as Orson Welles’ film “The Other Side of the Wind,” we were really eager to show the film out of competition. It’s a sad situation for everyone involved.

Some people are unhappy that there are only three films directed by women in competition. Granted, it’s still much better than Venice, which had only one woman-directed film in competition last year, but still, why did most of the films directed by women end up in Un Certain Regard?

Many of these films directed by women are first or second films. They are still young filmmakers, and I wouldn’t be doing them a favor by putting their films in competition. It can be very harsh. Remember what happened with Valerie Donzelli’s “Margeritte et Julien” in 2015? [Donzelli hasn’t made a film since.] When the lights turn off in the screening room, people don’t take into consideration whether the film they are watching is directed by a man or a woman. But if you look at the female directors that have emerged in the last few decades, they have all presented films in Cannes, apart from Kathryn Bigelow.

Are you against quotas?

I’m a supporter of positive discrimination in everyday life but not in the selection process of Cannes. Filmmakers want to be considered as artists. What I can say is that for the last four years, I’ve become much more concerned about the presence of women at the festival. I’ve been having discussions with intelligent women like Jessica Chastain and have listened to their advice about ways to improve certain things. We’ve started paying more attention to the gender ratio on our selection committees, for instance. Right now, two out of the three committees have as many women as men.

Since so many well-known directors (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Laszlo Nemes, etc.) aren’t part of the lineup, were they turned down because they were not newcomers?

Not at all. We made decisions based on what we saw and some of these films were not ready. And while I’m making the selection, some films are being chased by other festivals.

What is it about “Yomeddine,” the only feature debut selected for the competition this year, that you liked so much?

It’s truly a cinematic film. It reminded me of a Italian neorealist film. It sheds light on the depths of Egypt. It’s a unique and poetic work of art. And as many films do, it enlightens us by pondering on who we are, who are the others, what the world is like.

The lineup is so thin on American films this year. Why is that?

As you may have heard, many filmmakers are aiming for a fall release strategy so they are opting for fall festivals because of the timing with the Oscars. And I regret it because I’m a lover of American cinema and American cinema is part of Cannes’ history. We also decided this year to not show any films from Sundance or other festivals because we wanted to have only world premieres.

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