Three weeks ahead of the much anticipated unveiling of the official selection, Cannes Film Festival’s director Thierry Fremaux talked to Variety about the festival’s new era, the impact of the Harvey Weinstein scandal on the industry and whether Cannes will take note of the #metoo movement in its lineup of events. Fremaux also talked about the “Netflix rule” and shake-ups for the upcoming 71st edition.
Are you planning to have any events related to Time’s Up or #MeToo during the festival?
It’s not the festival’s role to organize “#MeToo events,” because we don’t have the skills or the legitimacy to do so. We prefer to bring together all the initiatives which will be launched here and there at Cannes. We are having a lot of discussions, we’re exchanging thoughts to get ready for the festival. We are also considering our own practices. For instance, to ensure the gender parity for the president of the jury, or for the entire jury, (a parity) which has existed for a long time. We are equalizing the proportion of women staffing the festival and within our selection committees, which is important: last year, Jessica Chastain, who was on the jury, made me understand the importance of the “female gaze” during the selection process. She was right. We are also adding our voices to the fight for equal pay. These topics abound. The world is not the same since the Weinstein case; it has woken up. And it’s fortunate.
How does the gender ratio look to be shaping up in the official selection?
The Official Selection includes many films directed by women. In 2017, 23% of the films presented were directed by women, which is above average since women-directed films represent less than 10% of movies being made. But at the same time, there are more and more women filmmakers, in film schools, in universities, on movie sets. Jane Campion remains the only woman who won the Palme d’Or, I hope another woman director will succeed her. But the fight isn’t over: In France, Anne-Sophie Pic is the only three-star chef!
Are you considering amending the festival rules to include measures against sexual harassment as Sundance and other festivals have done?
Cannes cannot be a substitute for the justice system or police: There are laws against harassment and sexual assaults and we will remind people of them. But yes, we are thinking about communicating on a larger scale about issues of safety and good behavior, through education. There are many organizations which do wonderful work which we would like to promote. During the Marché du Film, for instance, the Swedish pavilion would like to organize a panel and we will support them. I talk a lot with French director Tonie Marshall, who is highly involved in feminist issues. What she tells me is essential. Pierre Lescure and I have also met with the (French) minister of equality between women and men in order to discuss our ideas. The Cannes Film Festival must be irreproachable on all these topics. We’re working on it.
Will the Netflix rule, in which films that play in competition must commit to a theatrical release, still be valid during the upcoming edition or are you considering revising it?
This rule was established last year. It’s now clear: Any film which is selected to compete will have to be released in theaters. Last year, I thought I could convince Netflix but they refused (to release films in theaters). That’s their economic model, and I respect it. But we are all about cinema and we wish to have films that play in competition get released in theaters. That’s the model of film lovers and Netflix must respect it as well.
But Cannes aspires to welcome all sources of contemporary creativity, and today Amazon and Netflix — and tomorrow perhaps Apple — represent something important. Especially because they work with brilliant filmmakers, some of whom are among Cannes’s returning auteurs. These new partners of the film sector have a very strong economic footprint. We will eventually come up with a good agreement. Because in order for a film to become part of history, it must go through theaters, box office, the critics, the passion of cinephiles, awards campaigns, books, directories, filmographies. The collective discussion in cafes, in theaters, on the radio. All this is part of a tradition on which the history of film is based. Last year, in France, the films from Noah Baumbach and Bong Joon-ho sadly didn’t really exist. They got lost in the algorithms of Netflix. These films don’t belong to the psyche of film lovers. It’s unfortunate because they are beautiful films. But eventually we will understand that the history of cinema and the history of the internet is not the same thing.
That said, Netflix is welcome at Cannes, outside of the competition or Un Certain Regard. We had a recent meeting in Paris. The dialogue continues and I’m sure it will be fruitful. They are very eager to return to Cannes and we’re very eager to welcome them.
Where did the decision to eliminate press screenings before world premieres come from?
Following the 70th anniversary of the festival, a new era was opening up to Cannes. We wanted to make several changes. This scheduling change was one of the most important: The planning hadn’t evolved for 40 years and it was time to reform it. We had one basic conviction: We would put the gala evenings and red carpet back at the heart of the festival. This is how world premieres become again… world premieres.
But I wanted to make one thing clear: we are not penalizing press screenings. This measure is not against critics but IN FAVOR of gala evenings.
Journalists will of course be able to write their reviews immediately, and not two days later, since their reviews will come out on the web. The “real” press and social networks, it’s not the same! I belong to the generation that respects the press and doesn’t think a tweet is the same thing as a serious article published by a critic. And I can wait 24 hours to read an article in a newspaper… in print.
Did you consult with producers, sales agents and filmmakers in France and overseas before making the decision? If so, what did you gather from these discussions?
I had discussed this possibility back in September, during the San Sebastian festival, and it was picked up by several trades. Therefore it didn’t come as a surprise. Especially since I talked about it at length with many journalists from all over the world during the release of the film “Lumiere” (a documentary which Fremaux directed) overseas. Some journalists are happy about the change, others are indifferent, and others are worried. On the other hand, I didn’t talk to people in the industry or filmmakers about it. This decision emanates from a long thinking process which we had with Pierre Lescure, the president of the festival, and with our teams.
As far as the ban on selfies, it seems difficult to enforce considering that anyone can take picture with a phone. How are you going to enforce it? Will people who take pictures be kicked off from the red carpet?
We haven’t thought out in practical terms how to carry out this new measure. Since we are not policemen, we will trust attendees and their understanding of the situation: Selfies on the red carpet, in a continuous and touristy way, are ridiculous. It tarnishes the quality and tempo of the ascending the steps. Some are protesting and commenting negatively but selfies didn’t exist 10 years ago, it’s obviously not the most important thing in the world. We go to Cannes to see movies, not to take selfies. My work and my team’s work is to preserve the prestige of the most important film festival in the world and when we’re standing on top of the stairs, we can see the vulgarity and the grotesque aspect of those taking selfies on the red carpet and that’s when it becomes a vast mess.
Will your partnership with Kering, which co-organizes Women in Motion, play a bigger role this year due to its focus on women in the industry?
We’ve had this alliance for the last four years — so we didn’t wait (for recent events) — we are organizing with Kering a series of events called Women in Motion aimed at reflecting the role of women in the industry. Each morning, during the festival, some talks are organized to allow participants to speak out, which is fundamental. Yes, we will continue this initiative.
Will the lineup include some VR? What about TV series?
We’re deep in the selection process and I don’t know myself (what will be in). But we don’t wish to create sections dedicated to TV or virtual reality. Cannes is a festival of CINEMA. Series are experiencing an unprecedented golden era and filmmakers like to direct them. So we have case by case, to showcase new works from big filmmakers who chose to express themselves elsewhere than through cinema. Last year, we hosted the extraordinary “Carne y Arena” VR installation from Alejandro Gonzales-Inarritu, as well as the new seasons of “Top of the Lake” and “Twin Peaks” — screenings which were milestones for the festival’s 70th anniversary. It also allowed us to welcome our friends. Inarritu, Jane Campion and David Lynch — not bad!