Walking into an impromptu press conference Monday, Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux looked stunned to be greeted with an ovation from journalists. “I was expecting boos,” he joked, before addressing the controversial topics heating up the Croisette – notably, #MeToo, Netflix, selfies on the red carpet, press screenings, Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” and the small presence of American films in the official selection.
Hours after handing out some pro-#MeToo flyers to participants, Fremaux talked at length about the festival’s stance towards women. He confirmed the creation of a hotline (email and phone number) for festival-goers who experience or witness sexual harassment and abuse, and addressed the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
“As soon as tomorrow we will set up a phone number and an email address so that festival attendees, women and men, will be able to reach out. There will be a team in charge of receiving the information,” Fremaux said.
“It’s not just the Cannes Film Festival which has changed since the Weinstein scandal; it’s the whole world,” he added. “After the revelations, we immediately issued a release to express our surprise because we didn’t know – the police knew but we didn’t – [and to] condemn [Weinstein’s alleged actions] and express our solidarity with the victims.”
Fremaux said Cannes took time to brainstorm with associations and artists in order to determine which initiatives made sense to launch months after the scandal broke.
He also repeated his previous assertion that Cannes is taking measures to improve the gender ratio on its selection committees. Only three films in competition this year were directed by women. “We’re doing our best to ensure that the selection is well-balanced and diverse,” Fremaux said.
He said that women-directed films account for about 20% to 23% of the films playing at the festival, which far exceeds the 7% of women-directed films globally. Fremaux also cited several events promoting women, including its Women in Motion joint initiative with Kering.
On Saturday evening, about 100 women – from filmmakers to actresses – will walk up the red carpet. On Sunday morning, there will be a meeting with the culture ministers of France and Sweden. And on Monday there will be panels hosted by French feminist organizations, Les Temps Changent and 5050 for 2020.
He defended his decision to scrap morning press screenings ahead of gala premieres and to impose long post-screening embargoes on reviews of films that screen at 10 p.m. and midnight. Fremaux acknowledged that some critics and journalists will have access to films ahead of their official screenings anyway. “The reviews are going to pop up,” he said. “For sure, there’s going to be some wrestling with these embargo issues.”
Fremaux blamed the minor presence of U.S. filmmakers at Cannes on Americans’ emphasis on the Oscars. “The French are more and more obsessed with Cannes, and Americans are more and more obsessed with the Oscars,” he said.
Citing Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” which competed in 2003 and won two Academy Awards the following year, Fremaux said it was perfectly possible for a film to open in Cannes and be nominated for Oscars months later. And there are always “about three films from Cannes” nominated for the foreign-language Oscar, he said.
Fremaux also commented on the festival’s highly publicized dispute with Netflix, whose films Cannes has effectively banned from competition. “Last year it was Episode 1 of the saga,” he said. “This year is Episode 2, and next year will be Episode 3.”
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings “recently said, ‘We should have been more diplomatic and respectful,’ and I believe so,” said Fremaux, adding that Netflix-backed “The Other Side of the Wind,” by Orson Welles, could have world premiered out of competition.
Regarding his ban on selfies on the red carpet, Fremaux said it was “grotesque to give so much importance” to the issue. He said selfies slowed down traffic on the red carpet, “and people fall down the stairs because they’re looking at their cell phones. Plus, you don’t come to Cannes to be seen, but to see” people and movies.
As for the festival’s closing film, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” Fremaux said that a French court ruling which will determine if the film can be showed at Cannes is expected to be issued Wednesday afternoon.