×

Cannes: Thierry Fremaux on the Lineup’s Record Number of Female Directors, American Cinema and Political Films

The Cannes Film Festival has unveiled a lineup for its 72nd edition that includes some high-profile Hollywood titles, genre movies and films from 13 female directors. The official selection has been applauded by many for mixing established auteurs like Pedro Almodovar (“Pain and Glory”), Terrence Malick (“A Hidden Life”) and Xavier Dolan (“Matthias and Maxime”) with newcomers such as French-Senegalese helmer Mati Diop (“Atlantique”) and Ladj Ly (“Les Miserables”).

Cannes chief Thierry Fremaux sat with Variety to discuss the showing of political films, the presence of women filmmakers in the official selection and the festival’s relationship with American cinema.

Although this year’s competition roster is less political than last year, you have a few politically minded films, especially “Les Miserables” which is inspired by the 2005 riots in Paris. This year has been marked by widespread civic unrest in France. To what extent do you take into consideration current events during the selection process?

We don’t take [that] into consideration in an explicit way, but you know, filmmakers are citizens, I’m a citizen, and the moviegoers are citizens, too. That said, we don’t take a film for its topic. With respect to “Les Miserables” by Ladj Ly, I would place it in the category of an audacious film which has the strength to play in competition with a very contemporary and timely subject matter.

A political film like this one represents part of what Cannes aspires to be. But we also have films like Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory,” which represents a master who comes to Cannes to unveil his film. Cannes is like a big publishing house with several collections. One is dedicated to foreign literature, another to essays, experimentation, etc. That’s what we try to do with the competition, out of competition, Un Certain Regard. And this year we have a more balanced selection between masters and emerging filmmakers than last year.

There are 13 films directed by women in the official selection. Is that a record for the Cannes Film Festival?

Yes, that’s a record at Cannes. I believe that in previous years, that number never exceeded 10. But I continue to find it difficult to consider films based on gender. There are as many different kinds of films directed by women as by men. Justine Triet’s film, “Sybil,” which tells the existential crisis of a woman, could have been made differently by a man, but I’m a supporter of having women filmmakers express a certain artistic, creative and feminine sensibility. Some things are purely feminine.

Do you think it’s realistic to expect gender parity in the competition?

It’s a question that has to be addressed to the rest of the industry. Cannes is only at the end of the cycle and reflects the fact that for a long time – and it is absurd – our society has been dominated by men. It’s also been the case in the world of painting. How many female painters within the Impressionist movement? Hardly any. How could Cannes be the miracle of a potential parity if the film world as a whole has yet to accomplish it?

Do you think parity is also difficult to accomplish because the competition is mainly dedicated to established directors who have a long career behind them, whereas many female directors are emerging or have yet to achieve that track record?

If you look at Jane Campion, all her films have played in competition. And I would love to show Kathryn Bigelow’s films in competition. If Jane and Kathryn were making films more often and in the right timing for us, we could have returning women auteurs as we do with the male “habitués.”

Have you observed any trends with regards to films directed by women?

There is an exciting new generation coming out of the African continent and women are making half of [those works], if not more. We have Mati Diop, who is French-Senegalese; Maryam Touzani from Morocco; Mounia Meddour from Algeria. We’re sensing a simmering in Africa. Women are are driving it and Cannes is its arena.

Do you think the fact that the selection committee has gender parity played a role in increasing the representation of women in the official selection?

I had already made sure in previous years to have a committee almost evenly spread between men and women, and this year we only needed one more woman to achieve gender parity, so we did it.

You mentioned during the press conference that you might add a few more films. How many additions will you make?

There is room to add two or three movies [in competition]. We can go up to 20 or 21 films.

Are you still considering changing the date of the Cannes Film Festival?

Last year I joked, “We’ll schedule Cannes in September,” because people were obsessed with the Oscars. But that was a joke, obviously. Cannes is in May, and we do show American films, and we are still paying attention to the Oscars. This year, we are going to welcome John Bailey and Dawn Hudson [from the Academy]. John Bailey is going to be honored by the culture minister during the festival. We have excellent relationships with Jim Gianopulos at Paramount, who’s bringing “Rocketman,” [and] Universal, which is bringing Jim Jarmusch’s film [“The Dead Don’t Die”]. I just got a nice text message from Robert De Niro telling me that he found it audacious and great to open the festival with Jarmusch’s movie. And I’m crossing my fingers for Sony to bring us [Quentin] Tarantino’s film. We also have Warner Bros. bringing us “The Shining” at Cannes Classics.

There are way more American films in the official selection than last year. Is it just a better year for U.S. indie movies?

I love American cinema and there is no kind of disenchantment between Cannes and American cinema. We’re happy to show three films from young women filmmakers – Danielle Lessovitz, Annie Silverstein and Pippa Bianco – as well as Michael Covino, Ira Sachs. Cannes is showcasing new faces of American cinema.

More Film

  • Azania Muendane

    Locations Africa Expo Sends Message in Durban: ‘Africa is Ready’

    DURBAN–The first edition of the Locations Africa Expo and Conference was held this week during the Durban FilmMart, with an eye toward identifying and growing the opportunities to lure incoming productions to the continent. “Locations Africa is trying to service a need on the continent to discuss the physical production…on the ground, highlighting film commissions, [...]

  • The Lion King

    China Box Office: 'Looking Up' is Surprise Weekend Winner Ahead of 'Lion King'

    Actor and comedian Deng Chao underlined his enduring popularity with mainstream Chinese audiences, delivering a surprise number one hit in “Looking Up.” It scored $38.6 million in its opening weekend, according to data from consultancy Artisan Gateway, and displaced “The Lion King” from its previous perch. “Looking Up” is a family comedy about a father’s [...]

  • Unathi Malonga

    Report Urges South African Media to ‘Step Up’ Against Gender Violence

    DURBAN–In a country with some of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence in the world, South African media must step up and play a greater role in the fight against gender inequality and gender-based violence. That was the conclusion of a report, “Gender, Diversity and Gender-based Violence in South African TV,” that was [...]

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Leaders Approve Proposal for New Film-TV Contract

    The SAG-AFTRA national board has approved proposals for a successor deal to its master contract covering feature film and primetime television — a key step in the upcoming negotiations cycle with companies. The board approved the package Saturday with the performers union declining to reveal any specifics — its usual policy. The board established the wages [...]

  • Cameron Crowe, David Crosby, A.J. Eaton.

    Cameron Crowe on Why He Loved Leaving David Crosby Doc on a CSNY Question Mark

    David Crosby may or may not have stuck a joint in Cameron Crowe’s mouth the first time he ever met the future filmmaker, when Crosby was peaking with Crosby Stills Nash & Young and his interviewer was a precocious 15-year-old Rolling Stone correspondent. As Crowe said to Jimmy Kimmel the other night, “I remember it [...]

  • Mokalik

    Nigeria’s Kunle Afolayan: African Audiences Shouldn’t Be ‘Second-Class’

    DURBAN–A young boy from a middle-class home gets an unconventional schooling in the ways of the world when he’s forced to apprentice at a mechanic’s workshop in a rough-and-tumble section of Lagos. “Mokalik” is the latest feature from Kunle Afolayan, a leading figure in the wave of filmmakers revitalizing the Nigerian film industry. The film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content