While the Cannes Film Festival is basking in the glory of having world premiered Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning “Parasite,” along with many other Oscar contenders, the fate of its presidency is up in the air.
Pierre Lescure, who took over from Gilles Jacob in 2015 as Cannes president, and is running for a third term, was perceived as a shoo-in for reelection considering his solid track record at the helm of the fest, alongside artistic director Thierry Fremaux. But rumors have been swirling in France about another candidate, Mercedes Erra, a top-ranking advertising executive, who is being pushed by the French government, according to the local magazine Paris Match.
Erra, who runs the Havas-owned French advertising agency BETC, is foreign to the world of cinema. However, she may be considered for this position by the culture minister as she’s a prominent advocate for diversity and gender parity, and the government is reportedly in favor of having a woman as president of Cannes.
Several high-profile film executives have reacted strongly to the rumor, and have pointed out that the French government should not have a say in this election, which is supposed to be handled by the board of directors of the Association Française du Festival International du Film, which brings together public authorities and film industry professionals. It’s the first time the culture minister has tried to impose a candidate for the Cannes presidency, according to an industry source. Jacob was appointed president in 2001, and remained in the post for 14 years.
The timing would seem odd for a radical change of presidency for Cannes: the festival has had two successful editions, which launched the international careers of “Parasite,” the Palme d’Or winner that went on to scoop the best picture Oscar and three more statuettes, as well as “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Les Miserables,” “Pain & Glory” and “Portrait of a Young Lady on Fire,” and the previous year’s “BlacKkKlansman,” “Capernaum” and “Shoplifters.”
Lescure, a French media veteran who co-created Canal Plus in the 1980s and currently co-hosts a popular daily TV magazine, has formed a solid duo with Fremaux over the last six years, and has given him the necessary freedom to shake things up at the fest, according to several industry figures.
Under Lescure’s presidency, Cannes was the first international film festival to sign the pledge for gender parity in 2018. Lescure has also been a driving force behind the partnership with Kering and co-organized the Women in Motion initiative, which was initiated in 2015 (two years before the start of #metoo) and brings together female filmmakers, and hosts panel discussions, as well as handing out two awards.
A board meeting to vote on the presidency is expected to take place in the next couple of months. Lescure’s second mandate ends on July 7, after the 73rd edition.