Thierry Frémaux, artistic director of the Cannes Film Festival, opened up about his discussions with Netflix and the challenges of holding the festival during the pandemic in a pre-festival press conference on Monday.
Answering repeated questions about the streaming giant, which does not have a presence at the festival, from the assembled phalanx of global journalists, Frémaux spoke passionately about the history of cinema and whether streaming platforms represent an existential crisis.
“2019 was a great year for films,” said Frémaux. “2020 was the most disastrous year in the history of the cinema. Movie theatres had never closed around the world for such a long time. Every time the cinema has had to contend with a new technology – TV, video, the internet – the cinema was there. And it defended itself.”
Streamers’ triumph, although “well-deserved” had come during a time when “cinema couldn’t defend itself,” he said, referring to the repeated pandemic lockdowns.
Frémaux was keen to point out that some platforms continue to buy and even invest in films in the traditional way. “Amazon co-produced Leo Carax’s film, Amazon is in Cannes tomorrow evening, and Amazon was there also for the documentaries on Val Kilmer,” he said.
“So work with platforms, it takes place in a very natural way, just as work with TV. The only thing is that we have a rule, namely, films in competitions have to be released in French movie theatres,” he explained. “It’s not a very difficult rule to abide by. But Netflix does not want to abide by that rule, it doesn’t want to come out of competition – I invited them – and we talk a lot together as friends. I hope I’ll convince them one day.”
While he praised Netflix originals, including “Mank” and “The Irishman,” Frémaux pointed out the company’s output was built on the shoulders of cinematic giants. “The work is outstanding,” he said. “Ted Sarandos, Scott Stuber, they’re people who started their career in the cinema, and obviously Netflix has gained a huge foothold because they engage people who work in the cinema.”
“What directors have been discovered by [streaming] platforms?” he replied to a second journalist who questioned him about streamers. “I was asking one question: give me a name of a director discovered by some platforms?”
“Not yet,” the journalist demurred.
“Not yet,” Frémaux repeated. “We just celebrated last year the 125 years of the invention of cinema. So platforms, it’s, let’s say, 10 years? So let’s see, in more than one century, [if] we will celebrate those platforms. And for now, the platforms, they are they are recruiting only filmmakers coming from cinema: Jane Campion, Quentin Tarantino, Andrew Dominik, David Fincher.”
“And I’m not saying that against the platforms,” he said. “I’m saying that because we – the Cannes Film Festival, the other festivals – our mission is to discover, is to put new names on the maps. And it’s what we do. So I’m not sure that even Netflix or whoever, they can skip the Cannes Film Festival.”
He also noted that other film festivals “open their doors a bit too widely, perhaps, to people who we’re not sure about. We’re not absolutely sure that they really want the cinema to survive.”
Frémaux also spoke of the challenges Cannes had faced in going ahead amidst the ongoing pandemic. “For us, we organisers we’re not here for us,” he said. “It’s for the cinema, for artists, for professionals, the press, the city of Cannes, which was really hurt.”
He also pointed out that while it was disappointing not to have held the festival in 2020, “there were people dying. There were artists who here in 2019 and who are no longer around in 2021, so how can one complain that a festival was cancelled given how serious what was happening?”
Frémaux stressed that Cannes was abiding by all French COVID restrictions, including masks in theatres. Festival attendees without a French-recognized vaccine certificate are also required to get tested every 48 hours at the festival’s on-site testing facility. “It’s difficult to make exceptions for the Cannes Film Festival. We don’t want to look as though we were too privileged. Glamour doesn’t justify not abiding by strict health rules because of the pandemic,” he said.
And while festival-goers shouldn’t expect to encounter A-listers spitting into tubes inside the testing site, they can rest assured even the stars are required to prove they are Covid-free. “[They] have their own doctors and nurses who can handle the testing before they come,” Frémaux said. “For example, when they come for the photo-call, everyone’s tests will be checked, all the professionals’ tests will be checked. So everyone of course has to abide by the same rules. Festival-goers, the press stars, everyone is in the same boat.”