The Cannes Film Festival invited eight male directors for an hours-long symposium on the future of cinema on Tuesday — a session that raised uneasy questions for those working with streaming services, and paid no attention to the lack of female filmmakers on the panel.
Moderated by Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux and Canal+ correspondent and festival associate Didier Allouch, guests included Guillermo del Toro, Claude Lelouch, Costa Gavras, Gaspard Noé, Paolo Sorrentino, Nadav Lapid, Mathieu Kassovitz and Robin Campillo. The directors were interviewed individually, with Del Toro present on stage throughout.
The session — which ran for two and a half hours, with speakers remaining a mystery until the event was underway — is one of two forums about cinema organized by the festival. A second discussion will take place Wednesday afternoon local time.
When asked by Variety whether female directors will be present at the second event, Cannes confirmed as much but revealed little else. It’s possible the next session could be entirely focused on female filmmakers, though if that’s the case, it’s unclear why the festival would segregate its directors in the first place. (Cannes has a record, albeit paltry, number of women in competition this year: five out of 21 films are directed by women.)
Del Toro set up the conversation by saying that film, as a cultural phenomenon, “has shifted in importance and in the place it holds in the culture.” The future, said the “Nightmare Alley” helmer, will present itself “no matter whether we want it or not.”
“We can’t enshrine the past and grind to preserve it because it’s not going to hold exactly as it was,” he said. “We’re exactly at the same moment cinema found itself with the advent of sound. We’re finding it’s more than the delivery system — it’s the relationship with the audience that’s shifting.”
Del Toro revealed two of his most reviled words, which he described as “pernicious” and in need of discussion.
“There are two pieces of language that entered our lexicon around five, six years ago that are horrible: ‘content’ and ‘pipeline,’ which are to describe oil, water or sewage,” he scoffed. “Whatever it is, they don’t describe art and cinema, because they talk about an impermanence, something that we just flush through, and has to keep moving. And in my world, a beautiful work of audiovisual storytelling should hold its place next to a novel or a painting.”
And yet, ‘content’ and ‘pipeline’ are words closely associated with streaming services, with which del Toro has also collaborated. The director’s next project, the stop-motion animated “Pinocchio,” was bankrolled by Netflix, where it will premiere later this year.
“There are two sides to the equation,” said del Toro. “One is the narrative to the audience, and the other is the possibility to make the movie. I’ve been carrying ‘Pinocchio’ for 15 years.
“When I announced it, everyone said, ‘Consider it done! Come and take a meeting,’ and I would say, ‘It’s ‘Pinocchio’ during the life of [Italian dictator Benito Mussolini],’ and they would say, ‘Oh thank you.’ They’d validate my parking and out [I] go. And I got it financed finally in one meeting with Netflix. So there are certain things that are getting done. The fact is, are they getting seen, and how?”
Later, when pressed by Fremaux about working with Netflix despite trying to preserve the cinema-going experience, del Toro said it’s “extremely easy to polarize a discourse like that.”
“My first duty is to tell the stories,” he said. “If anyone can prove to me the production system before was much more ideal, open, free — fuck, try it, because you will lose. It is a false argument. The first duty of the filmmaker is to make the money, and if that’s a pension or a cousin’s money, you have to do it.
“It’s very important that we realize it’s not just one streamer anymore – Disney Plus, HBO Max, it’s a phenomenon.”
Italian director Sorrentino was also in the hot seat as he discussed his 2021 Venice-premiering film “The Hand of God,” which earned Netflix a best international feature film nomination.
“The movie I did for Netflix, it was a movie that had other needs, and in my opinion, it was good for Netflix, but it’s not something I mean for the movies to come up again,” said Sorrentino somewhat vaguely.
He later added: “I never see the streamers invest in the first movies of a filmmaker and I think they should, because a platform is a place where you can experiment. This is my experience when I look at the platforms; I never find that.”
Death of physical media
A primary concern for some panelists was the lack of film catalogues on streamers, particularly as the appeal and availability of physical media declines.
“When talking to a streamer, I would demand them to have a stronger catalogue of movies from other decades and countries,” said del Toro. “What if the next great movie in 2023 comes from a streamer and we don’t see it?”
“Vortex” and “Love” director Gaspar Noé also echoed the call for streamers to pick up more catalogues, because physical media is “a world that’s vanishing.”
“This world won’t be available anymore,” warned Noé. “You’ll only have platforms and they decide if the image is good and it’s for the public.”
Greek-French director Costa Gavras, an Oscar winner for 1982 political thriller “Missing,” was upbeat about the prospects for cinema as the industry emerges from the worst of the pandemic.
“I think the cinema has begun to reach the end of a cycle and that’s the case before COVID because everything had been said and been done,” he said. “The cycle had come to the end…COVID closed the cycle. Everything will be different and will have changed from before COVID.”
But it’s not only cinema that’s changed. So, too, have its spectators, said the 89-year-old helmer.
“I believe the new generation is totally different and we’re all different now. We approach cinema in a different way after COVID. We need to listen and to tell stories…Human beings can’t survive without stories; therefore, cinema will continue. Not in the form we know it, but it will continue.”