The Cannes Festival begins with radical reforms
Plucky rebels are taking on threatening marauders at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and I’m not just referring to Solo: A Star Wars Story, which has its world premiere here next week.
This grand cinema event on the French Riviera, unveiling its 71st edition on Tuesday, is feeling besieged by the modern world and it’s fighting back, resisting some changes while embracing others.
At issue is everything from “ridiculous and grotesque” selfies on the red carpet to mean tweets by movie critics to sexual-harassment concerns to the existential fear that online giant Netflix is working to make traditional moviegoing extinct.
The selfie ban is perhaps the most visible of several moves by Cannes officials to bring more dignity and order to an annual event that sincerely wants to celebrate film but in recent years has found itself grappling with outside concerns — which this year also include the #MeToo and #TimesUp female empowerment movements, as the first Cannes fest in the post-Weinstein era unfolds.
As more than 4,000 journalists began pouring into Cannes Monday, festival artistic director Thierry Frémaux took the unusual step of having an impromptu news conference to explain multiple changes this year to festival protocol.
The selfie ban on the red carpet outside the Palais des Festivals is necessary, he said, because camera-mad people have been holding up the procession, sometimes by tripping and falling on the carpet as they take their photos.
“You don’t come to Cannes to see yourselves, you come to see films … and in a selfie people always look really ugly,” Frémaux said.
Cannes accreditation badges are being handed out along with a note requesting that no selfies be taken on the red carpet. “Offenders will be denied entrance to the screenings,” it warns.
Journalists are grumbling about changes to screening schedules that will have them seeing films the same time as all other Cannes festgoers, a move prompted by all the mean critical tweets from early morning press screenings in years past.
“Basically, as soon as a film is screened, the social networks turn it into confetti-like strips of rumours,” a Cannes communique explains.
Other changes at the fest are in response to global concerns, especially the still-unfolding sexual-misconduct revelations that have rattled Hollywood and the rest of the world since the previous Cannes fest.
As Sundance did earlier this year, Cannes has also set up a telephone hotline for reporting any acts of sexual harassment. Frémaux said the festival was “deeply shocked” to learn of the alleged rapes and sexual predations by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, some of which are said to have occurred during Cannes fests past.
Frémaux added that he and other Cannes organizers not only condemned Weinstein’s alleged behaviour, “we (also) questioned ourselves and our own practises.”
As a show of support, the festival is planning to have 100 women walk the red carpet on Saturday to “affirm their presence” not just at the festival but in the modern world, Frémaux said. But he’s still resisting using any form of affirmative action to increase the number of women directors in the Palme hunt — just three of the 21 Palme-nominated films this year were directed by women, and only one female-directed film (Jane Campion’s The Piano in 1993) has ever won the Palme d’Or.
Frémaux seems to have Palme jury president Cate Blanchett on his side. She told trade magazine Variety recently that the five women and four men of her Palme panel will be judging films for their quality alone, not for the “agendas” they might have.
“I can’t wait for the conversation,” she said. “Cannes is multicultural by nature, and my role is to respond to the work, not to agendas.”
Nevertheless, the betting is that Blanchett’s panel won’t be able to resist giving the Palme to Italy’s writer/director Alice Rohrwacher, a Grand Prix winner here in 2014 for The Wonders. Her new film Happy As Lazzaro, a fantasy about a time-travelling rural peasant, has the best chance to win the Palme, according to annual odds-making chart by British film critic Neil Young.
Then there’s the Netflix issue, which just won’t go away.
Last year’s grumbling about the streaming giant and its theatre-averse ways has become this year’s outright ban on Netflix from participating in the festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or competition, as it has doubled down on celebrating big-screen cinema.
Netflix has retaliated by pulling several of its films out of Cannes, including The Other Side of the Wind, the long-gestating final film by the late Orson Welles, finally assembled thanks to Netflix’s deep pockets. Both Netflix and Frémaux have said recently they hope to resolve their differences in time for the 2019 festival.
Some of the most-anticipated films at Cannes 2018 deal with issues of social ferment.
They include BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s return to the Palme competition for the first time since Jungle Fever in 1991 with the powerful true story of a Black cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. John David Washington (Denzel’s son) and Adam Driver star, and the movie is produced by Get Out’s Jordan Peele.
Another hot ticket for hot times is Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki, which will be part of the Un Certain Regard competition for films of unique vision. It’s the first film from Kenya to screen at Cannes but it arrives with a ban against screenings in Kahiu’s home country because it tells a story of lesbian love.
Ironically, there’s one participant in Cannes 2018 who might have been expected to cause a stir, but likely won’t. He’s Jean-Luc Godard, the octogenarian iconoclast who helped shut down the festival 50 years ago this year, when he and coalition of filmmakers, students and workers protested what they called the “bourgeois” nature of Cannes.
Godard’s back in the Palme contest with The Image Book, another of his cinema-as-poetry statements, and he told Frémaux he’s just happy to be here.