After a relaxing two days sipping rosé in Provence with a good friend, it was a shock to my system to arrive in Cannes. The film festival brings a hustle and a bustle to this normally sleepy tourist town, with mopeds whizzing past the limo drivers who are battling traffic on their way to the red carpet. Critics try to squeeze around dawdling tourists on the sidewalks to get to their screenings on time. And street sellers are peddling selfie sticks right outside the red carpet, despite this year’s rule of no selfies sur le tapis rouge, merci!
Over the six years I’ve attended the Cannes Film Festival, it’s been fascinating to watch how it moves (or doesn’t) with the times. This year seems especially like a battle between old and new. Netflix has been banned from showing films in competition, due to not guaranteeing a release in cinemas in France. Cannes wants to preserve the theater experience, which is admirable, but streaming services like Netflix give sizable budgets to filmmakers to make the kind of original material the studios don’t anymore. Such as ‘Okja’ by Bong Joon-Ho, which played last year in Cannes to much booing of the Netflix logo. I’m doubtful Joon-Ho would’ve got a $60 million budget from any studio to make a film about a giant pig. And though I will defend the theater experience to death, Netflix has allowed more people to see these unique films, which otherwise would play in only a handful of arthouse theaters. And FilmStruck, who I am representing here in Cannes, is helping to preserve cinema history, by streaming hard-to-find cult films and classics.
Then, there’s social media and early reviews. Normally, the press in Cannes watch the competition films the morning of the premiere. This year, it’s changed, and it’s all a bit confusing. Press can see the film at the exact same time as the premiere, but in a different theater, and they need to wait until the red carpet has finished so they don’t start the film before the premiere. Or they can see it a few hours later, or the morning after. An email sent to all press said this was due to the fact that, “Basically, as soon as a film is screened, the social networks turn it into confetti-like strips of rumors.” And that it is impossible to enforce embargoes. Again, the why behind it is admirable. I understand wanting to save cast and crew the awkwardness of premiering a film to bad reviews, as well as trying to preserve traditional media, like newspapers. But social conversation has become part of the business. Better, I think, to try to embrace our new digital age than try to stop it.
Also, there’s the issue of director Lars Von Trier, who was named “persona non grata” in Cannes, after he stated at a 2011 press conference that he understood Hitler. That ban has apparently been lifted, with Von Trier back this year at the festival with his new film ‘The House That Jack Built’.
Most importantly, there’s the question of how this festival will change after the Me Too movement. At last year’s Cannes Jury press conference, Jessica Chastain emotionally summed up what it was like as a woman to watch the volume of films in competition. “I love movies,” she said, “The one thing I really took from this experience is how the world views women, from the female characters that I saw represented. And it was quite disturbing to me, to be honest… For the most part, I was surprised by the representation of female characters on screen in these films. I do hope that when we include more female storytellers, we will have more of the women that I recognize in my day-to-day life. Ones that are proactive, that have their own agencies. They just don't react to the men around them. They have their own point-of-view."
Flash-forward a year later, and there are only three female filmmakers in competition. In a surprise appearance for the press yesterday, Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux was insistent that Cannes is trying to increase gender equality. “We’re doing our best to ensure that the selection is well-balanced and diverse,” he said, saying films directed by women account for around 20% of the movies playing. It’s far from parity, but I was pleased to see Fremaux announce the creation of a new sexual harassment hotline for festival-goers to report abuse. This was in reaction to the news about Harvey Weinstein, “It’s not just the Cannes Film Festival which has changed since the Weinstein scandal,” said Fremaux, “It’s the whole world. After the revelations, we immediately issued a release to express our surprise… and express our solidarity with the victims.”
The competition may be lacking in female power, but this year’s official jury certainly is not. Australian actress Cate Blanchett is Madame President, the 12th woman ever to head up the jury. Which boasts a majority of female stars. Blanchett is joined by director Ava DuVernay, actress Kristen Stewart, singer-songwriter Khadja Nin and actress Léa Seydoux. These five made quite the formidable line-up during their photo call. And in the evening, more photos were snapped on the opening night red carpet, with the male members of the jury - actor Chang Chen, writer Robert Guediguian and directors Denis Villeneuve and Andrei Zvyagintsev.
But despite any push-pull between the old and the new, one thing is for certain: Cannes loves cinema. And while it can feel outdated, it is inspiring to be around people who still treat film as if it should be art. Isn't that a good thing, overall?
The opening night film is ‘Everybody Knows’ by Asghar Farhadi, starring Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. I decided to wait to watch that one at the press screening tomorrow morning. And so, after collecting my press badge and screening guide, I squeezed myself into a tiny space in a packed cafe to plan my week. Most of what I circled was from the Cannes Classics section. This program is actually a mixture of old and new, with the FilmStruck sponsored documentary ‘The Eyes of Orson Welles’ by Mark Cousins and Pamela Green’s ‘Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché’ mixed in with ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Tokyo Story’ and my all-time favorite, ‘The Apartment’. Sure, I watch that film multiple times a year, but I just can’t pass on the opportunity to see it on the big screen, complete with French subtitles. I mean, Cann’t I also stay in the past? Yeah yeah, I know, bad pun. Shut and up deal, Malone! Stay tuned…