Cannes Artistic Director on Nicole Kidman's Big Year, Political Films in Lineup (Q&A)
"Cannes is a big house, and we want artists to feel comfortable in it," says Thierry Fremaux about the inclusion of television.
He's still promising one big surprise, but with much of the suspense alleviated after Thursday morning's big reveal of the official program, Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux addressed the dearth of big Hollywood films, lunch with Ted Sarandos and Nicole Kidman's big presence.
The lineup has a lot of political films this year, in and out of competition. Was that intentional?
Yes and no. It's not a statement; it's because the movies we saw and the movies we picked up have this kind of content. But it's not a statement from us to be very political. Pablo Picasso, who is one of the greatest inventors of form, one day he put his opinion on a canvas and that is Guernica. Sometimes artists want to talk about the world and what is going on around them. We have stories that reflect that.
[Cannes president Pierre] Lescure mentioned U.S. President Donald Trump and the uncertain times we are living in. You also mentioned Trump.
I mentioned Donald Trump because it is the theme of a film. It's not a judgment about Donald Trump, but it's a judgment about what is going on in the world, not only America. But we have the same questions in Europe. I'm not going to give you a personal opinion about Trump, first because no one cares about my opinion, but because it's not about him. The world is full of several subject matters. The tribute to Agnes Varda is about something internal in Poland. The work of [Alejandro G.] Inarritu is not against Trump and the wall, and it's about what has happened that people can't stay at home. It has been a subject matter for Mexican cinema, and now it is a subject matter inside Europe, from east to west, from south to north. Migration is not about politics — it's about economics.
Are you concerned the French election will have an effect on the festival?
No. In France, first we open the film festival 10 days after the results, and we are not worried about [the festival]. I am talking about the festival, which is my only legitimacy. Since Charles de Gaulle we have had the same fidelity, the same support to art and cinema. So we'll see.
Are you worried if Marine Le Pen wins it will affect people wanting to come to the festival?
No, not regarding Cannes. But we'll see. I think France is a strong country, and we have a strong public policy to support cinema. Filmmakers here in France and everywhere have a strong voice and have a strong tendency to facts and to express the world they want to exist. Cinema is still important 122 years after its birth and surrounded by new languages. Cinema will remain strong. Look at China — China is a strong cinema culture.
But there was a lack of Chinese films this year.
It's a young country. We have two dimensions: one very auteur, one very commercial. The way China is becoming a strong culture of cinema is fantastic. It's full of mistakes, full of mistakes we have already made in France, but it's good. My friend Jia Zhangke who is going to do a film festival there is fighting to convince the authorities that a free country needs to have free artists.
We've had a lot of Chinese filmmakers in competition. But to talk about Cannes, you need to talk about 10 years. You can't make a statement based on only one year. That's why it's so ridiculous at the press conference: "What about India? Spain?" I'd prefer someone to say, "Wow, there is a film from Slovakia." We are very happy about that.
This is the first time Netflix has had a film, though they don't do theatrical releases. Why did you decide to allow Netflix in?
We want to convince Netflix to pay attention to theaters the way they pay attention to filmmakers. The way they will help my friend Marty [Scorsese] to get his new film made is wonderful. I want them to take all this money and pay attention to theaters. It's really part of the sense, and the reason why cinema exists is to share something together. It's not easy, and of course we have a lot of affection for all parts of cinema. … But we have to pay attention to how the world is changing. Me and Cannes — we open windows and doors to any new experience and put it on the table and ask people to discuss it. You understand that I'm not making a statement about series, but David Lynch, Jane Campion — they are working, they are working! David went back behind the camera, which is great news. Please come, David. It's the same for Jane Campion. It's good to have them in Cannes.
When we spoke last year, you said you would not add TV.
No, we won't have any "TV series" section. But when I screened Olivier Assayas' Carlos, it was a film made for TV. When a [fiction] filmmaker makes a documentary, we screen it. Cannes is a big house, and we want artists to feel comfortable in it. I really want to share the experience of having David Lynch back at work. But I'm not at all saying Cannes is changing. I know there is a lot of pressure and it's good for the trades to talk about, but what I'm saying is it's a reflection of how the world is changing. We still have our convictions about cinema.
Have you talked to Netflix's Ted Sarandos about your position or tried to convince him to change his?
Sarandos — we had a very nice lunch at the Four Season in L.A. We talked about cinema, art, and we also discussed the rest. We are still saying in France and in Cannes we support cinema in theaters. So that's one thing. But we support filmmakers, we are a film festival. We will do something in Cannes with someone who has decided to change. You will learn about that.
You will have an announcement about someone who has decided to make a change?
Yes, that will come later.
There's a lack of Hollywood films this year. Was that intentional?
It's because there are no big Hollywood films. Dunkirk is not finished. It will come out in July. Valerian is not finished. Alien comes out before Cannes. It's timing. When films are ready, we have them. It was not a design. Of course I regret it. I would have loved in the 70th year to have Warners with Dunkirk, or Fox or Warners, Pixar, DreamWorks, because they are still supportive of Cannes. But we will have Netflix and Amazon, and that's not nothing.
And Roman Polanski's film?
Polanski's not finished. It depends on the work process. You know, Cannes, we are open to anything. It's not only about Roman; it's about some other filmmakers who are working as we are talking. I sometimes do that, and trust me, if I can do it I will. But for the selection it must be finished by the day of the opening, so we have time.
Nicole Kidman is in four films this year. Is that a record?
Maybe a record, I'm not sure. I also have to talk to Isabelle Huppert. She's also got a record of films presented in Cannes.
Did it concern you that Kidman is in so many films?
No, I don't care. When you cut the light in the screening room, you don't care who's in the movie. You just want to see the movie. You don't care about nationality, famous or not, young or old — you care if it is good or not.
Is it a way to make up for the controversy surrounding Grace of Monaco?
Do you regret selecting Grace of Monaco?
I never regret the bad reception of the film, which I think was not deserved. I never regret having taken a risk for films, because they are films I liked, films we liked. When you are the head of a festival, you must be generous. Cinema is my passion. Of course I was sad. And I can't understand why sometimes the press is so tough on movies. And they are tough in May and don't have the same feeling four months later, when the film comes out.
Did you ever speak to Kidman about the reception?
I'm not sure I want to talk about that, but we do have a permanent dialogue. She is an artist and was fantastic.
There are also a lot of new directors. Was that to counter criticism in years past that it is the same people year after year?
It's again coincidence. When you have the usual suspects resting, it's an opportunity to add some new names.
The poster has faced criticism. Was it photoshopped?
It's a ridiculous controversy. We got criticism from newspapers that do it. It's just when it is Cannes, anything can be provoking. What the artist who made that poster — which is great — did is what a graphic artist does. And he did it with Claudia's agreement. The original photo was not what we have, but a photo is a photo, and a poster is a poster. It was just a way to stir up controversy. Claudia Cardinale gave her statement.