Cannes Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux Defends "Regulars" Who Often Make the Cut

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Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux

"No one asks me about the new names," he said of a lineup that sees several past prize winners in competition.

Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux and president Pierre Lescure made their final decisions on the competition selections for this year's festival at 2 a.m. local time, just hours before they announced the lineup.

Out of 1,800 films submitted, only 20 made the cut for the official selection. Of those, many are from directors that have previously had features in competition. Such returning filmmakers include Olivier Assays with Personal Shopper, Pedro Almodovar with Julieta, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne with The Unknown Girl, Xavier Dolan with It's Only the End of the World, Palme d'Or winner Cristian Mungiu and Jury Prize winner Park Chan-Wook.

The star-studded out-of-competition films also feature familiar faces: Steven Spielberg's The BFG, Shane Black's The Nice Guys (starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe) and Jodie Foster's Money Monster (starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney). Woody Allen's opening-night film Cafe Society will be his 14th movie showcased at the festival. 

“Every film we pick up is because of the film and what the film means in terms of schedule, programming and selection,” Fremaux told The Hollywood Reporter. “What about the names people ignore? What about the Brazilian filmmaker [Filho Kleber Mendonca], the German director [Mare Ade]. No one asks me about the new names. We are not guilty to ask back someone like Sean Penn. It’s only the second time, and the last time was 15 years ago. So there are not that many ‘usual suspects,’ and we of course make efforts to put new names in the selection.”

There are new faces in the competition, including Mendonca, Cristi Puiu from Romania with Sieranevada and Brillante Mendoza from the Philippines with Ma'Rosa. The Un Certain Regard section boasts an impressive seven first films.

Jim Jarmusch, also a fest regular, notably has two films in the official selection this year — the Iggy Pop documentary Gimme Danger and the bus driver drama Paterson, starring Adam Driver, in a competition slot. The double bill is a reflection on the diversity of modern film, said Fremaux.

“Like a writer, he can do both a novel and sometimes reportage in the press," he said. "It’s the same expression and is part of the territory of creation. It’s good to have documentaries, because sometimes things can only be expressed by reality. I think we have to open windows. We have to show what a filmmaker can be.”

Fremaux addressed what has become a recurring question of gender balance in the director ranks — such a hot topic that the festival inaugurated the Women in Motion series last year to address it — by noting that this year’s lineup is 20 percent women. “That's three times the proportion of what it is in the industry,” he said.

Andrea Arnold, Nicole Garcia and Ade are among the nine female directors of the 49 films named so far. 

“To have more women in Cannes, we have to have more women in cinema. Cannes is not the problem, do not blame Cannes. Cannes is the consequence,” said Fremaux, noting that film schools such as NYU and Paris' La Femis now have an equal gender balance and that the equation will change as those students move up in the ranks.

He also said that up to four films will still be announced.

During Thursday's press conference, Fremaux joked that one of the additional films might come from Panama, but he remained cagey. He said that he had seen a film from Panama and that it was very well financed, but would not clarify if it is still in the running for one of the final slots. “It was totally a joke, but it was not. Mysterious,” he said. 

The press conference started with a protest against proposed labor reforms. Protests have been taking place nightly in Paris, and demonstrators held signs ahead of the press conference and spoke briefly about the government plan to reduce the unemployment budget by €800 million, which would affect film industry workers that rely on unemployment benefits between jobs. Fremaux said they decided to let the protesters take the stage. “The entire press was there. [The protesters] wanted it to mean something and to say something. They are part of the artistic process," he said. "It’s not my job to say if they are right or wrong, but they represent people who are part of the creative process in the French system.”

Twitter critics, however, are a different story. Fremaux concedes that the fate of a film is in critics’ hands once it lands in Cannes, and that the fury of tweeting out instant impressions has changed the game. “In Cannes we support the press, those that write an article, develop ideas and theories, that are fighting for or against a film, and you can’t do that in 140 characters.”