Cannes Diary: World Cinema Takes Center Stage at Academy Event

Dexter Fletcher, Dawn Hudson at Academy Member Soirée in Cannes - H 2019
Courtesy of Getty Images

Dexter Fletcher and Dawn Hudson attend the Academy Member Soirée at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival on May 17.

CEO Dawn Hudson and president John Bailey were joined by art house A-listers including Michael Barker and Pawel Pawlikowski to push their message that AMPAS, with its increasingly diverse membership and rebranded foreign-language Oscar — it’s now the international feature film award — isn’t just about Hollywood.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences CEO Dawn Hudson and Telluride Film Festival programmer Julie Huntsinger were huddled in the middle of the party, trading tips about which movies to see — Hudson had just caught Les Miserables, French director Ladj Ly’s drama inspired by the 2005 French riots, and Mati Diop’s Senegal-set Atlantique, and Huntsinger was talking up Pedro Almodovar’s personal portrait of aging and art, Pain and Glory, miming a tear falling down her face. "I got to see a Bunuel and a Renoir!" Hudson said, reveling in a rare chance to catch older films during a festival.

Often overlooked amid the latest head-scratching Nicolas Cage movie poster in the Marche, luxury brand-backed party at the Hotel du Cap or hurried dealmaking session at the Grand is the actual point of Cannes: to showcase cinema from around the globe. That’s also a mission increasingly important to the Academy, which held a gathering for members and filmmakers Friday evening at the Terrasse UniFrance.

The organization has been engaged in a steady push to internationalize its membership and its programming over the last four years. The Academy’s most recent class of 928 new members drew from 59 countries, and the group, once narrowly focused on Los Angeles and New York, has recently held member events in Madrid; London; Torun, Poland; and Morelia, Mexico. In April, the board of governors voted to change the name of the foreign-language Oscar to the “international feature film award,” in recognition of a fact Hollywood has been slowly coming to accept — that it is not, in fact, the center of the universe.

It’s a point Alfonso Cuaron drove home when he collected Mexico’s first foreign-language Oscar at the Academy Awards this year. “I grew up watching foreign-language films and learning so much from them and being inspired,” the filmmaker said at the Oscars. "Films like Citizen Kane, JawsThe Godfather." Cuaron’s message was clear: To call movies that aren’t in English "foreign" is to presume the primacy of English speakers, a fact easily disproven any time you try to order off a dinner menu in Cannes.

"Foreign-language makes them seem marginalized," Academy president John Bailey said at the party, explaining the category name change. Bailey, who has historically relished one of the Academy’s more time consuming gigs — serving on the committee that narrows down the list of potential foreign-language nominees — is in Cannes to receive an award from the French government. Frédérique Bredin, president of the CNC, will present the cinematographer with the insignia of Officer of the Ordre des Arts et Lettres on Sunday in the Agora of the Palais, an award that has gone to previous Academy presidents, including Walter Mirisch and Bette Davis.

The Academy’s party was well attended by like-minded cineastes in Cannes, including Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher and his wife, Lithuanian opera director Dalia Ibelhauptait?. Ibelhauptait?, who had seen the Elton John musical biopic several times in postproduction while Fletcher finished the film, described watching the emotional premiere Wednesday night at the Lumiere from a different vantage point. “I watched Elton watch the film,” Ibelhauptait? said. “For the last third, he was sobbing.”

Over asparagus risotto, prosciutto on toast and flutes of Piper-Heidsieck champagne, guests — including Cannes juror and Cold War director Pawel Pawlikowski, Birds of Passage director Ciro Guerra, Participant Media CEO David Linde, Paramount Pictures president of worldwide marketing and distribution Marc Weinstock, producers John Sloss and David Dinerstein and A Private War director Matthew Heineman — shared their screening plans and festival triumphs. Swag, including Academy-branded pens, pins and coasters, was arrayed at the bar.

If the art of international cinema was the reason for the party, business was also on everyone’s minds. Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker, attending alongside his co-president Tom Bernard, was raving about their new acquisition, Carmen, an adaptation of the Georges Bizet opera that will be Natalie Portman’s husband Benjamin Millepied’s feature directorial debut. “We heard the score and we were in,” Barker said of the project, which is scored by Moonlight composer Nicholas Britell and stars Jamie Dornan and Melissa Barrera.

Dan Krauss, the director of a documentary in the festival, 5B, about a San Francisco hospital ward that pioneered a new, more humane way of treating AIDS patients, talked about his film’s unusual distributor, Verizon Media — and an aching to get home to his kids after weeks of travel promoting the doc. Victor Nunez, a pioneer in the independent film movement who directed Ulee’s Gold and Ruby in Paradise, said he is in Cannes attempting to raise money for a new film — “I’ve been trying for three years now,” Nunez said.