Cannes 2012: Festival President Gilles Jacob Marks Anniversary With Intimate Doc

2012-17 FEA Cannes Gilles Jacob Brad Pitt H

Jacob (left) and Brad Pitt survey the red carpet in 2011.

"A Special Day" focuses on a day in the life of several legendary directors, including Roman Polanski, Nanni Moretti, Ken Loach and Claude Lelouch.

The Cannes Film Festival turns 65 this year and Festival President Gilles Jacob has been hard at work on a unique birthday gift.

After publishing a book of memoirs in 2007 titled Citizen Cannes, Jacob is back with an on-screen ode to his favorite film festival with documentary A Special Day. The film focuses on a day in the life of several legendary directors, including Roman Polanski, Nanni Moretti, Ken Loach and Claude Lelouch. Jacob followed around the filmmakers when they came to present their visions of Cannes for the festival’s 60th anniversary in 2007 for the collection of 33 shorts called To Each His Own Cinema.

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A Special Day will receive a special screening at this year’s festival to commemorate the fest’s 65th birthday party on May 20.

Jacob has attended the festival since 1964, first as a journalist, then working for the festival since 1976 without interruption.

Samuel Faure, in charge of partnerships for the fest, has worked with Jacob for more than 15 years and has a co-directing credit on the film.
“I appreciate him tremendously,” Jacob said of his long-time colleague. When Jacob began to edit the films, Faure stepped in to help with the computer technology, mixing and other production and eventually took on a bigger role.

Jacob said his goal in making the film was “to provide knowledge on the historical and human history of the festival, go behind the scenes, feel the intense emotions when so many great directors are together, a family ofcelebrities anonymous on the Croisette.”

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In his nearly 50 years in Cannes, Jacob has accumulated several fond memories,  including the fest’s 50th anniversary that reunited several palme ‘dor winners on stage at the same time and also the last time John Huston came to Cannes, “one of my favorite directors,” Jacob said. Jacob credits his worst Cannes memory for causing his current balding head: “1983: The year the new Palais was redone. It was ready too late, the lights and the projectors clattered mysteriously, we almost needed to stop the festival! What stress! That’s when I lost my hair.”

Despite his receding hairline, President Jacob makes sure to stay in shape in order to look and feel his best for his nightly appearance on the Palais’ red carpet steps.

He wakes up at 6 a.m. for a health breakfast of toast, tea, honey and fruit —  “An athletic diet,” he says. After walking for about an hour he heads to the office where all day long he welcomes foreign delegations, film talents, festival collaborators who pop in asking for instructions or responds to interviewers. Then he tries to fit in a 7:30 p.m. screening, though Jacob says “I’m often obliged to leave in order to deal with an urgent problem.”

He has lunch alone or “in a small group” then it’s off to the Palais to stand atop the red carpet steps to welcome that day’s film team. Jacob then hosts a dinner every night for between 60 and 200 people before going to sleep around 12:30 a.m. “no matter what.”

He brings three tuxedos to he festival, designed just for him by Agnes B. He needs his beauty rest in order to look dapper for the thousands of stars and guests who walk past him on their way into the Palais for the gala screenings. Yet don’t let his suave look fool you: Jacob makes sure to balance the glam with a sense of humor.

“The secret to Cannes is all about balance: for example, between art and commerce, between a vacation atmosphere and working hard. We work hard in Cannes but in a unique party setting.”

Even with so many hands to shake and people to greet, some lucky festgoers do leave their mark on him.

“The stars that impress me the most are the American stars because they know how to do everything: act, sing, dance, move, be active, walk up a staircase, in sum, a way of carrying themselves with grace and ease that’s unique in the world,” he says of his Hollywood heroes. If he had to pick just one favorite, it would be: “Dean Martin. Voilà, I like Dean Martin, especially when he’s sober.” However, he adds that choosing his favorite actress is too difficult a task: “Impossible. There are too many. But maybe Gene Tierney –  what a lady!”

On May 20th, festgoers will get a glimpse of Cannes through the eyes of Jacob and his filmmaking friends in A Special Day.

“’Special’ is the right word,” he says, “since no other festival is the same and there are always surprises, good or bad, that we don’t expect!”