Cannes Director Thierry Fremaux Criticizes Women Directors Debate as "Fashionable"

Thierry Fremaux - 2018 23rd Lumieres Award Ceremony - Getty - H 2018
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The French film festival head said in regards to accepting Netflix films in 2019: "We’ll see."

Cannes head Thierry Fremaux came to the Rome Film Festival to engage in a conversation with fest director Antonio Monda about the issues that film festivals are facing today in a post-Netflix world.

Naturally the topic of women filmmakers came up, as this year Cannes had just three movies out of 21 directed by women, and Venice had just one pic out of 21, which prompted outrage among some in the industry about how these festivals are choosing their films. Many asked if there was some unconscious bias among fest directors or if they were truly welcoming women filmmakers.

“Sometimes journalists ask me if I’ll leave my place to a woman. And it’s always men who ask this question,” said Fremaux. “And those who talk to me about films made by women, because it’s fashionable, they know nothing about the great women directors in the history of filmmaking.

“It’s become fashionable to talk about it,” he said. “For example, 10 years ago they would talk about the Cannes Film Festival in terms of African films. Why should they talk about African films in Cannes one time a year, instead of year-round?”

As has become the standard response about questions of inclusions in festivals, Fremaux maintained that he chooses movies based solely on quality, also denying that he has a quota for French films. “A film should be chosen based on quality, not on its nationality,” he said.

Fremaux also harbored a grudge with those in the international press who said that Venice had a better lineup this year than Cannes. “It was thought in Cannes we didn’t have enough American films,” he said. “And if Venice had a great lineup, it was because they had a lot of American films. I’m asking, what is this obsession with American films?

"I think festivals should show the films of the world. I think that Venice is right to show Netflix films, since we have decided to reject them, and I think they are right in playing the American film card. Because the press internationally is obsessed with Oscars and apparently a night in March in Hollywood is more important than six months of cinema,” he said.

“Personally I adore the Oscars. I go every year. But as a selector of films, I have to get a picture of what world cinema looks like in the month of May,” continued Fremaux. “If you want Cannes to become an American festival, then let’s do it in September so we can show films that will run for Oscars. Why does the press want to synchronize our clocks on American films?”

Fremaux said that he does not choose a film based on whether it is good or not, but rather, “Is this film good for Cannes? It might be dangerous to send it to Cannes, so it’s better to send it to Venice. I’m not a film critic. It’s difficult to make a choice, for example, if you have an average film made by a very good filmmaker,” he said. “Sometimes something I rejected for Cannes goes on to win Venice. It has happened quite a few times.”

Monda asked Fremaux what qualifies a movie as a Cannes film or a Venice film.

“In Cannes, the press and the audience are much more demanding than in Venice,” he replied. “They’re very violent. In Cannes, you’re expected to show two masterpieces everyday. There are some films I really love and I want to protect them because I think they are too dangerous to show in Cannes.”

Fremaux also addressed the Netflix debate, which had the online streamer pulling out of the festival altogether this year after it was determined that films in competition must follow French theatrical window rules.

“No, it’s not exactly true that I took on a harsher position. Last year, we had two films produced by Netflix. This year, the board decided not to accept films that do not come out in a movie theater,” he said. “This is quite understandable, because on the board there are some owners of movie theaters and they’re worried about these trends. For me, I just invite films. I would like to invite as many as possible. And in 2019, we will see.”

Fremaux has said in the past that he wants to keep the door open with Netflix for conversations, but he acknowledged that the decision goes above him. “My answer, to be honest, is that I don’t know what is going to happen next year," he said. "With regards to Netflix, I would say that Netflix managers are very good friends of mine. They came to Cannes to see me and they wanted to come back. But they didn’t accept to have their films outside the competition. But [things like the Cannes competition ban] are all new things, and France is not a place where things happen quickly. It takes time.

“I think we’re experiencing a very complicated period. Of course the solution that we’ll find will be a complex one,” said Fremaux. “My job is to show the state of affairs and how the cinema is like today. Martin Scorsese is making a film for Netflix. Are we going to show that film?” he shrugged.