Cannes: Thierry Fremaux Talks Netflix, Representation and Getting Tarantino in Time

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Thierry Fremaux

The artistic director also shot down comparisons with Venice and stressed his festival's diversity: "It's the duty of Cannes to have several different points of view."

Cannes topper Thierry Fremaux on Thursday unveiled his festival's 71st official selection, which will see a number of fest favorites returning to the Croisette including Pedro Almodovar with Pain and Glory, Bong Joon-ho with Parasite, Terrence Malick with A Hidden Life and Xavier Dolan with Matthais & Maxime.

The festival will open with a suitably splashy premiere — Jim Jarmusch's zombie comedy The Dead Don't Die, bringing stars Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop and Selena Gomez to the red carpet. The Elton John biopic Rocketman will also bring the superstar himself to the Croisette.

But some big titles that had been expected were missing from Thursday morning's lineup, including Justin Kurzel's The True History of the Kelly Gang, Robert Egger's The Lighthouse, Benedict Andrews' Jean Seberg biopic Against All Enemies and, perhaps most notably, Martin Scorsese's Netflix film The Irishman.

Fremaux spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about being "friends" with Netflix, getting positive feedback from Robert De Niro and the festival's place on the awards season schedule.

Several big titles that had been tipped for Cannes were not announced Thursday, notably some big American films. Do you feel the festival is getting less attention in the press if you do not have the big U.S. films and stars?

I'm sure that the festival gets less attention from the American press when we have less American films, but not in the rest of the world. I think the American people only watch the world from their point of view, but you know Cannes — and it's written in the rules of the foundation of Cannes — Cannes is about universal artists and about the world, not about only French or American cinema. Of course last year the American press decided to criticize Cannes, and we don't care. We do care about real critiques, because of course we are not perfect and can make mistakes or can improve some things. But on the other side, when you take some other film festival in the fall only focused on American cinema, I think it's a big mistake. I think the duty of a film festival is to not only to pick up films from all over the world, but to pay attention to them in the same way.

The legend of Cannes is made by American and French cinema — and by Fellini, Tarkovsky, Bergman — and it's easy to go back and mention these names. But we have them — the Bergman, the Tarkovsky, the Fellini and the Kurosawa of world cinema. So my job is to pay attention to them. And really, really, really focused on having Quentin [Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood] ready for Cannes, not because he is American, but because he is one of the greatest filmmakers in the world, because he is part of the Cannes family, part of the Cannes history. He is as important as Orson Welles was, or as important as Martin Scorsese.

But the feeling is that the big films are moving to the fall festivals and Cannes is missing out.

No. Things are moving to the fall in American cinema. Of course it's easier to be in the fall, but who can say that it would be better for Cannes to be what Venice is becoming, an American platform? Cannes has its duty to do. I accept it's the game and my friend [Venice artistic director] Alberto Barbera is doing what he has to do, being an American platform. It's not Venice's tradition — historically it's totally different, but it's what he's doing. We want to keep on and go ahead with world cinema. And for the filmmakers and the industry and the press still thinking it's important to be in Cannes because it's still "the place to be," with a certain taste in cinema. We have some mainstream films, and also some which are quite radical. That's also why you are in Cannes, to discover what is new.

On the other hand, sometimes you have an independent style of film with Jim Jarmusch [but] being supported by a studio. I got a text from Bob De Niro — he was very happy. Bob is part of the family, as well. He was, "Opening with Jim Jarmusch, what a smash!" And I like that because Jim came to Cannes with a very radical kind of aesthetic cinema. Having him at the opening has real meaning.

Did De Niro want to have The Irishman in the festival?

The Irishman is not finished at all. Bob De Niro is a fantastic artist and great person full of love for cinema, and I will say that any reason for him to come back to Cannes would be great, and for me to welcome him back would be great, but no, The Irishman is not ready at all.

But it's also a Netflix film, so it wouldn't be welcomed, I assume?

When we thought, myself and including Marty as well, at the end of shooting that maybe it could have been ready for Cannes this year, we started to talk about it with Marty and with Netflix, but Marty is like Fellini. He got the Palme d'Or and never came back once in competition, and that kind of film is more for an out-of-competition screening more than a pure competition screening. Marty didn't want to come to competition, so it would have been easy to talk about that with Netflix. But it's not ready, and it's really not ready. It's Marty, he takes his time.

Do you have continuing discussions with Netflix, or is that topic closed?

We talk. We are friends, but they don't have anything [ready]. It's also important to remember that it's not so easy to have a film in competition in Cannes. Last year, we had only two American films in Cannes. It's not easier for Netflix than anyone else to produce films which are able to be in competition, so they don't have anything this year for us. So we couldn't discuss anything because we wanted to be pragmatic.

This morning you said Netflix's business model is just not compatible.

Today no, with us. It's compatible with Venice or Toronto. Venice's strategy is to be combined with the Oscar campaign, good for them. It's not our duty, even if the film we had last year directed by Spike Lee allowed him to get his first Oscar. In five foreign films [nominated] ,we had three. … Netflix is an incredible company. They are really movie lovers, but they do something very new, and we preserve tradition. You need to have them, you need to have us. Netflix has its own model, but they are really part of the cinema family. They are like a cousin.

Would you welcome an Apple film?

It depends, we don't know much about their strategy. The rules are very clear. So if you want to [have a film in competition], you know the rules and it's not only the rules, it's a conviction. In competition, it's important that these films which are made for cinema can go to theatrical.

Do you have a relationship with Apple?

No, not yet. But again, I'm really interested in the States, but also what is happening in China. It's not only from an American point of view. I know perfectly well what happened in Sundance — the power of the platforms buying everything and auteur films going straight to the platforms, it's very interesting. But in France, in Europe, in China, in Japan, it's different. So my point of view is different. It's the duty of Cannes to have several different points of view.

This year there are 13 women in the official selection, and four in competition. Last year there were three. That's not a huge jump considering the discussions last year.

I'm still saying the same thing that I've said the last six, seven, eight years: Cannes and any festival, we are the last stage of that journey. The journey of having more female directors starts in cinema school and university, so when in the industry we have more and more female directors, we will have more and more female directors in Cannes. That's why it's very nice to have Agnes Varda on the poster this year, because she was alone at that time. She was alone with a bunch of boys — that wonderful bunch of the New Wave — she was the only woman. Now you have a lot of female directors, so you have more female directors in Cannes. But the rules are the same for men and women for young and old for European and Chinese; the criteria to pick a film is what we think deserves to be in Cannes. Agnes used to say, "I'm not a female director, I'm a woman and I'm a director," and she said, "Please, Thierry, never pick a film because it's directed by a woman, pick a film because you think it deserves to be there."

What is really interesting in the selection this year — pay attention to this: You have a new movement in Africa. You remember [Wanuri Kahiu's] Rafiki last year in Un Certain Regard, and this year we have the Senegalese film [Atlantique] from Mati Diop in competition. One from Algeria [Mounia Meddour's Papicha] and one from Morocco [Maryam Touzani's Adam] in UCR. We have more female directors than male directors coming from these areas; of course male directors exist, but it really looks like 50-50 or maybe more are talented enough to be world-recognized. We are very proud to have that image this year. To make any synthesis or any statement, you need five years. I think the evolution is really promising for the future.