Thierry Fremaux steers Cannes in bold new direction
He has drawn raves since taking over from Gilles JacobPARIS -- In 2001, the Festival de Cannes' newly appointed artistic director arrived on the Croisette with a giant green ogre in tow. The bold inclusion of "Shrek" In Competition was an early sign of the kind of changes Thierry Fremaux had in mind for Europe's premier film event.
It simultaneously signaled renewed openness toward Hollywood fare and the new festival selector's wish to mix things up a little with an irreverently funny animated family film among auteur titles from the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Shohei Imamura.
Seven years later, Fremaux has cemented his place as successor to the venerable fest
president Gilles Jacob with a promotion to general delegate, a post Jacob held for 25 years. For Veronique Cayla, head of France's Center National de la Cinematographie, this marks a key point in the festival's evolution. "At the end of last year, Gilles considered that Thierry had all the necessary competence to assume full responsibility for the selection and become full-blown general delegate. It's an important moment in the history of the festival. Now there is a guaranteed continuity in what is a key area for any festival: the film selection," says Cayla, who previously worked alongside Fremaux as managing director of Cannes.
"Thierry's inherited one of the greatest jobs on the planet and one of the most difficult," adds Jim Gianopulos, co-chairman of Fox, which has showcased titles such as 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand" and 2005's "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" in Cannes. "I think Gilles did an excellent job for many years in maintaining the enormous influence of the festival, and Thierry has done a brilliant job working with him over the past years as he gradually emerged in his own right. I think he's going to be a fantastic director of the festival and will leave a great legacy."
Fremaux is this year presenting his eighth Cannes lineup, the first three of which he says were composed as an apprenticeship under the guidance of Jacob. So just how has the Festival de Cannes evolved since the new boy has been on the scene? Francois Ivernel, managing director of U.K. and French operations for film group Pathe, says Fremaux has triumphed because his temperament is perfectly suited to the position. "His personality is marvelously well adapted to his role," he says. "He has taste, he has human warmth, and he's a brilliant public speaker. It's an extremely difficult role with lots of pressure. But
Thierry is an excellent diplomat, and he knows how to explain his decisions to people even when he doesn't select their films."
"The festival needed some freshening up after all those years under Gilles Jacob, and Thierry has done a very good job. He has brought in new ideas, and not just relied on the sacred cows. You need to keep a festival flexible. Cannes has taken off its tie and become a bit less formal," says one European-based critic and Cannes veteran. For others, the jury is still out: "Gilles Jacob was an exemplary director general. This will be the first year that Fremaux has full powers and his job is not on the line. We'll see from now on if he merits the legacy of Jacob," says one Gallic producer.
Fremaux himself says that ringing the changes was part of his brief from the outset. "The idea from the start -- in agreement with Gilles -- was to make the festival evolve, so there was already a wish to make that happen. A major institution like Cannes has to show that it can grasp change, whilst staying true to itself," he says. "There was a desire to demonstrate that Cannes could take risks, that it was open to new ideas, that anything is possible. In short, to show that Cannes was still able to create surprises, so we did it with animation. But 'Shrek' was also a very good film, and it absolutely deserved its place In Competition at Cannes."
In addition to animation, Fremaux also gave some high-profile space to documentaries, notably to Michael Moore, whose "Fahrenheit 9/11" scooped the Palme d'Or in 2004. "The idea with both documentary and animation was that by showing them, it opened doors," Fremaux says. "And my biggest satisfaction is that festivalgoers, industry professionals and journalists all accepted it."
Another innovation he points to is the introduction of genre cinema, a move that took the fest away from its strictly art house roots and into a more contemporary, democratic pop culture age where '70s trash cinema is as revered as the French New Wave. "The idea is that any kind of cinema is possible at Cannes," Fremaux declares. "Before, we were perhaps in a solely 'auteurist' conception. I still consider myself a cinema historian, and there's no point waiting 30 or 40 years before a great thriller can be considered a masterpiece. We should be able to classify it as such right away."
Then there's the delicate art of creating buzz, a talent that serves Fremaux well when he's attempting to pull off the kind of major event that keeps Cannes on the front pages. "I'm not sure that the 'U2 3D' screening last year would have happened in the past. I think that illustrates Thierry's understanding of what a worldwide publicity exercise it was to have U2 play live on the Palais steps," says Dennis Davidson, head of DDA Public Relations. "The decision to do it was made on the Wednesday, and we did it on the Saturday. Every single part of the Palais -- the security, the protocol, the seating, the technical people, the sound guys -- everybody was mobilized. I went for a meeting with 20 people sitting around the table chaired by Thierry and no one said non. Everybody said OK. I've never seen anything like it; it was absolutely spectacular," Davidson recalls.
Transatlantic travel was another area where a shot of renewed enthusiasm was needed, and Fremaux made it an early priority to bring the Hollywood studios back to Cannes. "Thierry understood right away that's what he could bring to the table. He has renewed links between the festival and some of the studios, and the results were seen in a just a few years with the stronger presence of American films," says one insider.
But that sentiment is far from unanimous. Some feel his selections have given too much space to titles from industry power players, often at the expense of the more art-house-oriented indie operators. "He's very attentive to lobbying and keeping the big corporate interests happy," muses one French distributor. "After courting Hollywood, he's cultured relationships with those who have the power in the French film industry -- Canal Plus, the big sales companies like Wild Bunch, the Artmedia agency, public television."
Indeed, cozying up with the Yanks has seen Fremaux draw some fire. "Some years his choices were incomprehensible," says one observer. A case in point: the 2006 opener "The Da Vinci Code," which was widely derided by Cannes attendees. "You have to say that was a shame. The presentation of a film like that in the opening slot doesn't exactly give a good image of the cinematographic art. But at the same time, it's very difficult to pass on it when all the magazine covers will be devoted to 'Da Vinci Code' and not to Cannes," a French industry insider comments.
But Fox's Gianopulos defends Fremaux's inclusive view of world cinema.
"One of the things that Thierry clearly understands is that popular culture in film has a very clear and important role within the festival, and no one needs to apologize for that," Gianopulos says. "If you look back on the festival from the earliest days, there was always the component of the entertainment film, and along with it, Kurosawa and Godard and incredibly brilliant cinematic voices, and they always managed to coexist. I think Thierry has effectively used the Out of Competition category to profile films that are not intended to be viewed as critics' darlings but nevertheless are enormously successful around the world. And certainly Cannes provides a tremendous launching pad for films that are in the right release window. It can truly put a film on the world stage."
Indeed, "Da Vinci's" ill-starred outing on the Croisette did nothing to dampen the movie's international appeal, but other films have not escaped so unfazed from the harsh glare of the Cannes spotlight. Remember 2003's "The Brown Bunny"?
"Without giving specific examples, I think that our job is to see to it that Cannes benefits the films, that the experience of being in the official selection at Cannes is beneficial and agreeable," Fremaux says. "We have to be careful about overexposing a film by the simple fact of it being in the biggest festival in the world. I've learned that well. It's not a matter of taking risks, because I'm quite happy about taking a risk. But if the potential downside is too great ... Cannes doesn't exist to harm films."
Fremaux clearly takes his job at Cannes seriously and will no doubt bring this same level of commitment to his new expanded role, which sees him take overall charge of the fest's running as well as the movie selection. "As the years go by, the more I have the feeling that Cannes is a collective heritage and that at base it belongs to those who make it what it is each year: the stars, the auteurs, the industry professionals and the media," he says. "For us, it's important to give the impression that although Cannes is in France, the festival is part of world heritage -- it's a collective world treasure. I hope people see it that way: that Cannes is worthwhile for everyone."
Stay ahead of the crowd with this guide to where you need to be and how to get there
Navigating Cannes might not be the most challenging thing in the world, but let's face it: You're probably tired, maybe a little hung over, it's hot, your feet hurt, a teenager on a scooter just missed you by an inch, and the theater you need to be at in five minutes is 10 minutes away.
To get you from Point A to Point B (or C, or D) with as little anxiety as possible, here's a handy bird's-eye view of Cannes so you can plan your travels accordingly. Just be sure to look both ways when crossing the Rue d'Antibes. Happy trails.
Click on map links to view.
Cannes Survival Guide
Want to make it out alive? Follow these tips ...
By Scott Roxborough
There are a few things you'll just have to accept about Cannes. Accept you will be robbed. Even if you escape the hotel room burglars, there's no avoiding the cafe latte and a la carte gouging on the Croisette. Accept you will get no sleep. There is no single documented case of anyone, ever, carrying through on that oft-quoted pledge to "have an early night, for once." And accept that, by the end of the festival, you will be utterly sick of foie gras, snooty waiters, thuggish bouncers and the entire worldwide film industry.
But given that, there are ways to make Cannes a tolerable -- even mildly enjoyable -- experience.
You don't know what separates true In Competition from Un Certain Regard and can't tell your Semaine from your Quinzaine. Don't feel bad. The selection for Cannes' sections, sidebars and special screenings seems designed to keep attendees off balance. Explaining why one film is In Competition-worthy while another is "just" a Critics Week title can be as complicated and as pointless as arguing with festival security.
But while there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to picking films, each of Cannes' various sections likes to cultivate a certain brand image. So to keep from confusing Directors' Fortnight with Critics Week with Cinema du Monde, just check out The Hollywood Reporter's Festival de Cannes bluff-it guide.
Click for here for the survival guide.
Quick: What's the difference between Un Certain Regard and the Directors' Fortnight? Don't know? Read on ...
By Scott Roxborough
The Gold Standard. These are the films that get the full red carpet treatment, the bulk of press coverage and the glory of the final prizes, including the ultimate kudos claimer and potential boxoffice booster that is the Palme d'Or. Cannes' selection committee reserves much of its prime In Competition real estate for its favorite directors. Folks like Michael Moore, Lars von Trier, Jim Jarmusch, Ken Loach, Wong Kar Wai, Nanni Moretti and the brothers Coen and Dardenne. But in recent years, Cannes has opened up to younger talent such as first-timer and Palme d'Or winner Cristian Mungiu of "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" or rising German star Fatih Akin ("The Edge of Heaven").
The In Competition lineup is typically a balance between potential crossover/Oscar titles -- last year's "No Country for Old Men" and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and 2006's "Babel" and "Volver" -- with the deliberately art house and experimental: Naomi Kawase's plodding but poetic "The Mourning Forest" (2007) or Carlos Reygadas' sexually explicit narrative patchwork "Battle in Heaven" (2005).
And no Cannes In Competition lineup would be complete without the Grand Scandal film -- a movie that generates cries of "Merde!" and "Bravo!" in equal numbers. Ulrich Seidl's "Import/Export" (2007), Gasper Noe's "Irreversible" (2002) and Vincent Gallo's infamous "The Brown Bunny" (2003) are part of this proud tradition.
(OUT OF COMPETITION)
Fluff and Flash. Out of Competition films get all the pomp and ceremony without the burden of acting "artistic." The section for big Hollywood films (last year's "Ocean's Thirteen," 2006's "The Da Vinci Code" or 2005's "Star Wars: Episode III"), high-profile documentaries not directed by Michael Moore (2006's "An Inconvenient Truth," 2003's "The Fog of War") and new films by legendary directors somewhat past their sell-by date. You know who you are.
UN CERTAIN REGARD
The Trend Spotter. Cannes' only official sidebar, Un Certain Regard fashions itself the coolest kid in the class, with an eye to the newest, hottest trends in international cinema. This sidebar is big on cinema "schools" -- be it Danish Dogme 95, Argentine minimalism or Germany's heavily stylized Berlin School of filmmaking. Though the section has a cutting-edge image compared with Cannes' In Competition lineup, Un
Certain Regard films tend more toward the solidly art house than the out-and-out experimental. Last year's "Flight of the Red Balloon," "The Band's Visit" or "My Brother Is an Only Child" being prime examples.
QUINZAINE DES REALISATEURS
Hidden Gems. Set up as a parallel festival in 1969, the Directors' Fortnight has gained a reputation among talent scouts and acquisition execs as the place to find that up-and-coming Dutch director or French-Canadian crossover title. One has to sift through a lot of dense drama and navel-gazing documentaries, but the Directors' Fortnight always has a few surprises. Last year they were Lebanese hairdresser comedy "Caramel" and Anton Corbijn's Joy Division biopic "Control." Past gems include Siddiq Barmak's "Osama" (2003), Stephen Daldry's "Billy Elliot" (2000) and Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides" (1999).
DE LA CRITIQUE (CRITICS WEEK)
The Farm League. Restricting itself to just first- and second-time directors, Critics Week is Cannes training camp -- the place to catch tomorrow's superstars on their way up. The oldest of the Cannes sidebars, Critics Week can boast of discovering the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Ken Loac