Three years after highly public protests and walkouts at its 2020 ceremony, the César awards’ new leadership team is looking to modernise the event in a rapidly changing industry.

The Revelations dinner used social media to give the public access to what was traditionally a closed event

Source: Leila Graindorge

The Revelations dinner used social media to give the public access to what was traditionally a closed event

Before there was the Oscars slap, there was the infamous 2020 César awards ceremony in Paris, which saw protests, walkouts and a subsequent ousting of France’s Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques longtime president Alain Terzian, the resignation of the entire board and a complete overhaul of membership. The organisation, established in 1975, has been working hard ever since to both honour its coveted traditions and revamp its image to embrace a rapidly changing industry concerned with inclusivity.

Along with president Véronique Cayla and vice-president Patrick Sobelman, the academy hired industry veteran Grégory Caulier to take over as general delegate in late 2021. He got on board, he says, “to develop what had already been done and also invent new things coming out of what were a few tumultuous years”.

Gregory Caulier

Source: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

Gregory Caulier

In the midst of both a global pandemic and the #MeToo movement, “the idea was to rewrite the story and keep the academy moving in the same direction as the rest of the world”, he adds.

The academy has made an effort to publicly disassociate itself with the troubles of its past. In November, it jettisoned Forever Young actor Sofiane Bennacer from Revelations, the shortlist for best newcomer at the César Awards, following allegations of rape and violent assault, which he has denied. In January, the academy went further and barred anyone under investigation for sexual misconduct from attending the 2023 ceremony and its related events.

However, the late January nominations for this year’s awards (which will be held on February 24) ruffled feathers once again, when no female directors earned a spot in the best directing category and just one made it to the best film category, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi for Forever Young. This is despite festival and box office success for many women filmmakers in the past year and the fact some 44% of César voters are now women. (It is a number the academy hopes will reach 50% soon.) Only one woman has ever been named best director — Tonie Marshall for Venus Beauty Institute in 2000.

Caulier says he too is “disappointed” and emphasises the academy is not “part of the votes… It is democracy at work and sometimes it is surprising or disappointing.”

There is no campaigning as such to win a César. Unlike the Oscars or Baftas that require category entries and formal pre-awards campaigns with strict protocols, the first-round votes are based on a longlist of eligible titles using criteria based around the CNC’s definition of what qualifies as a French feature film.

This year 260 films were eligible for the first vote and, of the 4,705 members, about 68% voted, on par with the previous year. In 2022, around 79% voted in the final awards and organisers hope participation will reach that level as a minimum this year. Two years ago the Academy scrapped DVD bundles sent to voters, launching instead a viewing platform to maximise exposure for all of the eligible titles. The update is key for ensuring voters have seen all or most of the films.

“Long before the announcement, we asked, ‘What if only men are nominated?’” Caulier explains. “We can’t influence voters. However, we can exchange, discuss and figure out how we can progress and evolve.

“Things are moving forward,” he maintains, and points to the 10 women directors nominated in the short film category and the best debut feature category, which includes a majority of female filmmakers.

“I’m optimistic and it is good news for the years ahead,” he says. For now, he continues, the academy’s job is to “stay calm and keep working”.

“We are conscious of the politics of our world and we are always questioning ourselves. Staying relevant means constantly adapting. Sometimes we make mistakes, but we are working to push things forward. We will never satisfy everyone, but we are putting all of our energy into it.” Caulier works closely with Cayla, Sobelman and a team of around a dozen year-round employees, taking a collaborative approach to management. “We’re not locked up in an ivory tower,” he says. “There are more meetings, more debates.”

He adds that the controversies did “allow us to constantly question ourselves and our mission. Debate generates reflection. We work all year long on these issues, not just right before the ceremony.”

Audience ties

The academy had been accused of being insular and out of touch with audiences. Ratings for the ceremony televised live on Canal+ have lagged over the past few years.

Caulier says the “new” academy is ramping up efforts to “create ties with audiences”, particularly when it comes to the ceremony. This year will feature more behind-the-scenes footage on social media thanks to newly hired media agency Ola! Communication, which has helped to bring the organisation’s Instagram following to more than 51,500 followers.

Part of its strategy has been to allow the public glimpses, through video posts, into what have traditionally been private events, such as the Revelations dinner (see above) with its line-up of new talents. Indeed, the Revelations programme exemplifies the investment in future generations of which Caulier and his team are very proud.

On the new audiences side, Caulier points to César des Lycéens, spearheaded by Cayla, in which Parisian high-school students choose the best film of the year, complete with a ceremony and screenings for thousands of young people. It is hoped the initiative will be rolled out beyond Paris soon.

In an attempt to coax that coveted young audience to switch on for the ceremony, popular actor Tahar Rahim (The Mauritanian, The Serpent) is presiding over the event, with a diverse, but as yet undisclosed, group of nine other stars. The academy is also working to celebrate more of the less-publicised aspects of filmmaking with a César & Techniques prize, the Daniel Toscan du Plantier award for top producer and a new brunch event starting this year to honour short filmmakers.

Caulier hopes the ceremony will help to keep the spark of cinema alive for both audiences — who will see several box-office success stories vie for awards, including Cédric Jimenez’s November and Cédric Klapisch’s Rise — and the industry. “I get the feeling from the professionals I’ve been talking to that the industry is particularly revved up for this year’s competition,” Caulier says.

“When I was a kid, no-one in my family worked in the film industry,” he adds. “All I had was my TV set to watch the César awards and I looked on with stars in my eyes. We want to create the same magic, and also give people a good reason to return to movie theatres.”