Cesar Awards

Source: Auriane Alix - ENS Louis Lumiere for the Cesar Academy

The 44th Cesar Awards, 2019

Two-thirds of the 184 new members of the French César Academy’s first democratically elected general assembly have signed an open letter expressing their shock at the automatic return of 18 historic members, who include controversial director Roman Polanski.

Actors Corinne Masiero, Antoine Reinartz; filmmakers Bertrand Bonello and Catherine Corsini; producers Saïd Ben Saïd, Carole Scotta and sales and distribution professionals Daniela Elster, Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Mathieu Robinet, Ariane Toscan du Plantier and Agathe Valentin were among the 120 professionals who signed the statement released on Thursday evening. 

“We were stunned to discover the list of 18 ‘historic members (out of 45 members in the old association) who had asked to retain their mandate as a member,” they wrote. 

The 120 signatories of the open letter said they felt “betrayed” by the fact that they had not been informed of the list of returnees ahead of the elections earlier in September. They noted it must of been in existence from late July as this was the cut-off point for “historic” general assembly members to signal in writing whether they wanted to retain their mandate or not.

“It [the list] was never made public until now. This astonishes us to say the least. This lack of transparency is damaging. It throws-up a veil of opacity, which isn’t favourable to the confidence needed for this new governance. Why wasn’t this list published, given it was known, before the elections?,” read the letter.

It also expanded on concerns that the objective to create a gender-balanced assembly had been undermined by the fact that 16 of the 18 returnees are male.

“The APC was supposed to be strictly at parity but it isn’t any more because out of these 18 ‘historic members’, only two women, one of whom is the current president Margaret Ménégoz, wanted to remain a member.”

The signatories said they had considered resigning collectively from their recently-won general assembly seats but had decided against it. 

“Collective resignation, in our eyes, is not the right response. We won’t leave our places empty. We are deeply attached to the Césars and their mission which is in the interest of the whole profession,” read the letter. 

The signatories said they would be present at the vote on September 29 to ensure the election of a gender-equal governing body committed to putting in place the reforms being called for.

“We hope wide reforms that will make the Césars more alive, joyful, eclectic, open to the world and more representative of all the components of French cinema, in terms of its cinematographic forms, professions and diverse origins… We are the freshly elected members of a (nearly) gender equal and democratic assembly. We will make it live.”

The troubled academy, which oversees France’s César awards, is at the beginning of a reform drive, having gone into meltdown earlier this year following film industry outcry over its lack of transparency, gender equality and inclusion. 

The first step in this overhaul was the body’s first-ever democratic election of a new, gender-balanced general assembly for the Association for the Promotion of Cinema (APC), the not-for-profit body which oversees the academy and its awards, for a fixed two-year term. This assembly will now vote in a governing body on September 29. 

The 184 newly elected general members were surprised to discover on Monday (Sept 14), however , that they were to be joined by 18 unelected “historic” members, which included controversial filmmaker Roman Polanski and former César president Alain Terzian, who resigned under a cloud in mid-February.  They had been given the option to return under existing statutes of the APC which remain legally binding for now.