Thierry Frémaux

Source: © Jean-louis Hupe - Festival de Cannes

Thierry Frémaux

Fresh from today’s unveiling of the Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival, delegate general Thierry Fremaux spoke to Screen about this year’s 76th anniversary auteur-heavy Competition, making room for emerging voices amid the deluge of big-name filmmakers and what titles may – and definitely won’t – be added to the evolving line-up. 

Last year was hailed as the “Comeback Cannes” but as you said this morning, this edition is particularly “punctuated by great auteurs”. How hard does this make the selection process for you?  

The hardest thing is to say no. There are so many films that we love and we can’t accept them all. From a technical point of view, it’s easier. We receive the films at our office [in digital form] even if we [also] watch them on a big screen. When I travel, it’s more to meet people than to see the films like before. Thanks to digital, everything is easier. There are more and more films. It’s exciting.

How do you find the balance between veteran auteurs and up-and-coming talents?

Balance happens naturally based on the films themselves. When you look at the official selection in its entirety, there are more films submitted from unknown filmmakers than established directors. Ken Loach, Nanni Moretti, Marco Bellocchio – we know them, so they take up space in the line-up, but they are actually the minority. The Cannes Film Festival remains a festival of discovery.

Since Tran Anh Hung’s The Passion of Dodin Bouffant is about cooking, I’ll use a food analogy. Assembling the selection is like preparing food. When we cook a dish, we add more of some ingredients, less of others so that it has a certain taste. It’s about finding a natural balance between young filmmakers and confirmed auteurs, between generations and in terms of geography and filmmaking style.

You broke your record with more female filmmakers in Competition than ever. Is this something you consciously hope to do each year? Was it a response to past criticism or a natural evolution?

The criticism was unfair. Compliments would also be unfair. There is a real movement happening in terms of the position of women in film, especially in French cinema, but all over the world. I’ve said this from the beginning. Of course, Cannes sometimes wasn’t necessarily a reflection of this. Six films is a record – and there could be one more, we are going to add new things so perhaps a female director!

We don’t select films because they are directed by female filmmakers, we accept films because they are films. What is interesting is that there are new stories, new ways of filming, new ways to create characters. And that is exciting. In the 130 years of the history of cinema, it has been a mostly masculine field. Yet in the past decade and certainly now, it is clear that there are other ways of telling stories. That makes the future of cinema filled with promise.

Of the films you plan to add to the selection, are they films you have yet to see or that may or may not be ready in time or films you have seen you haven’t decided on yet?

Both. Some films we haven’t seen and some because it was difficult to choose so we wanted to take more time. Our eyes are still stinging because we’ve seen so many films, films and more films, so we want to distance ourselves a bit and relook at a certain number of films.

For example, notably absent from selection, particularly the Competition, are some of the most famed French auteurs such as Michel Gondry, Bruno Dumont, Catherine Corsini, Quentin Dupieux, Bertrand Bonello, Robin Campillo, to name a handful. Is this because there were so many to choose from that you simply couldn’t decide and they may still make an appearance?

That’s exactly it. There are some whose films we’ve seen, some who aren’t ready. Of the auteurs you mention, I’ve seen almost all of them. The Competition will include a maximum of 22 or 23 films, no more.

Why are French films always so fashionably late?

Because we have a very precise rule in France. To keep all the films on the same playing field, a film that is ready in January or a film ready at the end of March, in order to not give one the advantage over the other, we decide at the extreme last minute. The French films in selection for example, we chose yesterday.

So the final credits haven’t rolled on your 2023 selection?

There is a mini process of selection that we start between now and the end of next week. This year, the festival announced that the press conference would be either the 13th or the 20th of April. We decided on the 13th, with the idea that we’d add more titles, but there are filmmakers who said they’d be ready for the 20th not the 13th so they are still on their way.

Another French-language film is notably absent, namely Woody Allen’s Coup de Chance.

I haven’t seen it for the selection.

It was such a difficult selection, yet there are two filmmakers with two films throughout the selection. What is so special about these projects from Wim Wenders and Wang Bing that gave them pride of place over other submissions from different directors?

It’s the first time there are two filmmakers with two films. This means they are directors who are working a lot. It happened once with Richard Linklater who had a film in Competition and in Un Certain Regard for example. It’s like an author who releases a novel and also an essay.

They are two very different works. That’s what I love about cinema – it is defined by different forms and lengths. For example, Steve McQueen’s film is four hours long. All the films we show are singular works of art.

What is the difference for you between the various sections Out of Competition, Special Screenings and Cannes Premiere? For example why is The Idol, a TV series, screening Out of Competition?

It’s about the spirit of each film. When we experience the Cannes Film Festival, we know that some films are better in certain theatres or at certain times of the day. For example, with The Idol, we wanted to show it and then have a big party. Cannes is also a showcase for modernity. We usually show one or two series. Plus, Sam Levinson is a filmmaker.

What was the last film you saw before the announcement today?

The last film I saw yesterday before the announcement was Ken Loach’s The Old Oak. I hesitated, but because of him. He said to me, “You know, I’ve already been in Competition many times.” Then I saw the film and it was evident he be there. Wim Wenders too. He won the Palme d’Or in 1984 and he’s coming back. Nanni Moretti who was my first Palme d’Or – it’s a pleasure to welcome him. It’s also a pleasure to welcome Jonathan Glazer who is coming for the first time as much as I’m thrilled to welcome Ramata-Toulaye Sy.

What was the last film you saw that made you cry?

Martin Scorsese’s Killers Of The Flower Moon. It is an extremely strong film.

You seemed to hint that the film could still end up in Competition. Is this a possibility?

Technically and to commend Apple’s decision to release the film in theatres even though the film was selected out of Competition, I extended the option for it to be in Competition. I invited Marty’s film to premiere out of Competition since it was a film for a platform, that was already fantastic. Then Apple said that they would release the film in theatres which was also fantastic. So I said, well in that case, you are welcome in Competition, and now we’ll see what their response is.

I’ll respect the decision of Martin Scorsese and of Apple.

So is this a symbolic gesture to extend your hand to all films from platforms that decide to be released in theatres?

Films that are not released in theatres cannot be in Competition. All films from platforms selected in Cannes that are released in theatres can be in Competition. Then we’ll decide based on the quality of the films.

Notably absent from the list are films from Russia and Ukraine. Did you receive films from those countries?

Almost none from Russia and no films from Ukraine. They are a country at war, but we will talk to them moving forward.

In terms of the selection process, is there an advantage to sending films earlier than later?

There is not a good or bad moment to see a film. Sometimes they come so early that yes, it can be too early, but our main window of selection is after Berlin so between around February 15-April 15 our selection process enters into a period of great intensity.

What was the first film you screened for this year’s selection?

Anthony Chen’s in Un Certain Regard, The Breaking Ice. I saw it in September or October, but we only said yes a couple of weeks ago. I like to let the films wait!

Are there any films that won’t be ready in time?

Ladj Ly’s Les Indesirables is not ready. It’s disappointing because Ladj Ly is an amazing filmmaker. Jeff Nichols’ film isn’t ready.

The 75th anniversary symposium brought acclaimed auteurs together to talk about the future of cinema. This year, there will be so many already in Cannes – and in Competition. Any plans to bring them together?

Last year we proved that it was interesting, so why not?

What would be your tagline for Cannes 2023?

“It’s the start of a new cycle.” Cycles in Cannes last for five years. We have gotten over the pandemic and I’m thrilled how we did it. We cancelled 2020, but were active anyway; we were very generous in 2021 and 2022. Our own survival helped others in the industry to survive.

Amid the pandemic, you continued to believe that theatrical releases and le cinéma as an art and an industry were not dead despite popular belief. What do you have to say to those you doubted you then?

I’m not a prophet, but when we love cinema, it is impossible for it to disappear. Music isn’t going anywhere, literature isn’t disappearing so why would the cinema disappear? Le cinema encompasses not only the films themselves, but also theatres and audiences – all three of those things together. The explosion of the platforms is a fantastic thing, and it is all part of our common culture.