Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Fremaux spoke of his “special love” for Argentina, proposed a ban on selfies on the red carpet and called for a relaxing of distribution windows in a masterclass at Ventana Sur on December 2.
In a wide-ranging session that looked back over his first 13 years in the job and addressed the impact of digital cinema on selection policy, Fremaux said the rise in number of Latin American entries coincided with his start on the job.
“When I first arrived [in 2001, after he was hired by Cannes president Gilles Jacob] I was afraid of being biased but it was by coincidence that I arrived at the same time of the new generation of filmmakers in Argentina,” he said.
“We have received so many Argentinian and Mexican films over recent years. This is a community with a lot of vitality.”
In 2014 alone, Damián Szifrón’s acclaimed Wild Tales screened in competition, Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja screened in Un Certain Regard, Pablo Fendrik’s El Ardor played in Special Screenings and Pablo Trapero served as president of the jury for Un Certain Regard.
When asked why there had been an absence of Brazilian cinema in recent Cannes instalments, Fremaux, in typical style, did not shy away from honesty.
“When I arrived we witnessed the emergence of a new Argentinian generation and I also felt that way about Brazil, but 10 years later I’m not so sure.
“Perhaps we missed Brazilian films, so tell me. It’s a mystery because Brazil is a large country. I like Walter Salles and I’m sure there are more.”
Fremaux, who conducted the entire session in Spanish, denied that the Cannes selection criteria reinforced a perception among European cineastes that Latin American cinema portrayed mostly stories of poverty.
“The film by Lisandro Alonso [Jauja] is not a film about poverty. Wild Tales is not. The criteria have to do with the quality of the film.”
The festival chief ushered in a conversation about windows when he defended his decision to condone Wild Bunch market screenings of Welcome To New York during this year’s festival.
While Abel Ferrara’s Dominique Strauss Kahn biopic had no official part in the festival, the market screening coincided with the film’s appearance that day on a dozen French VOD sites including Wild Bunch’s FilmoTV. It also aired that night in Germany, Spain and Italy.
The move was controversial, not just because of the subject matter concerning the disgraced former IMF head and French Presidential candidate’s arrest on sex charges in 2011 - the charges were later dropped - but because of the way it attacked distribution windows.
“It was decided to release it on the internet and use Cannes as advertising and it was a good decision,” said Fremaux.
He spoke of how he had met with resistance from French theatre owners when he screened a feature version of Olivier Assayas’ Carlos The Jackal mini-series Carlos in 2010.
“We need to open our windows and try something different,” he said. “I face some problems with digital. We started digital [projection] in 2002 and it was a battle. People don’t want these innovations.
“There were no economic [incentives] to do it. For me it was important to try as that same year George Lucas brought Star Wars: Episode II — Attack Of The Clones.
“Lucas was struggling for digital and we also had Russian Ark, which Aleksandr Sokurov shot in digital. I liked having these two ends of the business [championing] digital.”
Fremaux got a big laugh when he added, “I was criticised for that and of course now I’m fighting to preserve 35mm.”
The Cannes chief, who says the selection process for 2015 is underway and will see him watching seven films a day from January to mid-April, touched on other subjects.
He spoke about the need to be strong in his choices and weather the storm of disapproval, applauded John Woo for revolutionising the police thriller and spoke of his love for the proliferation of global film festivals that kept alive the love of cinema and encouraged the emergence of local talent.
“I always knew that the victory didn’t lie in being chosen by Gilles Jacob — it had to do with doing the job right,” he said when asked to reflect on his first 13 years in the job. “People in the job say it’s impossible to succeed Gilles Jacob. I think I can do it but I do it for Cannes.”
Fremaux’s official job title is artistic director but he effectively runs the entire festival. Jacob is due to step down from his post in July 2015.
“It’s important to preserve the idea of Cannes,” said Fremaux. “We’re going to ban selfies. Cannes is everybody’s festival. Every person is important and every person counts in protecting the house.”