New British film-making talent have been selected for Cannes’ parallel sections, but does the UK’s omission from the main competition line-up point to a wider problem?
For the first time in five years the UK doesn’t have a representative in Cannes’ official competition line-up. Despite almost 2,000 entries there wasn’t a single berth for a UK film in the main competition or in Un Certain Regard.
UK co-production Monsoon Shootout, the Hindi-language thriller developed by the UKFC and produced by Trevor Ingman, was announced on Friday as a Midnight Screening and Paul Wright’s first feature For Those in Peril was announced in parallel section Critics’ Week.
Today, there were Directors’ Fortnight berths for Ruairi Robinson’s first film Last Days on Mars and Clio Barnard’s second feature The Selfish Giant. That makes it an impressive five first or second UK features in Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight in two years.
While it would have been unusual for two or three films to have been announced on Friday, especially when considering that only nine films have made the official selection and Un Certain Regard lineups in nine years, some speculated that one or two might sneak in among the 34 that were announced.
Festival director Thierry Fremaux told ScreenDaily last week that there was one film he would have liked to have included in his lineup but that it went to Directors’ Fortnight instead.
Some potentials were Under the Skin, The Invisible Woman, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, A Most Wanted Man, Diana, The Double, The Two Faces of January, How I Live Now, Calvary, Philomena, A Field in England and The Railway Man, which were all either deep in post-production or completed in recent months.
The Cannes omission isn’t an isolated event. While it is unusual for the major European festivals to showcase more than one or two UK films in their main competition strands, UK productions have been all-but shut out of the official selections of the most recent Cannes, Berlin and Venice festivals, which are still considered the marquee competitions in Europe.
At Berlin, no UK features made it into the competition or Panorama sections while in Venice, Bernard Rose’s UK-US co-production Boxing Day, which screened in the Horizzonti strand, was the only UK representative.
There are plenty of promising newcomers in the UK. There are plenty of independent directors. There are plenty of mid-budget independent films. But for some reason, the major European festival selectors haven’t been biting of late.
Are they bypassing the UK because of a lack of stand-out talent? Or are those festivals no longer as useful to the UK industry? Or perhaps it really is simply a case of films just not being ready, as we so often hear.
“Cannes is still the gold standard and one of the very best launch-pads”, said Independent’s Andrew Orr, who sold Venice entry Boxing Day as well as Cannes 2011 competition entry We Need to Talk About Kevin.
“The lack of UK films at the big festivals has been quite disappointing. From what I heard there were a lot of films that were supposed to be ready for Cannes. But independent filmmakers all over the world are increasingly speeding up their post-production process to try and get into Cannes.
“That means that for UK independent directors outside of the likes of Ken Loach [who accounts for three of the seven UK films to have been selected in Cannes’ main competition or Un Certain Regard in the last five years], Mike Leigh and Lynne Ramsay it is extremely difficult to get in.”
“Perhaps, while we’ve been celebrating auteurs like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh in recent years, we haven’t looked enough at those new directors who get into strands like Directors’ Fortnight, which has a great track record of launching talent,” said Soda Films’ managing director Edward Fletcher.
Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers debuted in Directors’ Fortnight last year and Rufus Norris’ Broken debuted in Critics’ Week. But in 2011 there were no UK films in either, and only one in 2010.
Fletcher told Screen that for the first time in four years Soda was struggling to find films to fill its New British Cinema Quarterly slate, which supports and distributes new UK films.
“This is the first time in four years we’ve had a gap,” he said. “We don’t have two films for the next two quarters. I’ve seen a lot that aren’t good enough so I’m now waiting on tenter-hooks to see what turns up at Edinburgh.”
But perhaps that’s just a coincidence, too. “I’m sure something will turn up,” says Fletcher.
Many of the larger UK productions will now have their eyes on Toronto, which has been more welcoming to UK films in recent years (albeit with a much larger feature programme than most) with at least 10 UK productions (including co-productions) showcased across its main strands in each of the last two editions.
Or perhaps there’ll be a rush on UK films at Venice and all this will be forgotten.