Artistic director Thierry Fremaux sat down with him just hours after the official selection of the 2022 Cannes Film Festival was unveiled on the Champs Elysees diversity to talk about the festival’s efforts not to give in to calls for cultural boycotts of Russian films and filmmakers, efforts to have more female directors in the competition, discussions to bring streamers back in the near future, and what those rumors were about David Lynch in the lineup Above. This upcoming 75th edition’s all-star competition line-up includes no fewer than four Palme d’Or award-winning directors, including Japanese champion Kore-eda Hirokazu (Japan) and Swedish captain Ruben Ostlund (“Triangle of Sadness”), as well as new films by David Cronenberg (“Crimes of the Future”), Kelly Reichardt (“Showing Up”), James Gray (“Armageddon Time”) and the dissident Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov (“Tchaïkovski’s Wife”).
Congratulations on putting together this wonderful lineup. I think it’s the most exciting Cannes lineup I’ve seen on paper in a long time.
And it’s not over yet! There are 49 movies and it’s always between 55 and 60, so we could add about 10 more.
What about the competition?
We have about 18 films in competition, so we have space. 20 titles would be good, which means there could be two more. We look forward to a varied program with films from Egypt, Iran, Korea and Costa Rica.
How do you feel about organizing this festival in the midst of the current political turmoil and war in Ukraine? Is it important to you to have a politically committed jury president this year?
We must always separate the artistic vocation of Cannes from the collective and political issues that are going on around the world. But of course, political events are often reflected in the films we show in Cannes because artists make films with social, political and environmental issues. What we are striving for in Cannes is to maintain our legitimacy. This year we present Butterfly Vision, Maksim Nakonechnyi’s first film, and he will play in Un Certain Regard because it is a very good film. We never make a film to please anyone. That said, the Cannes Film Festival is not removed from the rest of the world and this war that is taking place is unfolding a three-hour flight from Paris, so we will go on to celebrate cinema and filmmakers in Cannes without ever stopping to think about it what is happening around us. And there will be two Ukrainian films that will remind us of that.
When I look at the lineup, I see two films that could be quite political, Iran’s Holy Spider and Egypt’s Boy From Heaven.
Holy Spider is not a political film, it is a police thriller about a serial killer, but this police film genre is a vehicle to shed light on a society’s underworld, to show the night, the shadows, what lies beneath the surface. And then “Boy From Heaven” is a film that deals with the question of rivalry within a religious community in an exciting way. What is interesting is that films can show all of this. Jean Douchet (respected film critic) used to say that cinema is a tool to get to know the world better. Well it still is.
Speaking of politically committed filmmakers: Kirill Serebrennikov should be able to attend the festival now that he’s in Germany to present his film in the competition. He was unable to attend the world premiere of his last two competition films (“Leto” and “Petrov’s Flu”) because he was under a three-year travel ban in Russia.
Yes I hope so, and it’s quite a sad story that the year he was finally able to escape Russia and attend Cannes to be celebrated is the year Russia invaded Ukraine. His film “Tchaikovsky’s Wife” is a historical film set in the 19th century. A great film that is classic and modern at the same time. So yes, we are happy to welcome him.
What do you think of a cultural boycott of Russian filmmakers and films?
We never give up anything. The strength of Cannes is that we firmly respect who we are by respecting others. We don’t give in to political correctness, we don’t give in to the cultural boycott. We proceed on a case-by-case basis.
I find it surprising that there are never more than three out of four films by women in the competition each year. How do you explain that?
Such questions can only be answered if you put them in the right light. If we compare this year and 40 years ago, it’s not comparable. If cinema was the only problem, it would be fine. Last year women won all the main awards at Cannes including the competition, Un Certain Regard and Cinefondation. There are no quotas, so we select films solely on their artistic merits.
When I interviewed you last time, you said you were in favor of bringing streaming services back into competition and that it was the exhibitors represented on the festival’s board of directors who blocked this development. Why is it important to you now to work with Netflix, for example?
French exhibitors see a danger in streaming services. I get it. But me, I get paid by the Cannes Film Festival, I don’t get paid by exhibitors. So my role is to think about how the Cannes Film Festival needs to position itself. So I make suggestions and the board decides. So far I haven’t been able to convince them. I hope to be successful one day.
Since you can’t change this rule that requires every film in competition to have a theatrical release in France, you’ll have to convince Netflix to present its films out of competition. But you didn’t succeed in that either.
I haven’t, and I understand Netflix’s position. And it’s normal, look at the producers, when they have a nice film, they also want to compete. What’s the big Netflix movie this year? It’s “Blonde” by Andrew Dominik. It’s a wonderful film that deserves the competition. So I understand Netflix when they say they don’t want to be out of the competition. There you are.
But do you think Netflix could agree to later releasing its films in French cinemas?
I know that’s also what’s blocking things, if they could get movies out there there wouldn’t be a problem; but that’s only an issue in France, they put movies in cinemas everywhere these days.
But while you look after Cannes, you’re also a big supporter of the theaters – you run the Lumiere Institute in Lyon and run a theater there. Cinemas are going through a difficult phase at the moment as attendance is falling. Is this a conflict?
Theaters are increasingly under threat and attendance has been declining since January 1st; and Cannes will always strive to support cinemas, especially now that they need us. We hope that this year, with expected films like Top Gun: Maverick and Elvis, and also big French films like November and Masquerade, Cannes can help get people back to cinemas from June onwards .
Even though cinema attendance has dropped, I was amazed at how excited people were on social media when we made our predictions. Especially with David Lynch! By the way, where is his mysterious project?
At Cannes we don’t talk about what we don’t show, we talk about what we show.
But he has a new project, right?
(Fremaux smiles shyly.)
https://variety.com/2022/film/global/cannes-thierry-fremaux-russian-boycott-women-directors-netflix-1235232787/ Thierry Fremaux on the Cannes 2022 All-Star Lineup