There were no easy answers about the state of cinema on Sunday when Cannes welcomed some of the world’s leading filmmakers to celebrate the festival’s 60th Anniversary. And finally, frustrated over the questions posed by journalists during an hour-long discussion featuring the thirty or so filmmakers, director Roman Polanski walked off the stage near the end of the session. The move created a particularly awkward public moment as the Cannes formally commemorate its anniversary on Sunday. Even before his early exit, Polanski was the center of attention during the discussion, fielding numerous questions and then engaging Atom Egoyan in a debate about the future of cinema.
Dozens of directors, each having made one of the 33 three-minute “Chacun Son Cinema” (To Each His Own Cinema) shorts saluting the festival’s anniversary, gathered on stage for the hour-long Q & A session with journalists. The on-stage event on Sunday morning was a who’s-who of international filmmaking, featuring an eclectic mix of directors: The Coen Brothers, Takeshi Kitano, Atom Egoyan, The Dardenne Brothers, Wong Kar Wai, Claude Lelouch, Olivier Assayas, Jane Campion, Chen Kaige, Gus Van Sant, David Cronenberg, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Alejandro Gonzalez-Innaritu, and many others.
“The form of cinema as we know it and love it, it is a thing of the past.” declared Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg early on during the news conference in Cannes, “it really isn’t the cinema anymore.” He explained that the changes in production and distribution taking place have killed cinema as it previously existed. Concluding the thought, he added, “For the young people who are developing in this current techological information environment, its all still very exciting (just) as the mass cinema was for us, (but) its just very different.”
Fellow Canuck filmmaker Atom Egoyan agreed with Cronenberg, noting that cinema began as a “collective experience” that the new generation of directors and audiences may not understand. Countering the claim, Roman Polanski responded that claims about the death of cinema are nothing new. “I remember the same type of debate when the tape and the cassettes came out.” Polanski citing that the gathering of an “anonymous audience” to experience music, for example, “is as old as the history of mankind.
Requesting the microphone to respond further, Atom Egoyan countered that he simply doesn’t see a place for watching classic cinema in the way it was intended to be seen, leading Polanski to again request the microphone. “There is now a fashion at each (film) festival to show these films,” he responded, noting the presentation of silent films with live orchestras.
With some in the audience chuckling, Egoyan retreived the microphone again and looking directly at Polanski, he said, “I was inspired to make films by watching your short films as a kid, but ‘Mammals’,for instance, if you were you see that on a small screen it would not be the same experience. For a young student now, you won’t have that option. So, the language has changed.”
Polanksi declined to respond further, suggesting that the discussion move on to other topics. And later, Walter Salles weighed in on the matter, “Cinema is only cinema when it is done collectively and seen collectively. Continuing Salles added, “The more (that) films will be produced the more a festival like Cannes will be important. You will need an eye to select and watch the films that will be worth watching (for an audience).”
But the next round of questions was an eclectic mix of inquiries posed to individual directors, none directly addressing the larger cinematic issues that stirred the debate early on. As is customary at Cannes press conferences, which are attended by a mix of mainstream and niche media from around the world, inquiries range from artistic insights to more specific questions for national TV viewers. So, as the session began to wind down, a frustrated Polanski took the microphone and chided the crowded room of journalists.
“This is a rare and unique opportunity to see a gathering of such important directors and it’s a shame to have such poor questions,” Polanski said pointedly, charging reporters with using their computers to simply cut and paste banal information. “You’re no longer interested in what’s going on in the cinema.”
Before getting up to leave he suggested ending the session and that the directors leave early for lunch. After a few moments of silence punctuated by whistles from some in the audience, it became clear that none of the other filmmakers were taking Polanski up on his offer to leave.
On Polanski’s way out, a few journalists left to unsuccessfully chase down the director, with the conference continuing as a couple of more reporters stood to ask questions. [Eugene Hernandez]
Global Warming a Hot Topic (Again) in Cannes
Picking up on the attention drawn to global climate change at last year’s Cannes Film Festival with the screening of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Leila Conners-Petersen and Nadia Conners‘ title of their new documentary “The 11th Hour,” is meant to spotlight the final period when humans must change their approach to viewing the environment as property in order to preserve itself as a species. Produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, the film features a diverse group of experts from around the globe, including 50 leading scientists as well as thinkers and leaders who present facts on crucial issues facing the planet.
Both directors, who are sisters, said they approached the film with DiCaprio with a clean slate, not quite sure how the film would end. “We felt there was a larger story, and global warming was only a symptom of this larger problem,” said Leila Connors-Petersen during a small roundtable with press at the Hotel du Cap outside Cannes ahead of the world premiere for their film. “What we didn’t realize was this is a human extinction story. We’ve arrived at this moment where we can go one of two ways. We’re not in need of saving the planet, we are in need of saving ourselves.” The pair cited growing acidity of the oceans, the extinction of 55,000 species per year and global warming–all directly attributed to human activity–as symptoms of a greater implosion facing humanity’s dominion over the earth. Along with DiCaprio, the pair say there is an immediate need to acknowledge that nature has rights, too and should have laws protecting those rights. Currently, they see man’s view of nature as one of ownership.
Despite the current bleak assessment, DiCaprio and the filmmakers appeared cautiously hopeful people will take the warnings to heart. “In my ten years as an environmental activist, I’ve never seen such a discussion out there,” said DiCaprio adding, “and that is because of the work of Al Goreand ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’ That film wasn’t just a bunch of charts and temperatures.” DiCaprio acknowledged that there’s a risk of receiving a backlash because of his efforts, but said he hoped his celebrity will ultimately help spread the message. “For me, I realize there’s a certain stigma with someone from Hollywood approaching science, but the fact that I’m an actor might bring in a different audience.” [Brian Brooks]
Directors In The Spotlight
Variety‘s Peter Bart moderated a panel with a diverse group of directors at the American Pavilion Saturday afternoon. Tom Kalin (“Savage Grace“), Harmony Korine (“Mister Lonely“), Gil Kenan (“Monster House“), and “Persepolis” co-directors Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. The grandness of Cannes itself was a popular topic of discussion. “I can’t think of a better place to debut my work,” said Korine. “We just finished yesterday. The print should arrive just before the screening.” First-timers Paronnaud and Satrapi said they are trying not to think about it. “It’s going to be something,” said Paronnaud.
The discussion twisted through various alleys. Bart poked fun at Kenan’s publicized friendship with Steven Spielberg. Korine explained how he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue making films after “Julien Donkey Boy.” He had written a script about a man who travels around on his pig that was lost in a fire. After that, Korine said he “moved to the jungle and laid some bricks.” Kalin discussed the difficulties in financing his incest drama “Grace,” in that it had taken four years to get it off the ground. And both Kalin and Korine were quick to agree when asked what the most taboo topic in American cinema was: “children and sexuality.” Given their filmographies, this does not come as a surprise. [Peter Knegt]
PAVILION PROFILE: Oh, Canada: Focusing Smaller and Approaching New Markets
With Sarah Polley, the sole North American on the jury and Denys Arcand‘s “The Age of Ignorance” closing the festival, Canada’s presence at Cannes is evident. But despite these grand examples of Cannes Canadiana, the country’s general philosophy for 2007 is much quite the opposite.
The Canadian Pavilion, now in its fourth year on the beach, is managed in partnership with Telefilm, a federal cultural agency dedicated to the development and promotion of the Canadian audiovisual industry. Its basic role is to act as a business center for Canadian film folk. Danny Chalifour, Director of Industry Development Operations at Telefilm Canada said that Canada’s mission at this year’s festival is “smaller and more focused.”
While in previous years there was a large-scale party, this year four smaller “happy hours” are planned through the week. Each “hour” is devoted to Canada’s relationship with other industries: Australia/New Zealand, UK, USA and Japan. Japan? “They approached us,” said Cahlifour. “Demographics are changing and there is a need to start exploring and identifying.” Canada’s cinematic relationship with France and the UK is dwinding, and while the business model is unclear, both Japan and Canada agree it is time to look.
An additional event focuses on French language film (in conjunction with the Canadian province of Quebec, which has a separate pavilion), and includes a “speed dating” take on business development with Belgium, France and Switzerland, who were all invited. “There are many challenges in French-language production,” said Cahifour. “We need to focus on building links. French language films are a big challenge. They need [an] extra push.”
In addition to Aracand’s out-of-competition closer, French-language works also make up half of Canada’s six films in the market (despite Cahifour’s estimation that French films make up about a third of their overall industry). “Perspective Canada,” as the programme is labeled by Telefilm, is strictly for the market. Last year was Canada’s first time in the Market, and their twelve entries were full houses and seven of them were sold.
Though it is too soon to tell, Chalifour says reaction to this year’s slate has been “positive” so far. That includes TIFF hit “Citizen Duane,” Michael Mabbot‘s follow-up to “The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico,” and a Quebecois retelling of “Romeo Et Juliette.” Canada’s key objective at Cannes is trying get these films sold and helping their industry members have the easiest access to funding and sales as possible. With a relatively small population, Canadians are limited on their own. “Our government is telling us: ‘You need to look elsewhere.’ That’s the key to our presence here.” [Peter Knegt]
The latest from the 2007 Festival de Cannes is available anytime in indieWIRE’s special section.