As they prepare to start watching and assessing the 21 Competition films on display at the 71st Cannes Film Festival, at a time when the venerable festival struggles to retain its currency, the Competition jury of nine, led by Australian actress Cate Blanchett — which is not the first with a majority of five women — faced questions on multiple points of controversy, from #TimesUp and the number of films from women to the future of film itself.
Jury president and two-time Oscar-winner Blanchett (“The Aviator,” “Blue Jasmine”) insisted that she will look at each film with an open mind—knowing that reviewers and commentators may bring politics into play. That also applies to the question of the three films directed by women under Palme d’Or consideration. While the Cannes festival having added more women to the selection committee will change the lens through which the films are chosen, she said, “these things will not happen overnight. Would I like to see more films by women in competition? Absolutely.” The films by women in the festival “are not there because of their gender but because of the quality of their work. We will be assessing them as filmmakers, as we should be.”
As for her jury, said Blanchett, “we are not always going to be in concord or agreement,” she said. “We are dealing with what is in front of us. Our job away from the festival is to keep working toward positive change … This is not a political film festival. This is not the Nobel Peace prize. It is the Palme d’Or.”
For juror Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Sicario,” “Blade Runner 2049”), #MeToo and #TimesUp is “a wave, it’s a movement … It will take a long time before we achieve equality, but it will happen.”
As ever, Cannes reflects what is going on around the world. “Storytellers are there from the beginning of time to reveal what is happening,” said Villeneuve. “Cinema is more relevant than ever, especially at a time when the truth is in danger. Cinema is going to make sense of this.”
“Cinema is how I was able to understand the humanity of a family in Iran, or in Shanghai,” said Compton-born Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “A Wrinkle in Time”). “Cannes brings us together from all parts of the world to a gathering place to assert our voices, to speak to each other through cinema.”
Making a veiled reference to streaming sites like Netflix, which backed her Oscar-nominated film “13th,” DuVernay added: “It’s important to be inclusive about the ways we experience a film, whether in a theater or not. It’s still film. The industry is grappling with the question. A film is a story told by a filmmaker. The way the film is presented to an audience has no bearing on whether or not it’s a film.”
As far as picking the winner, Blanchett recognized there will be differences among such a diverse jury. A Palme d’Or winner “contains everything,” she said. “You’re awarding the performances, the direction, the cinematography, the script, the entire crew that made the film possible, the mise-en-scene.” Finally, she’s less interested in giving out awards per se than a “dialogue” with her jury. Even with a name auteur like Jean-Luc Godard in contention, she said, “it’s a level playing field … we are trying to remove names and pasts and just look at the present.”
Cannes veteran Kristen Stewart (“Personal Shopper,” “Cafe Society,” “On the Road”) was excited to be back at her favorite festival to be judging instead of being judged. “It’s intense,” she said. “I’m so excited I’m vibrating.” For her, with a Palme’d’Or movie, “We should be fundamentally, undeniably moved.” And it should stand the test of time.
DuVernay agreed, saying she would look at the many aspects of a directors’ tool set when considering each film. “It should be of its time and timeless,” she added. “Many of our emotions are universal. There’s something gorgeous about being able to go to a particular place and time and illuminate who we are in terms of our humanity … Cannes feels like pure cinema. You’re seeing the films for the first time, fresh, undaunted by campaigns or advertisements.”
For Andrey Zvyagintsev (“Leviathan,” “Loveless”), a Palme d’Or contender should have poetry. “It has to shake my heart,” he said, “to be a real work of art.”
French actress Léa Seydoux (Palme d’Or-winner “Blue is the Warmest Color”) wants to see a film “that manages to create a new language,” she said. “Cinema is a universal language … The emotion will carry the day.” Villeneuve said he hoped to find a film “that will cross the ages, go down in history,” he said. “That is quite a complicated exercise.”
Other jurors include Taiwanese actor Chang Chen (Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together”), French cineaste Robert Guédiguian (“Marius and Jeunette,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”), and Burundi singer Khadja Nin.