Entries Rise But Cannes Competition Shrinks; Artistic Director Frémaux Points To "More Energy on Fewer Films"
by Wendy Mitchell
Cannes 2004's competition line-up is "marked by confirmations and discoveries," said Thierry Frémaux, in his third year as Cannes' artistic director and his first fully in charge of the selections (former helmer Gilles Jacob was named president in 2000). In a published statement, Frémaux said the confirmations were works by established auteurs including Emir Kusturica, Wong Kar-Wai, the Coen brothers, Michael Moore, and Walter Salles. The discoveries come with the competition's inclusion of 12 relatively beginner filmmakers new to Cannes (not just the expected masters), and the surprising inclusion, in the official selection, of two animated films ("Shrek 2," "Innocence") and two documentaries ("MondoVino," "Fahrenheit 9/11").
In his statement, Fremaux noted that the number of film submissions was dramatically higher than recent years, while the number of films in competition shrank. After last year's heavily criticized festival featuring 20 films in competition (including Vincent Gallo's infamous "The Brown Bunny"), this year's competition will include only 18 films.
"We hope to not fall into the trap of 'bigger is better,' to maintain Cannes' prestige and the special distinction given to the selection," Frémaux said. "It is also in our interest to defend our film choices and to give them the best possible showcase. In 2001, 23 films were presented in competition. We would like to spend more energy on fewer films. The Cannes Festival is reticent to let its film exposition replace quality with quantity and therefore supports a limited Official Selection so as to assure a better presentation and reception." Only three French films made the cut into competition, compared to five last year.
The director noted that Cannes is presenting 56 feature films (including 46 world premieres) in 2004, up from 2003 and 2002. Nine first films are in that mix, doubling the debut film offerings from last year. Frémaux said that 3562 features and shorts were submitted in 2004, a 42.5 percent increase over last year and up from only 1397 in 2000. In the late '90s, he said, the average number of submissions was less than 1000. He speculated the increase was caused by digital filmmaking technologies, and the fact that "the Festival has been spreading the word that it is open to all types of films."
Looking at the films selected for 2004, Frémaux noted that "a strong Cannes competition should be characterized by diverse geographical and aesthetic journeys." Still, he did identify a few themes that had emerged in and out of competition, including more comedies ("Shrek 2," "The Ladykillers," "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers"), genre films ("Old Boy," "Kill Bill Vol. 2," "The Flying Daggers," "Troy"), historical or political themes ("The Motorcycle Diaries," "Fahrenheit 9/11," "MondoVino," "Edukators"), the search for identity ("Comme une image," "Le conseguenze dell'amore," "Nobody Knows," "Clean," "Exils"), and, that perennial film obsession, love ("La Niña Santa, "Woman is the Future of Man," "2046," "Life is a Miracle!").