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Cannes Film Festival Accepts TV: Why Shows From David Lynch and Jane Campion Are Only The Beginning

"Twin Peaks" and "Top of the Lake" bring episodic TV to Cannes; is this the start of something bigger, or a swipe at the city's upcoming rival TV festival?

“Twin Peaks” at Cannes


As it faces competition from upcoming rival events, the Cannes Film Festival has finally broken its “no TV series” rule.

Cannes has included two shows — Showtime’s “Twin Peaks” revival and SundanceTV/BBC’s “Top of the Lake: China Girl” — as special screenings during this year’s festival, marking the first time episodic television has been included. (TV has had a limited presence in the past via longform projects, like HBO’s “Beyond the Candelabra.”)

For Cannes, it’s a measured baby step into the world of episodic television. Both titles are already well established: “Twin Peaks,” of course, is a title that has existed for more than 25 years, via a cult classic TV show and spinoff film. “Top of the Lake: China Girl” is the second season of that series, which premiered in 2013.

Nicole Kidman in Top of the Lake: China Girl

Nicole Kidman in “Top of the Lake: China Girl”

Sally Bongers/SundanceTV

Both also come from auteurs best known as filmmakers (“Twin Peaks” director David Lynch and “Top of the Lake’s” Jane Campion and Ariel Kleiman). Lynch had even screened “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me” at Cannes in 1992, and both Lynch and Campion have previously won the Palme d’Or, so neither was a stretch. Even Lynch, at the winter Television Critics Association press tour, referred to the 18-hour “Twin Peaks” reboot as a long movie.

But it’s still a big step for the Cannes Film Festival, as artistic director Thierry Fremaux told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn last year that “Cannes is a film festival,” and that “we must invent a special festival” for television.

READ MORE: Cannes Tackles Television: Why a Global TV Festival Could Be a Gamechanger

Now that the city of Cannes has done exactly that, partnering with Reed Midem to launch a TV festival, Fremaux has changed his tune. “Even TV series, unless proven otherwise, are using the classic art of cinema,” he said.

The timing can’t be coincidental: Earlier this month, Cannes Mayor David Lisnard detailed next year’s first edition of “Cannes Series,” an eight-day TV festival that will run concurrently with Reed Midem’s MipTV market next spring. Unlike MipTV, Cannes Series will be open to the public. The French government is also launching the Lille TV series festival next year.

David Lynch at Showtime’s Winter TCA press tour panel

Eric Charbonneau/AP Invision for Showtime

With TV all around them, the Cannes Film Festival probably had no choice but to dip its toes in the television waters.

“It just seems inevitable,” said Janet Pierson, the director of film at SXSW, which started including episodic TV several years ago. “Cannes has always been auteur driven, and they are showing episodic work by directors whose work they’ve supported and loved. Those of us who are programmers, are always looking for great work. In this day and age, why would anyone still restrict to one time format?”

Landing a Cannes spot is a coup for Showtime, which has embraced the film festival circuit (including SXSW) for many of its high-profile premieres. The timing also works: Cannes won’t actually screen “Twin Peaks” until after its U.S. television premiere on May 21. That allows Lynch to maintain his wish to keep the show under wraps and unseen until its on-screen premiere.

As for “Top of the Lake,” BBC reached out after hearing Cannes was looking into TV – perhaps erroneously assuming the “Cannes Series” was part of the film festival. The film festival screened the first few episodes and informed the production yesterday of its inclusion.

READ MORE: 17 Shocks and Surprises from the 2017 Cannes Lineup, From ‘Twin Peaks’ to Netflix and VR

Several questions remain, including whether this is the start of a much larger TV presence at the Cannes Film Festival in the coming years, and whether the event will eventually include independent TV productions in competition. It’s also unclear whether Cannes organizers had an opportunity to screen any part of “Twin Peaks,” or if it entered the series sight unseen, given its past relationship with Lynch. Also unclear: How “Cannes Series” will react to the film festival’s TV encroachment. (MipTV reps are on holiday, now that the market has wrapped, and were unavailable for comment.)

But this much is clear: The genie’s out of the bottle, and if other once-pure film festivals are any indication, this is just the beginning for TV at Cannes.

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