I was having some trouble figuring out how to assess my role on a jury at the greatest film festival in the world, so I asked someone with experience in the matter: George Miller.
At a dinner celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival, I ran into the “Mad Max” director, who served as president of the venerated Official Competition a year earlier, and picked his brain for advice.
To be fair, Miller’s jury experience was considerably different from my own: He was responsible for choosing the Palme d’Or. I faced a considerably less daunting task as a member of the jury for Critics’ Week, a sidebar featuring first and second features from around the world. When an audience disagrees with a Palme d’Or winner, it can result in infamous moments as when Quentin Tarantino was heckled as he took the stage for “Pulp Fiction” in 1994. No such tensions existed at the comparatively mannered room of the Miramar, where Critics Week films screened down the road.
Nevertheless, the words “Cannes jury” carry real weight, far more than any regional film festival jury on which I’ve served, so Miller’s insight was more than welcome.
The ever-chipper Australian director embraced the opportunity. “I realized that the most important thing is to make sure it’s well canvassed,” he said, recalling the process through which his jury selected Ken Loach’s socially conscious drama “I, Daniel Blake.” “The jury had nine people, so I called it a nine-headed beast. You all have to be satisfied. I would hate to be on a jury for a murder trial, because you can get it wrong.”
Notably, much of the press and industry expected German director Maren Ade to win the Palme last year for her ambitious father-daughter drama “Toni Erdmann,” but the movie went home empty handed. Ironically, this year Ade herself is a member of the Official Competition jury. (“Maren came up to me tonight and said, ‘I forgive you,’” Miller said with a grin.)
I asked Miller about the criteria he brought to deliberations. “One of the good things to do is to ask everyone what they think makes a good film,” he said. “It varies with everybody. For me, the way I define a good film is how long it follows you out of the cinema. By the time you get to the parking lot, if it stays with you, then you know it’s good. How long does a film follow you around?”
Another fan of Miller’s work pulled him aside, and I was left standing there, contemplating that challenge. I was a week into jury duty, had watched a good portion of the Critics’ Week lineup, and a few days remained. How long indeed?
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