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Cannes 2018: Wild Bunch Founder On Harvey Weinstein, Netflix, and Why the Debate About Women Directors Is ‘Stupid’

The veteran sales agent says it would be "quite humiliating" for women directors to be selected on the basis of their gender, and blamed the city's mayor for ruining the festival's party scene.

vincent maraval

Vincent Maraval

Eric Kohn

What’s the most commercial film in your slate?

It’s difficult to know. We are not artists. We do a film because we think it has a distribution niche somewhere. The niche could be big or not. With Godard, we know there’s an audience all over the world that’s captivated by his work, so we do Godard. When we picked up the Egyptian film “Yommedine,” we picked it up because we were moved by the film and think that emotion can travel. For the Lebanese film “Capharnaum,” the emotional impact that the film had on us made us think it could be very commercial. It could be “Slumdog Millionaire” or “Life is Beautiful,” but we don’t know. That’s just the feeling we had. Cannes will either be a validation of that feeling or not.

“Yommedine” is the only first feature in competition. What’s the process of getting a directorial debut into a slot like that?

First of all, we don’t do many first-time filmmakers. This is the first year we have one. Because some of our usual directors hadn’t made films, we had a little space for some others. That’s why we have a lot of newcomers in our slate this year, like Bi Gan, Nadine Labaki, A.B. Shawky, and David Robert Mitchell. We had space.

“Yommedine”

The story behind “Yommedine” is really a fairy tale. The director was at school with someone who works for me and she took some cinema classes with him. He was speaking to her about the project, and one day he gave her the DVD; she looked at it and said it was good. She wasn’t comfortable saying, “I have a friend who made this film,” like she was trying to help her friend. She just told me to watch it because it was good. Then we showed the film to [Cannes director] Thierry Fremaux thinking it could be somewhere at Cannes, but we didn’t know where. Thierry said it was really, really good. He told us he’d selected it but didn’t say where. Then, the day of the press conference, he said he was going to take it in competition because it deserved it.

How much sway do you have over whether or not a film you’re working on gets a competition slot?

In general, you have some masters — like when you do Kore-eda’s film “Shoplifter” [in this year’s competition], you know it’s his most important film and he has been in competition many times, so of course you target competition. When you propose the film, it’s for the competition. With the Egyptian film, we wanted it to be somewhere — Critics’ Week, maybe — because we felt it deserved the festival to put the filmmaker on the map. We never targeted competition.

What about Gaspar Noé, whose “Climax” is at Directors’ Fortnight? He’s never played there before, but he started at Cannes in Critics’ Week, then had two films in competition and another one in the midnight section.

That’s the reason. With Gaspar, the thing is, every time you wonder, “What can we do that’s new?” Every Gaspar screening is an event. His form of cinema, the way he destroys the grammar and creates something new, means you want the presentation to be at the level of the film. So the first time with him, when we did “Irreversible” — OK, it was new, it needed the competition. When we did “Enter the Void,” we had challenges with completing it on time, so we had to do it at the end of the festival. But we wanted an afternoon screening for everyone because it was new. When we came back with “Love,” the midnight screening was like a rock concert.

By then, the idea was to do it out of competition, because Gaspar is not a competition filmmaker. He doesn’t care whether or not he is. He’s a bit like Godard. He thinks, “My movie will never be decided on by nine people.” He’s not someone who thinks he can win a Palme because his films are not designed for consensus.

So we said, “OK, if we go out of competition this time, what can we do that’s new?” We’ve done everything in the Official Selection. We’ve done competition in the evening and the afternoon; we’ve done midnight. When Directors’ Fortnight loved the new film, we thought, it’s kind of punk for Gaspar to come back with his film in this section. Even when Thierry saw the film, we told him that we were thinking of taking it to Directors’ Fortnight, and he said, “I think that’s good, not only for the film, but for Gaspar. He will be validated by someone else other than me. If not, people will think that he’s my favorite and I’m the only one who loves his films, that he’s my baby.”

You have a lot of major directors with projects looking for financing on new projects the Marché du Film this year, from the Dardenne brothers to Elia Suleiman, who hasn’t made a feature in almost a decade. Has it become harder for these type of global auteurs to get their work done?

It’s definitely harder to do it in a certain kind of economic way. With Gaspar, I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but after “Enter the Void,” he understood his economy. He knew that if he wanted to keep doing this kind of film, the budget needs to be at a certain level. He knows he cannot do an expensive film if he still wants to keep that kind of very novel vision of cinema. He wants to play with the rules, and must keep his budget very low to do that. It’s a pity, because when you see “Enter the Void,” that was a big budget, because Gaspar’s vision needs money — he’s ambitious.

With Suleiman, it’s still a big budget this time, and the producer is doing an amazing job of putting it together because today it’s an economy that doesn’t make sense anymore, the arthouse cinema.

Gaspar Noé

Gaspar Noé

cinefamily.org

Today, to do an arthouse film for $6 million euros, which is not supported by the local industry — to do it as a co-production — is impossible. There is no market for him in Palestine. Even in the Middle East, there is no market to support a $6 million euro film.

So now there are fewer companies like us. A lot of people say that Wild Bunch is a good friend of Cannes, that we have all the movies. It’s not that we have all the movies. Nobody else is doing them. That’s why we have four or five films per year in Cannes. Who else is doing those kind of films where there’s a financial risk for the arthouse market? If they want to boycott the Netflix and Amazon film, it’s going to be more complicated. It’s tougher, but that’s the kind of cinema we like.

How do you feel about the way the conversation around the lack of women filmmakers is playing out, both at Cannes and around the world?

First of all, you can’t say that it’s the same everywhere. At France and especially at Wild Bunch, we have done an incredible number of first-time women directors, like Asia Argento to Virginie Despente. Today, when you go to a film school, people are looking for a certain kind of balance. That’s something we have to fight for. I think it’s also true in Europe, where people are giving subsidies or buying TV rights. There is no reason you should have more men on an acquisitions committee. When you look at who’s going to the cinema, it’s mostly women. If you want to look like your audience, you should be represented by more women in the acquisitions process.

When you look at cinematographers in the U.S., you don’t have many women. You have a lot in France. Editors in France are probably majority women. Not in the U.S. So it’s not only about women directors and producers. It’s also about the access to the other professions. That’s where it should come from.

There are three women directors in competition this year, the same as in 2017. What do you make of this disparity?

The debate about the number of women-directed films at Cannes is the most stupid debate to me. It makes me upset. This year, there are three women in competition; two are with us, Nadine Labaki and Eva Husson. I don’t want to think they’ve been selected there because they’re women. I would think that would be quite humiliating for them. I don’t want to think that in any festival a film is selected just for that reason. It’s really insulting. There was a French journalist telling me that some Cannes selections had no women. I was saying, so you really think, Thierry Fremaux and his committee watched 20 films, saw four directed by women, and said, “Let’s not take them”? Of course not. So it’s humiliating for women. It’s not that way.

Of course, the selection committee should be a balanced representation. But I think today it’s taking up so much space that the buyers are saying “Eva Husson has very good chances because she’s a woman.” Cate Blanchett is the president of the jury and she’s a woman. That’s stupid.

We have someone who works with us here who used to work for Cannes. She said, “The problem is, if you look at the proportion of films we receive — there are maybe 1,000 films submitted to Cannes each year — the number of films directed by women is very, very small. So when they are doing the selection the number of films they receive from women is very small. That’s what you need to address and work on. They aren’t doing enough films. In Asia and India, it’s still very misogynist. And, sorry, but I think it’s the worst in the U.S. When I go before a board in the United States, it’s all controlled by men. It’s about the same in Europe — in Italy, you have very few women executives.”

That’s a cultural thing. Cinema is not going to change that. It’s a general problem. My hope is that the #MeToo movement will change things on a social level. Cinema is a small part of it, and I hope it will remain a small part of it.

Harvey Weinstein

Harvey Weinstein

Michael Hurcomb/REX/Shutterstock

How do you think Harvey Weinstein’s downfall has changed the industry?

We’ll miss Harvey, not as a person, but as someone who bought these kinds of films, as one of the guys who was taking risks on cinema. He wasn’t that guy for the last few years, and as a person, he was not a pleasant guy to deal with. I can only speak about Harvey from a professional point of view, which is that 10 years ago, he was someone who could bring a Cannes film further than Cannes. We miss that kind of person. We hope that someone will replace him in that type of risk taking.

Every story about Harvey in a hotel room at Cannes — we were hearing them more as if they were legends than real stories. I don’t think it was part of Cannes. Sometimes we heard those stories and thought, OK, it’s part of Cannes. People are fantasizing things. It was probably real but we never took them seriously.

To speak of a post-Weinstein in Cannes — that happened before these stories emerged. But it’s true that a few years ago — when you had Harvey, Focus, and Sony fighting for a film — that was fun for us. It’s not there anymore.

It seems like Sony Pictures Classics might have a few more options this time around.

Sony is stable because they are still people who love that kind of film, but we always prefer there are more. I don’t want to be just waiting for [SPC co-president] Michael Barker’s reactions. I want plenty of possibilities. That’s only domestically. From an international perspective, some markets are replacing the American one. The Chinese market is quite amazing.

What do you make of the party scene at Cannes now, especially after the Harvey stories?

The fun has disappeared from Cannes, but not because of Harvey. The fun disappeared 10 years ago. You could have parties in the hills around Cannes. But there was this pure mafia movement where the mayor of Cannes forbid parties outside of the beach on the Croisette. You’d have the cops after 10 minutes in your party because Paris event organizers were renting houses, castles, things like that to sell parties. That money wasn’t going to the people of Cannes, so the city decided to kill the parties outside of the Croisette. That killed the fun of Cannes. We used to throw creative parties in terms of locations. No more. OK, it’s something on the beach or nothing. Why spend money on doing a party if it looks the same as all the other ones? There’s no marketing benefit from a party. So we don’t do it. The city killed it.

What do you make of the changes to the schedule this year, with press screenings taking place at the same time as red carpet premieres instead of in the mornings?

Everybody speaks about the press screening that has been postponed; nobody’s speaking about the buyer screening that has been postponed. Usually, you have the press screening in the morning and the industry screening at 3PM and the premiere at 7PM. Most of the buyers were going at 3PM. That screening doesn’t exist anymore. Nobody in the press cares because it’s just buyers but it’s exactly the same problem. But I think it’s a good move because we need to keep the spirit of the premiere.

Michel Hazanavicius told me that premiering “The Search” in competition after it was trashed at the morning press screening felt like being a condemned man.

He had the experience. It’s also giving a lot of power to the press who are not the people they’re making films for. When people went to “The Search,” there was a bias, because they were booing after five minutes. There is a feeling like, “We have power, we have decided to destroy this film.” You give something to people who are not the main objective of your film. I’ve lived that many times, going on the red carpet at 7PM when you already know the press hates the thing. But I’ve also had the other experience, for “Blue is the Warmest Color.” We already knew it had been a triumph and suddenly you don’t have the joy anymore. At the end of “Blue is the Warmest Color,” yes, they were clapping, but it was old news. The idea of having a press screening and a public screening at the same time puts it back in a good context. There is a press, and there is the public, and we should treat them equally.

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