Speaking Of...: Talks at Cannes 2016

Moira Griffin (second from left), Katriel Schory (far right) at CNC round table

Talks and panels have become a large part of the Cannes Film Festival. Diversity was a big topic this year. Herewith a recap of a few.

Hidden inside the Majestic Hotel, Kering Suite Talks aimed at many issues facing women in the field.
Chloe Sevigny, who made her film debut at age 19 in “Kids,” is in Cannes with her directorial debut, “Kitty,” a short film from a Paul Bowles story about a young girl who turns into a cat. The film was shown as part of the closing program of Critics Week.

Chloe Sevingy
She hired all female producers on her film,  because women are good at multitasking: “I love sleeping with men, hanging out with men, but I like working with women,” she said. Insecurity may have held her back from directing sooner. As she worked with more and more big name, talented directors, she became more and more intimidated.
She was influenced by women directors, including Mary Harron (“American Psycho”) and Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”). She noted the way they work but also noted the challenges they faced as women.

According to Sevigny, women’s film and women characters in film are under marketed. As and example she mentioned that tbe new “Star Wars” movie has figurines for many white characters, but none for the black Jedi, or for Scarlett Johansson in her latest Marvel movie.

 Amy Emmerich, Chief Content Officer of Refinery 29, dedicated to supporting work by women filmmakers, talked of solutions to these challenges, and of the need to build a base for women. Television seems to be ahead of movies in this area. Many times told stories are “too female.” “You never hear Martin Scorsese being told his films are too male,” she said.

Both alluded to characterizations of women filmmakers. Men are looked at as mad artists; women are just crazy bitches. Sevigny’s takeaway is that women must demand better material. There was talk of pay disparity. Emmerich said girls must be raised to speak out and praised Jennifer Lawrence for calling out the system and doing it loudly.

France’s Centre National du Cinema et de l’image animée, or CNC, held a roundtable on diversity in their tent on the beach. Industry professionals gathered to hear from other professionals about the challenges and successes of inclusiveness in the field.

Much of the talk dealt with behind – and after – the camera. Moira Griffin, Senior diversity manager from the Sundance Institute, said there are almost no European sales agents of color. Asked what success in diversity looked like to her, she replied, “When I don’t have a job anymore!” In terms of broadening artists working in the newest technologies, she said that Sundance is currently training women and people of color in Virtual Reality.

Moroccan filmmaker Philippe Faucon, director of “Fatima,” moved from troubles with his first film “Samia” to better times with “Fatima” where he had cast what were considered bankable stars.

The panel also included Jasmin McSweeney, Director of Marketing for the New Zealand Film Commission and Katriel Schory, Executive Director of the Israeli Film Fund. Schory talked about the fund’s “I am you are” initiative, supporting short films made by Israeli and Palestinian kids.

CNC’s President of its Images of Diversity Commission, Alexandre Michelin, moderated and threw out his own challenge that in France, he felt, screenwriting was an issue. There are plenty of people with stories, but they may need help in writing those stories. This speaks to opening training to a more diverse group of people.

During the Q&A, the elephant on the Croisette was addressed: the lack of diversity in the Cannes competition, as well as in other big festivals. Most panelists agreed that a diversity of programmers was critical. Griffin wondered how many women and/or people of color were on the Cannes selection committee. No one in the room knew the answer. Schory spoke of the first film with a Palestinian director and producer in Un Certain Regard; he said his fund is trying to train Palestinians behind the camera, since that is where the power is.

Lucia GrennaDocumentaries now receive more and more attention in Cannes. This is the second year that a best documentary award is given out, presented by SACAM. It’s not part of the official competition awards (very few have been shown in competition and only one, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” has won the Palme d’or), but still there is movement towards recognizing the importance of documentary films.

In light of this attention, a panel was held, titled Global Awareness for Social Justice. A group gathered to share information on the current situation.

Gianfranco Rossi, whose film “Fire at Sea” premiered at this year’s Berlinale and won the top prize, said his work was more about true and false, not fiction or non-fiction. He gets to know people very well in his films. He works alone, and doesn’t shoot everything but chooses moments that work for him. The three most important personal requirements for him to make films are: Structure, subtraction, and transportation

Lucia Grenna, Program manager of Connect4Climate, spoke of the importance of social media, “not that we (organizations, institutions) can reach everyone, but that everyone can reach us.” To me, that is the holy grail, to let those searching online find the answers that speak the truth.

Also taking a close look at documentaries was a panel at the American Pavilion, part of their Industry in Focus program.  Thom Powers, who seems to own non fiction programming in North America, moderated a talk with two queens of documentary filmmaking in the U.S., producer Diane Weyerman of Participant Media, and Cara Mertes, head of the Just Film section of the Ford Foundation. They are not just interested in real stories, but in ones that push a progressive social agenda. And that would certainly include diversity: these women are at the front lines of the battle for documentary recognition.