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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.

Party Time: Socializing at Cannes

Women in Film Luncheon

There’s a time for work and a time for play, but in the heat of the Croisette, the two are often combined.  People say that’s where the deal are made but it’s not always true. Deals are made hotel suites that have been turned into offices, although there still may be the big agreement that’s written on a cocktail napkin at the Majestic Bar around midnight by the industry titans.

IMG 2707For we mere mortals, though, there are contacts to be made at any number of receptions and cocktail parties.  Chatting over a glass of wine and soggy hors d’oeurves is a time-honored way of learning and networking.
Each year the Ontario party, which includes the Toronto International Film Festival, draws a couple of hundred people in the late afternoon, before evening screenings start.  Among those attending was Wendy Lidell, an industry veteram in Cannes for the first time in years as she recently joined Kino Lorber as senior VP of acquisitions. The Ontario party gave her a chance to connect with many people; some may be the beginning of acquisition deals.

Also at the Ontario event was Nadine Cloete. Nadine was in Cannes for the first time as part of the South African delegation. She has completed her first feature length documentary titled “Action Kommandant,” and was hoping to meet festival programmers and sales agents at the festival. This party was a great start. She brought with her a link to her film trailer: . She was set to start networking immediately!

The Dutch reception, taking place in the Netherlands pavilion, hosts Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam as well as the Rotterdam Film Festival. There, Genna Terranova, Director of the Tribeca Film Festival and Sheryl Mousley, Senior Curator, Moving Image at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, had a moment to swap war stories.

diane pernetA Shaded View on Fashion Film reception on a rooftop at the Palais had great views as well as fabulously dressed guests. Diane Pernet, who founded the ASVOFF, as it is known, and who screens the films in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, is an American expat who now makes her home in France. The films in this annual series are focused on fashion; most are commercials for clothing, accessories and perfume brands. This was the first time Diane brought news of her festival to the Croisette (the eighth edition of the series had been held in December), so many brands were involved in this stylish cocktail hour.

In addition to institutional parties, there are traditional lunches, unencumbered by association with companies or brands. More personal and very off the cuff. I was happy to attend such a lunch, as I do every year, with a wonderful group of women working in various fields in the film business. Attending this year were, among others, Chaz Ebert, widow of film critic Roger, who is now the publisher of and  Sandra Shulberg, president of Indie Collect film preservation. Also stopping by were various film festival programmers and producers, Nicole Guillemet, Linda Blackaby and Joyce Pierpoline  among them. Many items were discussed, particularly Sandra Schulberg’s efforts to restore the early works of Christine Vachon, Todd Haynes and others.

Although it may seem like  superficial socializing, attendance at most of the social events of Cannes raise awareness to important issues beyond the dollar signs.

Les Demoiselles de Cannes: Women in Competition


The issue of diversity at the Cannes Film Festival has not been solved, but the number of women directors with films in the competition has inched up this year. It is most likely the luck of the draw, as it were, and not an enlightened response to those who have been complaining over the past years. Nonetheless, why not take a look at this year’s female contenders.

British filmmaker Andrea Arnold made her third trip on the red carpet this year with her latest film American Honey.” Two of her previous films, “Red Road” (2006) and “Fish Tank” (2009) were also shown in the competition here.

american-honey-posterAmerican Honey” is Arnold’s first film made in the U.S. and it goes right to the heartland, telling a story of young misfits who travel around selling magazine subscriptions to unsuspecting suburbanites. She cast a combination of newcomers (the excellent Sasha Lane) and veterans (Shia LaBeouf acquits himself quite well).

Toni Erdmann” is German director Maren Ade’s third feature, but it is her first film in the Cannes competition. She has wowed everyone with her outrageous comedy about a father trying to get his Type A daughter to loosen up.

The press are especially enamored with this audacious look at current social mores as well as familial relationships. Neither lead character is particularly lovable, but they both grab our attention. The film also features a curious and creepy yeti-like creature (but from a warmer climate), which also made guerilla-like appearances on the Croisette and among the festival market stands.

toni-erdmann-posterGetting lost in the competition is Nicole Garcia’s film “Mal de Pierres.” Starring Marion Cotillard and Louis Garrel, the film focuses on life in a small farming community where a mentally unstable young woman (Cotillard) who is forced into marriage and later falls in love while taking a rest cure.

castle in italy posterThis is a serviceable film that seems to rely heavily on the craft and star power of the cast, particularly Cotillard and Garrel. It seems that every year there is at least one film in the competition that makes everyone ask, what is that doing here? And it is usually a French film, which sort of answers that question.

I would say if there is such a spot on the competition, why not have it go to a mediocre film by a woman. Then again, I recall a few years ago that same slot was claimed by another so-so film directed by a woman – Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s “A Castle in Italy.” In that case, it is a bad trend to start.

There is also representation of women directors in the other sections of Cannes (some better than others, but none in a position to claim the diversity crown). However, it is the competition that draws the most attention, and therefore the section that we hope will get on the diversity bandwagon soon. It’s simply a matter of rethinking your world-view. And that’s easier than you think. Really.

5th Annual First Look Festival: Week 2

The Project of the Century

At the historic Kaufman Astoria Studios complex, where hundreds of silent and early sound era films were produced in my New York City home borough of Queens, the fifth annual First Look Festival at the Museum of the Moving Image is an adventurous showcase for cinéphiles of almost 50 contemporary and influential international shorts and features, with many filmmakers in attendance over the January weekends.

The second weekend focused on strikingly different ways to visualize the power of place through time.  Three feature films from Latin America were co-presented by Cinema Tropical, including two from Cuba.  French director Léa Rinaldi’s This Is What It Is was a portrait of hip-hop band Los Aldeanos, on stage and off in Havana.  Other films went further into geography where outsiders have never been, or seen like this, and will never forget.

The Project of the Century (La obra del siglo)

Filmed primarily in retro black-and-white, director/co-writer Carlos Quintela illustratively places three generations of fictional macho men into a hulking environment frozen for a future that never came to pass.  Interwoven with the emotional tensions of their stalled lives, the story of Electro-Nuclear City (ENC), in the central, ocean-front province of Cienfuegos, is extolled with footage culled from the discarded archives of the local television station Tele-Nuclear.  

From the propaganda salutes to the achievements of Soviet technology (an ironic mirror image of our own broadcasts during the Cold War), the monumental jewel of U.S.S.R.-Cuban relations in the 1980’s was the importation and construction of the first nuclear power plant in the Caribbean, and of the towering planned community for workers needed to build and operate it.  This drumbeat of great expectations hangs over the huge incomplete and mostly deserted remains, while the viewer can anticipate the Chernobyl accident, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the collapse of Cuba’s economy that it had subsidized.  Instead of radiation, haz mat crews are fumigating against some unknown threat.

The men in the family apartment each represent an era, but are still (mostly) individuals.  Like Fidel Castro, the earthy grandfather Otto (Mario Balmaseda) is the domineering patriarchal revolutionary generation that still remembers when the area was all sugar cane fields, but his concerns are now reduced to his beloved goldfish.  His son Rafael (veteran Cuban actor Mario Guerra) should have been nearing comfortable retirement from his planned prestigious career as a Soviet-educated nuclear engineer.  The most developed character (and the only one who still has some success with women), his years training in Russia are still the highlight of his life.  Depressed and rationing the last of his mobile phone access to the outside world, the hunky prodigal grandson Leo (Leonardo Gascón) has boomeranged back after another failed school opportunity and romantic relationship.  

Restlessly wandering abandoned turbines, Leo looks like one of the boxers the region is known to produce, as Quintela helpfully explained the context in his first Q & A in English at the New York premiere, after having accompanied the film to Florida and Eastern Europe (and its limited showings at home).  While color footage of local boxing hero Robeisy Carrazana Ramirez winning a gold medal in the flyweight division at the 2012 London Summer Olympics glaringly inserting into his film as the rest of the world saw it, the local perspective seems inconclusively gray.  But Cuba could market this locale for post-apocalypse movies.


Toponymy (Toponimia)

In northwest Argentina, the post-apocalypse looks spookily benign.  Director Jonathan Perel impressively combines techniques of the older generation of landscape documentary filmmakers -- the dispassionate architectural cinematography of Heinz Emigholz (like his Perret in France and Algeria in 2012 and 2006’s Schindler's Houses) with the passionate essays of Patricio Guzmán in Chile (like most recently with The Pearl Button) -- to track the forgotten physical evidence of the brutal 1970’s military dictatorship in rural Argentina.  

With a title meaning the linguistic discipline that studies the etymological origin of place names, and a prologue of construction blueprints in the local archives, Perel silently proves that, like so many military conquerors across the Americas, the forced resettlement of indigenous peoples was the first step in quashing uprisings.  He structures his solo-camera scenes as precisely as a social scientist.  The prologue opens with ten shots of government documents in 1974 bureaucratically justifying “Operation Independence” to separate civilian cover from ERP guerrillas in the mountains.  Then 58 shots of 15 seconds apiece examine the uniform blueprints of four towns for about 300 people each, 20 miles apart, varying only slightly by open valley geography.

Chapter 1 – “Welcome to Lieutenant Berdina Town” -- and through three more chapters each set of blueprints comes alive today.  Each entrance arch, plaza, school, Catholic chapel, public building, soccer field with bleacher, and hierarchical-sized residences is unblinkingly stared at with the same 58 static shots of 15 seconds apiece.  Shot by shot, town by town, street by street named for fallen soldiers, with memorial bust, religious statue, gazebo, stone planter, and dirt roads ending in agricultural fields hedged in by misty mountains.  As a few cars and bicyclists ride by, kids play and life goes on, we can observe in these vestiges from the rise of the authoritarian regime what houses and yards have been individualized and what central structures and imperial decorations the residents have vandalized, left to rot, or re-purposed over the past 40 years.  

In the Q & A after this U.S. premiere, Perel usefully explained the enigmatic epilogue – deep in the mountainous forest he moved with a hand-held camera through the grown-over traces of the original indigenous communities from which the families were uprooted.  So even some livestock we saw in a town are a rebellion against the attempt to change their way of life.  Previously only remembered through an academic footnote, even human rights groups were unaware of this upheaval and the complicit “donation” of property that made it possible.  

As a former city planner, I saw a larger message of conformity than just the opening round of this “Dirty War”.  These new towns looked a lot like the ideal communities touted in Ralph Steiner & Willard Van Dyke’s renowned short film The City, commissioned by the American Institute of Planners for the 1939 World’s Fair.  That image inspired the Levittown-like 1950’s suburban subdivision of voluntarily re-settling urban veterans I grew up in where, I realized when my Girl Scout troop participated in the Memorial Day parade, our streets were named for those from the town who had died in World War II and the Korean War.  The look of similar landscapes can be ironic.



The landscape of the past moves quickly into the present right in front of us through this short film that is a feast for the eyes, ears, and hearts of film lovers.  North Carolina-based directors Kyle Andrew Bell and Jean-Jacques Martinod caught wind that drive-in movie theaters in the southern United States would be getting their last deliveries of 35mm film cans last summer before going digital.  Racing thunder and lightning storms, they drove through the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Texas to capture deliveries of this last picture show.  From the projection booth to the refreshment stand, there’s cars coming and going, and lots of people, including kids in the playground and restless teenage boys, plus creepy guys watching porn (yes- there’s glimpses of two of those such theaters).  But more, there’s the redolent sounds of insects, rain, conversations, and equipment beautifully captured in the deep dark of the heat of a summer night.  In the Q & A for this New York premiere, sound designer Jonathan Van Der Horst impressed the appreciative audience by assuring that these were all simultaneous ambient noises.  You feel immersed in everything about the drive-in experience -- except the movie, but then I was always too much of a purist to see one there.

Jumping ahead, several other short films in the third and final weekend brought new approaches to see eye-filling landscapes.  


Pawel and Wawel (Pawel i Wawel)

Polish director Krzysztof Kaczmarek brought a welcome sense of humor.  In his Q & A for the New York premiere, he cheerfully admitted the genesis of his droll road movie: when he couldn't get funding to make a feature, he convinced the Polish Film Institute to sponsor his touring a Polish Film Festival collection -- in Iceland!  So he documented (supplemented with some imaginings) his travel and adventures by ferry and road along the summer coast.  There’s the landscape of beautiful and threatening nature of ocean, mountains, hot springs, and volcanic ash, the barely built environment of small towns, camp grounds, and sparsely-filled community centers.  I was reminded of Michael Schorr’s Schultze Gets the Blues (2003) when the fauna included singing nuns, bearded beatboxers, exuberant eccentrics, and one devoted fan of Polish cinema.  In fairness to the Icelanders, he said the “What’s the difference between Pawel and Wawel” festival was so popular in the capital of Reykjavík that his small crew only had a chance to film their fans briefly on a street corner.

Kaczmarek helped New Yorkers re-live his tour when he repeated his role of introducing a restoration of a gem of Polish post-war cinema -- and the only feature he said could stand re-watching at every stop.  Certainly deserving to be seen by more, Jerzy Kawalerowicz's Night Train (1959) is a jazzy noir trip to the Baltic coast through the landscape of post-war Polish aesthetics and society.  Filled with references to other films, from Alfred Hitchcock to Fritz Lang, consider it a gorgeously black-and-white precursor to Snowpiercer.  Just inside a few of the first-class berths are a doctor who wants to be left alone (Leon Niemczyk, starring a few years later in Roman Polanski’s Knife In The Water), a curvaceous femme fatale (the director’s wife Lucyna Winnicka), a sleepless Holocaust survivor, and a murderer on the run who leads them all into a Bergman-esque morally ambiguous landscape.  

Previewing the last weekend’s presentations from FIDMarseille, the French summer film festival’s director Jean-Pierre Rehm introduced two shorts which reveled in looking at two environments from opposite ends of the social and historical scale.  

Italian director Pippo Delbono’s The Visit brought the priceless aged faces of Michael Lonsdale and Bobo into and through the great and ornate indoor and outdoor spaces of Versailles (That Bobo was born deaf and with microcephaly now has additional perspective).  Through philosophical ruminations and wordless sounds, they each ironically puncture the Baroque legacy of the aristocracy with wigs, toys and visual jokes.  

In Jet Lag, Spanish director Eloy Domínguez Serén visually considers who sees more of what happens at a gas station on the night shift – a tired, bored documentary crew or the automated security cameras?  The answer got more and more abstract as the First Look Festival continued.

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