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Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds
Seeing the word “classics” applied to a film festival program would have you believe you will be seeing a bevy of old films, perhaps restored. But Cannes regards those involved with film through the years to be classics; hence a collection of recent documentaries about cinema luminaries.
There are cineastes you can listen to for hours, captivated by their opinions and their knowledge. Martin Scorsese comes to mind. “A Journey Through French Cinema” is Bertrand Tavernier’s treatise on where we’ve come from cinematically. (And I use the universal “we,” since it really all began with French cinema.)
Although it seems like a stream of consciousness exercise, the film is very finely structured, covering many moments in the evolution of the medium. The sense in watching it, however, is of having a conversation with Tavernier over drinks in a café near the Cinémathèque Française. And if you think you know everything about French film, be advised: you don’t.
In “The Cinema Travelers” Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya take a loving look at the Indian film lovers who move projectors around the country to share the experience of moving going with all, even those in far-flung locations.
They explore and investigate: getting a look at audience members, who are grateful for their time in the dark with their favorite movies. And they look at those who make it possible; particularly touching is the man who keeps old projectors going with spit and promise.
“Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds” is a loving home movie by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens. This mother and daughter act (and they actually do an act together) let a lot hang out. They argue, they bitch and moan, but they really love each other.
Bloom and Stevens let us in on the highs and lows. And Reynolds and Fisher are particularly open to the camera. Perhaps it’s their nature, but still these are lovely moments. We see the ordinary moments, but we also see what makes them so special to us.
“Gentleman Rissient” is directed by Benoît Jacquot, Guy Seligmann and Pascal Mérigeau. I have written about Pierre Rissient before, and this is not the first film about this film renaissance man. But here, the three filmmakers let Pierre have his say pretty much all the way.
Rissient has worked in so many aspects of film: Distribution, public relations and also those important parts of film that may not have a name. He has advised Clint Eastwood and Jerry Schatzberg, among others. (Regarding Schatzberg, Rissient will admit that his first three films were great, but the rest went downhill!)
Thierry Fremaux, head of the Cannes festival, refers to Pierre as “Mr. Everywhere.” And it’s true. He shows up everywhere, and rumor has it that Rissient is the only human being on earth who can walk up the red carpet in sneakers and a T shirt. Because that’s what he wears!
Filmmaker Esther Hoffenberg introduces a new generation to Bernadette Lafont, the unique French actress in her documentary “Bernadette Lafont: And God Created the Free Woman.” This striking and talented actress had a career that spanned the New Wave and lasted to her final years.
Raised in a very free way by her mother, Lafont led the same kind of life as an adult. She had children, which caused some work problems (back in the day before birth control when she was supposed to choose film over family): François Truffaut told her that she had chosen to have a life, so he couldn’t work with her.
It’s a lovely story, told by Hoffenberg but through the eyes, words and memories of Lafont’s granddaughters. The seamless interweaving of her career, love, and life shines a light on how many of us still could lead meaningful lives. Did she see her life the way her granddaughters did? Probably not, but it is the different views that make her life so intriguing.
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.
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.
Documentaries 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.
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.
For 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: https://vimeo.com/164437718 . 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.
A 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 rogerebert.com 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.
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” 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.
Getting 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.
This 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.
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