Tuesday, May 15, 2007
bienvenue à cannes
Tomorrow, May 16th, will mark the beginning of the 60th annual film festival in the south of France known as Festival de Cannes. Producers, finance companies, actors, critics, and more will be converging on Cannes from all around the world. There will be parties, glamour, financing deals and... oh, yeah,...films. Festival de Cannes was founded in 1939, partly in response to the involvement of the Italian and German fascist governments running things at the Venice film festival. The first President was Louis Lumière, and it was set to begin on September 1st, 1939. However, as students of history will recognize, that was a fateful day. September 1st, 1939 marked the beginning of Hitler's invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II.
The festival was put off during the war and began again in 1946. In the beginning the festival was small and primarily featured European films. In fact, some years the festival was canceled due to a lack of funds. In 1968, the festival found itself at the center of controversy as students and leftists came out in massive protests against the French deGaulle administration's further involvement in University affairs. Labor groups soon joined them in strike and a good portion of France was shut down for several days. In solidarity with the students, several jury members and key participants had the festival canceled.
In recent years, American films have had a much larger presence at the festival, and more celebrities have become attendees. The festival is largely about showing your current film, that may not have a mainstream audience and at the same time wheeling and dealing to finance your next film. Several prizes are highly sought after, including the Prix du Jury (Jury Prize), the Grand Prix (Grand Prize) and especially the Palme d'Or (the Golden Palm). Today, over 300,000 actors, producers, directors and other film professionals gather at the annual festival.
In honor of it's 60th anniversary, Turner Classic Movies is premiering a new documentary on Cannes. Produced and directed by Richard Schickel. Entitled Bienvenue à Cannes, the documentary explores the history and the impact of the festival on international cinema. Wolf and I were able to view the documentary this weekend. Since what we say was a rough cut, we'll focus on what we saw and it's content, knowing that some technical features and perhaps some content will have been polished for the final cut.
The film mainly consists of interviews of actors and actresses, some directors like Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, producers like Harvey Weinstein with Miramax, and many journalists and critics, including A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert and Kenneth Turan. It also features interviews with past Presidents, publicists and others involved with putting on the Festival. The film premieres Wednesday the 16th at 8 pm (est) and again at 11:15 PM. We'll give you our take of the documentary, with both my perspective and Wolf's perspective.
Being a rough cut, I fully expect some problems in this program to be fixed by airtime. The problem is that the issues that should be fixed won't be. I watched this expecting a documentary. As a documentary it was poor. Most documentaries explain the origins of its subject and give details of major events and landmarks in its history. This isn't done very well in this program. Cannes veterans tell some good stories. There is some decent vintage footage of festivals past but when I finished watching this, I knew very little of how the Cannes film festival began and the same amount about major events of it's past. There are even some folks interviewed which cause you to think: "Who is this and why do I care what they have to say?" Some of the new faces you will see are festival officials and organizers who are quite relevant, but they add no more than additional stories of days past. Frankly there are very few folks interviewed who lend a documentary atmosphere to the program. It seemed to be less of a documentary and more of a commentary or a collection of memories shared by participants past and present.
The truth is, as a commentary this program was passable and also revealing. One thing to really stand out was a comment made by a critic from TIME magazine. He said, "The first thing someone from the OUTSIDE should know about Cannes is they're not invited. Cannes is a class culture. You are given different kinds of colored cards to determine your IMPORTANCE." He goes on to explain that he has 'carte blanch' at the festival because he has "a white card". He throws in a little smug with this comment for flavor. Following this comment was Philip Lapote of the New York film festival selection committee who said that Cannes is "filled with humiliations". He then compares it to Buddhism saying that it causes people to "lose their ego". Huh? Sounds to me like some are deflated as others are well fed. Hypocrisy abounds as many who are interviewed lament about how much hard work the festival is. Not the preparation and the take down, but the actual viewing of films, interviews, and judging. That would've been remotely believable until one or two segments later a portion of the program was dedicated to the wild parties and drinking that goes on EVERY night. It's mentioned that so much drinking goes on at night that some folks show up to the morning meetings well hung-over and sometimes still intoxicated. People reminisce about parties past and how wild they were. A story is told of how they all partied so hard one night that during an 8:30 showing of one of the films, someone was snoring so loudly that someone had to wake the person up and tell them to "Stop snoring. You're waking the rest of us up." Sounds like just good ole' "hard work" to me. Oh and the morning meetings that people were showing up to while still drunk...they started at 10 AM or so.
Martin Scorsese tells us that a few days into the festival that most people are ready for it to end and don't even care about the last movies in the competition. It's even alluded to that some of the 'jurors' are semi-inebriated while deciding who earns awards. That kinda' takes the weight out of that little " Winner of the (blank) award at the Cannes Film Festival" tag we see on some movie covers, doesn't it. Watching some of the "films" submitted and being able to find their hotel rooms at the end of the day sounds like the hardest work. Politics are shown to play apart at Cannes as well in this special. Politics has been a decider in awarding prizes at Cannes for a long time. Big surprise, huh? If you watch this program expecting a documentary, then you may be disappointed. If you despise the phoniness, elitism and other problems with the modern filmmaking society, then you will enjoy the confirmation that this program gives you of your opinions.
Publicist Dennis Davidson stated in the documentary, “One of the things the Cannes Film Festival does is balance a great deal of different needs. Ultimately it’s a film festival that deals with cultural films, films in different languages, films that have a very limited commercial appeal. And layered on top of that are the big Hollywood films and big Hollywood stars.” Like Wolf, I walked away from the film wondering if the festival was anything more than a self-congratulatory, networking, week-long party. In the past, I think Cannes did a much better job at bringing unknown films to a forum. Now, Hollywood has crept in and so has politics to a degree. I am afraid the same thing has begun to happen at Sundance. Ultimately, a film is about different visions; that of a director, a screenwriter, producers and the actors, and how best to blend those into something resembling a story. I love independent movies and international films. However, aside from Asian cinema, it's difficult to find any that I really love anymore.
What I thought singularly refreshing about Richard Schickel's film is how direct, forward and balanced it seemed to be about Cannes and it's place in cinema today. Each segment had differing opinions and you had as many people lamenting the loss of the old days and how money has become dominant, as much as you had others lauding it for its glamour and importance in financing projects. I think that the film would have benefited from more context, perhaps in the form of a narrator. I know that the "narrator form" is kind of overused. However, in this situation there were times were I wondered if anyone in the audience would keep up with some of the things the commentators were discussing. How many people are going to understand the riots and strikes in France in 1968, and how it related to Cannes? In that instance, I believe a narrator to provide context would have added to the film. Again, we saw a rough cut, so we hope some of the issues have been resolved.
Overall, we both thought that the film could have used more context (I thought in the form of a narrator) and perhaps less talking heads. Wolf took issue with some of the commentary involved, and I thought that while there was too much commentary, it seemed to be more balanced than I expected. But in the end, I think we both agree that Cannes presents some problems, and the film took more of a realistic view of its history and what it amounts to today. I think you'll be interested to watch the film and learn more about Cannes. I think you'll enjoy the accompanying films a well. TCM is presenting a full slate of past films shown at Cannes. Here's the schedule (all times are est):
Wednesday, May 16th:
8:00 pm: Bienvenue à Cannes (2007)
9:30 pm: The Cranes Are Flying (1957)
11:15 pm: Encore of Bienvenue à Cannes (2007)
12:45 am: Blow-Up (pictured above) (1966)
2:45 am: Viridiana (1961)
4:30 am: The Conversation (1974)
Thursday, May 17th:
8:00 am: The Mystery of Picasso (1958)
9:30 pm: The Clay Bird (2002)
11:15 pm: Never On Sunday (1960)
1:00 am: Crossfire (pictured above)(1947)
2:30 am: Lili (1953)
Shelfers will particularly want to not miss Blow-Up, The Conversation, The Mystery of Picasso and Crossfire. Check out Bienvenue à Cannes and learn more about the world of international cinema, both yesterday and today. And please come back and let us know what you think in the comments section.
Thanks to Turner Classic Movies for images.
Okay, where were you when he needed you? Maybe you were someplace having beautiful thoughts. Well, I wasn't. I was in a stinkin' gin mill, where all he had to do to see me was walk in, sit down at the table and buy me a drink.