Words by Travolta Cooper
70 Years Of Cannes & The Future Of The Cinema
Cannes, France —- The 70th Cannes Film Festival represents a departure in the whole wide world of cinema. It is both a departure for the Festival and a departure for me, personally. For me because this will be my last year reporting for our television show ‘The Cinemas’ and in print on with Caribbean news outlets. And it is a departure for the world’s leading and most prestigious film festival because “the cinema” itself is at a crossroads. Movies have been at a crossroads for quite sometime actually. This is most seen and felt when living and traveling in North America, the Caribbean, and Africa. But what has perhaps been most invigorating and retreating for me about covering Cannes over the last three years (this year is my fourth) is that the French, at heart, are cinema traditionalists and cinema purists. I have not witnessed a passion for the cinema anywhere else on earth. To watch movies in a theater at the world famous ‘Palais des Festivals’ in Cannes is like being in a church for cinema. And while Hollywood is the biggest promoter of movies around the world, lest we forget, it was the French that invented the cinema. Perhaps this is why they directly and indirectly act as its priests and guardians. The four corners of the world flock to Cannes each year for the glamour and market of it all, but I believe it is the reverence for the cinema that is the true heart and allure of Cannes to the nations. So with all that said what in the world is streaming giant ‘Netflix’ doing at the 70th Cannes?
This was a key topic of discussion at the press conference held this morning with this year’s Festival Jury President, (Spanish filmmaking giant) Pedro Almodovar and his team of Jurors. Among those on the team of jurors this year is Hollywood actor Will Smith, who stated: “he is here to learn” knows full well he’s an offbeat pick for the world’s most respected festival jury. But that’s all on purpose I suppose, as Will and Pedro represent two very different philosophies on the cinema and the direction in which it is heading. This was evident when both were asked about Netflix being present at the festival. Pedro had this to say in a written statement (which he read to us all): “Digital platforms are a new way of offering words and images, which in itself are enriching. But these platforms should not take the place of existing forms like the movie theaters.” He continued, “They should under no circumstances change the offer for spectators. The only solution I think is that the new platforms accept and obey the existing rules already adopted and respected by the existing networks.” He then said: “I personally don’t believe the Palme d’Or [should be] given to a film that is then not seen on the big screen. All this doesn’t mean I am not open to celebrating new technologies and opportunities, but [as long as] I’m alive I’ll be fighting for the capacity of hypnosis of the large screen for the viewer.”
Will Smith, by all means a Hollywood force of nature (the press circus surrounding Will and his entourage entering the building this morning was epic) had a very different view. I should also note that Will Smith’s upcoming movie “Bright” will be streaming on Netflix. Mr. Smith had this to say: “I have a 16 year old and an 18 year and a 24 year old at home. They go to the movies twice a week, and they watch Netflix. There’s very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix.” He added: “In my home, Netflix has had absolutely no effect on what they go to the movie theater to watch. They go to the cinema to be humbled by certain images and stay home for others – no cross. In my home, Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit – [they] watch films they otherwise wouldn’t have seen. It has broadened my children’s global cinematic comprehension.” Actress Jessica Chastain and actor Paolo Sorrentino, who are also on the jury, stayed mum on the word of streaming giants at the Festival. Also serving on the jury this year are German director Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann), South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook (The Handmaiden), Chinese star Fan Bingbing (Iron Man 3), French actress Agnes Jaoui (The Taste of Others) and Oscar-winning composer Gabriel Yared (The English Patient).
The jury’s first order of business will be screening of the opening film, “Les Fantomes D’ Ismael” (Ismael’s Ghost) directed by French auteur Arnaud Desplechin. And with this, some things may not change, as it is customary for Cannes to open with a French Film or French Filmmaker. Having seen “Ismael’s Ghost,” this morning though, I wonder if there were other choices. Better choices. The film tells the story Ismael (played by Mathieu Amalric), a filmmaker preparing to direct his next film. Ismael’s life begins to spin out of control when a past love (played by Marion Cotillard) resurfaces after being missing (and declared dead) for 20 years. While the film has a fine cast including French starlet Charlotte Gainsbourg, it is an incoherent mess as a narrative. There are at least three different movies in this one script and audiences will have a tough time following the story (or even caring to follow). I wasn’t surprised when critics and viewers began to walk out midway into the film (Cannes, while reverent, is also savage). I spoke to a French film critic after the screening who said that while the film is “very French” even he had a tough time liking it. There had to be another choice: a better choice to open the film festival of festivals. But I suppose this too is a part of this year’s programming. Arnaud Desplechin, is a Cannes disciple whose feature debut, The Sentinel, played here in competition exactly 25 years ago. His presence, and that of French cinema star Claudia Cardinale twirling on this year’s festival cover poster (posters plastered all over the city amidst Netflix and Amazon movie posters), sends a clear message: we will embrace the future while stay rooted in the past.
But streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon are not the only topics pointing toward change and the future of Cinema. Also on the agenda is the increasing symbiosis of film and television. The festival will show two episodes of David Lynch’s Showtime-backed reboot of “Twin Peaks,” as well as the second season of Jane Campion’s television mystery series “Top of the Lake.” This has allowed for much controversy and outrage by critics at the festival. Cannes general delegate, Thierry Frémaux, noted both Campion and Lynch are friends of the festival, which allows for this this open door. Politics. This is a door that will no doubt be pushed wider and wider in the coming years. Also present at Cannes, is Virtual Reality or “VR” as its being called. VR is being pushed as a new art form and is given the seal of credibility by the likes of Alejandro G. Iñárrutu (Academy Award winning filmmaker of “The Revenant” and “Birdman,”). The director will present at Cannes, a six-and-a-half-minute virtual-reality installation of his own devising entitled “Carne y arena,” which some say could be a game changer for VR. Oh and as for departures, there are no Hollywood Studio films at Cannes this year. Hollywood, which is mostly in the business of “franchise cinema” these days, has been present for the last three years I visited. What does their departure and absence means this year mean for Independent Cinema, Caribbean Cinema, and World Cinema at large? I trust those answer will arrive in the coming days.