Magazine article Variety

Cannes Can't Wait

Magazine article Variety

Cannes Can't Wait

Article excerpt

Thierry Frémaux almost lost his job as the director of the Cannes Film Festival last May.

Facing a backlash from French exhibitors outraged over his decision to allow Netflix to screen its films at the seaside resort without the approval of the festival's board, Frémaux was threatened with being fired, insiders say. His $l43,258-a-year job as one of cinema's top tastemakers hung in the balance.

That meeting set the stage for one of the most sizzle-free Cannes in history. A perfect storm of disruptive technology, challenging market forces and self-inflicted public relations disasters is raising questions about the festival's long-term viability.

In return for Frémaux being allowed to remain at the helm, powerful board members - many with ties to French theater chains and broadcasters - extracted a promise from him to ban Netflix from competition unless the new-media giant agreed to let its movies screen theatrically in France and adhere to the country's strict streaming restrictions. Netflix didn't play ball, refusing to let Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" have a French theatrical release in order to be included. The festival never recovered from the brinkmanship.

There were triumphant and moving moments, to be sure. Spike Lee scored while debuting "BlacKkKlansman," a scorching dramedy about a black policeman who infiltrates the Klan that was sadly topical in the wake of Charlottesville. The stars of "Solo: A Star Wars Story" captured the world's attention with a splashy screening in the festival's second week. Stormtroopers paraded down the steps of the main theater, Chewbacca walked the carpet and "Solo" stars partied on the beach immediately after the movie. To top it off, Disney, the film's backer, lit up the sky with a 20-minute fireworks display. The fest's emotional high point came with a march for women's rights that featured jury president Cate Blanchett linking arms with Patty Jenkins and Agnes Varda outside the Palais. Noting Cannes' poor record of celebrating female filmmakers, these powerful artists made it clear that more needs to be done - and soon.

By and large, though, it was one critical headline after another. More was written about the selfie ban than about the films premiering at the 11-day gathering. The festival also whipped up controversy for its response to the #MeToo moment. It was slow to launch an anti-harassment hotline and only included three films from female directors among the 18 competition titles.

The times are a-changing, but Cannes seems stubbornly resistant to going along with them. It isn't working hard enough to build relationships with the U. …

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