Newspaper article International New York Times

For Cannes's Man on the Red Carpet, a Fade-Out ; Gilles Jacob Looks Back on His Years as President of the Film Festival

Newspaper article International New York Times

For Cannes's Man on the Red Carpet, a Fade-Out ; Gilles Jacob Looks Back on His Years as President of the Film Festival

Article excerpt

Preparing to step down, Gilles Jacob, the Cannes Film Festival president since 2000, looks back on his time at the festival's helm.

Each year, as stars ascend the red-carpeted steps here, a reserved gentleman in a bespoke Agnes B tuxedo is there to receive them. He is Gilles Jacob, and after more than 35 years at the Cannes Film Festival, the last 15 as president, he is alighting from those steps and retiring.

To Mr. Jacob, it's the steps that make the difference at Cannes. "There's almost a religious aspect to it, as if you were going up to heaven," Mr. Jacob, 83, said in an interview Tuesday in his office here. "The Oscars, c'est magnifique, but it's flat."

That mix of Hollywood glamour and European respect for cinema has kept Cannes the queen of festivals; Mr. Jacob has long been part of the formula. "In the old days, if you walked up the red carpet and he chose to shake your hand, it was a big deal," said Tom Bernard, a founder and co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, which is distributing several films in competition this year.

That handshake meant "you are an artist; you are in an elite class," Mr. Bernard added. "You gained the respect of this guy who has been a tastemaker for decades."

Mr. Jacob is widely credited with not allowing commercial pressures to weigh too heavily on the films selected for competition. "My formula is art cinema for a wide audience, or intelligent popular cinema," he said. "They're the same thing."

The Cannes festival started in 1946. Until 1972, countries chose which films to submit.

"My legacy is, first of all, the independence of the festival," Mr. Jacob said. "Diplomatic and political independence, professional independence and financial independence, which I achieved, with much difficulty, little by little."

As the general delegate -- the job of overseeing the festival, now held by Thierry Fremaux -- from 1977 to 2000, Mr. …

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