Cannes helmer on Tom Cruise, Russian boycott and censoring the media

When he sat down with the international media on the eve of the 75th edition of the Festival de Cannes, Thierry Frémaux had to dance through quite a lot of uncomfortable questions, including some about the overloaded online servers which keep crashing.
Cannes helmer on Tom Cruise, Russian boycott and censoring the media

Today, the Cannes Film Festival prepares -- the red carpets are being put down, the Nespresso stand so vital to all festival goers is being assembled inside the Palais and all accreditations came to a complete halt midday as the system crashed, bringing down the whole online ticketing site in the process.

But Cannes, to those of us attending faithfully year after year, has never been easy. For a journalist, Cannes is the most expensive, least satisfying festival around and yet it is a necessary box to tick off to be taken seriously. If you don't do Cannes, you can't be in the know, it is as easy as that.

On the afternoon before the official start of this important anniversary festival, it was with delight and anticipation, despite our already horrid experiences in booking tickets online during the first three days of the new system being tried out, that we arrived at the Press Conference room on the third floor of the Palais to meet up with the festival's General Delegate Thierry Frémaux. Of course, the online ticketing version of the festival was already tried out in 2021 but with a much lighter accreditation list due to Covid restrictions. This "new" system is in place to avoid the old system of standing in line for hours only to see the last seat go to a French vintage journalist who has not worked for years, bobbing up to the gate with their privileged white badge. But it does in no way get rid of the festival's beloved hierarchy of coloured badges. In fact, it highlights it even more and now anyone below a pink badge -- the decent middle ground between lowly blues and yellows and those privileged polka dotted and white badges -- is relegated to sitting in the upper galleries or the extreme sides for any and all screenings. It feels a bit like going back to the days of Rosa Parks and those who, in racist America, had to sit in the back of the bus.

So it was with delight that I heard a fellow journalist ask Frémaux about the controversy caused by a Deadline article -- claiming the festival censors (and has last word on publication of) articles -- where a question regarding the lack of Black filmmakers in this year's lineup was requested by the press office to be taken out of the interview unceremoniously.

Now mind you, Frémaux hasn't gotten where he is today by being a fool. He's a smart, cultured lover of cinema, who knows his place within the well oiled machine of film festivals around the world which promote this kind of "the audience is stupid, so we shall decide for them what they need to watch" agenda. He answered by mentioning his "good friend", the French-Senegalese woman filmmaker Mati Diop whose film Atlantics was in Competition in 2019. Diop made history then when the film premiered in Cannes, becoming the first Black woman to direct a film featured in competition at the festival. "I got a message from her today," Frémaux admitted, and continued to point out how the young filmmaker is the "spearhead of a new generation of filmmakers in Sub Saharan Africa," while also adding that the "drop in films from certain areas is because of the pandemic -- we cannot forget we came out of two years of a pandemic." This was his way out of the lack of Black filmmakers quandary.

Regarding the article mentioned and linked above, when pushed further on the festival's seeming censorship, Frémaux added, "there is no censorship or self censorship at all," explaining further that "I try to control what I say, as I talk normally and spontaneously with you. If you give me the text and I want to change something I can reread the way I’ve been reported and I can change my views. It’s no more complicated than that." When prodded further by a Screen journalist, Frémaux dismissed it by concluding, "this is a press conference not a school of journalism," then uttering the names of Deadline and Screen while miming with his arm the need to protect himself from those media. As if they were Godzilla.

When asked about the crash of the system, it was time for the funniest moment of the press conference. "Robots are attacking the system and getting 1500 tickets at a time," Frémaux said, and the room laughed, while the journalist sitting behind me uttered, loud enough for us to hear, "yeah, it's those damned Russians." If ever there was a time to blame it all on the Russians, we seem to have found that moment these days, with a boycott of the Russian film industry and media at this festival -- and all other festivals issuing press releases mirroring each other.

"We announced this in a press release before the start of the festival," in fact Frémaux said, that there would be "no official Russian representation... including no journos who represent the official line, both are not welcomed. Those who defend and uphold the official line those aren’t welcomed." Then added that "there are those who have left Russia. There are people who made the choice to leave," and those of course are more than welcomed along with all things Ukrainian in Cannes this year, what he called the "total non negotiable support for the Ukrainian people."

Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise will be on the Croisette too this year, with the world premiere of his latest, Top Gun: Maverick and in conversation during a live event on May 18th. About his presence, Frémaux said "Cruise represents the history of contemporary cinema. I said this at the conference in April, he’s an actor who when he embarks on a project, the film is always a beautiful one -- the result is good." He added, "we hope the film, along with others, will bring people back to the movie theaters," and pointed to a quality near and dear to his own heart "He [Cruise] doesn’t do clips on the [streaming] platforms, he’s dedicated to the cinema -- you have to see his films in the cinema." When questioned on the presence of a blockbuster in Cannes, Frémaux pointed out that "the support of Hollywood was always very important for the Cannes Festival -- we have been companions for decades, years and years. We are accustomed to having the American studios here." Which this year will be present with both Top Gun: Maverick, a Paramount production and Baz Luhrmann's Elvis by Warner Bros..

Finally, it wouldn't be a film festival if someone didn't ask about the lack of women filmmakers in the Competition programme. As we quickly forgot the "50/50 by 2020" pledge made on the steps of Cannes in 2018 and repeated at the Cairo International Film Festival in 2019, Frémaux spinned the question posed to him, by pointing out that when French films are concerned, there are 75 percent women filmmakers -- pointing to a culture of women directors in France. And left us with a question posed back to us: "Should we decide today that we exclude a film because it is made by a man? I ask you that today. I don’t think that’s the solution."

The Festival de Cannes runs from May 17 to the 28, 2022.

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