One must laud the chief of the Cannes Film Festival, Thierry Fremaux, for his sheer guts. Earlier in the year, promising radical changes, beginning this decade, to the annual 12-day event every May on the fascinating French Riviera, Fremaux announced in Paris on Friday that he would change the timing of the Press screenings and ban selfies on the famed Red Carpet.
Some weeks ago, he said that the Festival, starting this year, would begin on a Tuesday – not on a Wednesday as has been the practice for decades – and end on a Saturday, not a Sunday. The most important cinematic celebration anywhere in the world will run this time from May 8 to 19.
On Friday, Fremaux, who has been at the helm of affairs at Cannes for about 15 years, told the French journal, Le Film Francais, that the 8.30 am Competition movie would now screen for the Press in the evening – the show coinciding with the gala public opening at 7 pm. The Press would watch these films at Theatre Claude Debussy, while the black-tie premiers of the same titles for the invitees and other dignitaries would unroll in the next-door Theatre Louis Lumiere Grand Auditorium.
The 10 pm gala premieres at the Louis Lumiere Grand Auditorium will be shown to the Press the next morning. No changes will be effected for the afternoon screenings of Competition (of which there are just two or three) and A Certain Regard titles. These are, in any case, mixed screenings – for the Press and the public.
Although Fremaux sought to explain the purpose behind these changes “as an attempt to restore all their attractiveness and all their brilliance to the 7pm gala screenings, and the suspense will be total!”, I know that he was very unhappy with hundreds of journalists (out of the 4000-plus who are accredited for the Festival) who had made it a habit to tweet their reviews or even blog them even as a movie was running.
Obviously, such reviews or comments can be not only half baked, but also unfair to a film producer or a director or an actor. I know such hurried writing can harm these men. Their movies, especially if they are in Competition and running for the Palm dÓr, can be made or marred by critics.
And Cannes critics can be cruel, punishingly so – compared with those at Venice or Berlin or anywhere else, who are much milder! I have in the course of my long association with the Festival seen a movie that might not have gone well with the critics, being booed and shamed -- with just about every publication at Cannes carrying these critical reactions most prominently. In fact, some of the greatest auteurs the world has ever known shy away from sending their works to Competition. They would rather have these slotted in A Certain Regard, the most important Cannes sidebar.
The other radical change that Thierry announced on Friday related to selfies on the Red Carpet. I know he hated selfies, and had always said that one looked just awful in such photographs. And rightly so. He revealed that Cannes would “outright forbid” selfies on the Red Carpet. “We decided with Cannes President Pierre Lescure to outright forbid them. At the top of the Red Carpet, the triviality and slowdown, caused by the untimely disorder created by the practice of selfies, harm the quality of the climb up the steps, and so at the entire Festival. ”
The ban on selfies – which may not be easy to execute – will not be such a hot issue as the change in the Press screenings. Already, some leading critics and Cannes regulars have voiced their displeasure over this privilege being taken away from them. One of them asked why Cannes could not think of a review embargo. Easier said than done, because it can well be impossible to rein in so many journalists.
I know that the Tokyo International Film Festival does have a review embargo on some important titles, but then this event is much smaller than Cannes and has far fewer journalists. With most of them being Japanese, these men and women are unbelievably disciplined and follow rules without a murmur. Cannot expect this at Cannes!
Finally, while I, as a member of the media fraternity, do feel a sense of disappointment over the change in the Press screenings, I think a review must be a considered piece of writing. Not just paragraphs dashed off even while one is watching a movie or minutes after a screening is over.
Internet editions have been largely guilty of promoting such quickies – all in the name of getting there first. Quality, in the bargain, is dumped. So too the business prospects of a film. But, who cares what happens to a movie as long as a review pips the post.
Fremaux has rightly checkmated racing reviewers.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic who has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 28 years, and he may be e-mailed at email@example.com)