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Gilles Jacob • President of the Cannes Film Festival

“What Europe needs is new talent”


- An encounter with the president of the Cannes Film Festival. His round-up plus his opinion of where European cinema is headed

Gilles Jacob • President of the Cannes Film Festival

With hindsight, how would you rate the performance of European cinema at this year’s Cannes Film Festival?
Weaker than in past editions. It is traditional for there to be Americans, Asians and Europe. I feel that this year we were forced to add an extra French title (bringing the number of those in competition to 5) and that’s too many. We didn’t see any films from either Spain or Eastern Europe, a part of the world that’s still experiencing serious financial difficulties and in a creative crisis too. We did however have Lars von Trier. And here again, we were accused of always making the same choices: but it’s not our fault if they are talented. There was also the UK’s Greenaway, and he’s no newcomer to the Croisette either. Europe will get round to a generational changeover, but slowly. The advent of new filmmaking talent in certain countries takes time.

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Take Italy for example. They had around fifteen genii in the 60s and 70s. Their death created a void which has been difficult to fill and so countries such as Italy end up being represented by one director. Today Belgium is probably Cannes’ best supplier of films: an unbeatable price: quality ratio. There were no Belgian films in competition this year, but that’s nothing to worry aobut because it’s okay to miss a year. We know there’s a new generation coming that includes the brothers Dardenne and others who will soon be supplying Cannes and will do so for a long time.
Switzerland seems to have disappeared and the Czech Republic and Germany are complaining bitterly that they haven’t had a film selected for Cannes for quite a few years now. And they expect us to find German filmmakers?!! When a European country goes below the 20 per cent market share, it follows that the domestic film industry’s in trouble. Germany is currently at between 14 per cent and 15 per cent. But I don’t want to think that cinema, as personified by Fritz Lang right up to Wenders, Schloendorff, Herzog and most especially Fassbinder, that German cinema is dead.
This generation lasted until Wim Wenders who now makes his films in the US. We are looking to Germany and especially Cinéfondation countries for new talent and the filmmakers of tomorrow.”

Is it possible for Cinéfondation to come to the aid of the official selection?
“The Cinéfondation represents an extraordinary hope for all of us because it means that cinema still has a future. Of the twenty-or-so films that are screened in Cannes from all over the world, I am sure that three or four will be revelations of future greats. So let us sow the seeds for the future: that is the goal of our Cinéfondation. It is already taking root and we expect it to become a nursery for new talent. Nothing is more important to me than that right now.”

That said, do you believe that European cinema can generate curiosity and attract attention as well as its American counterpart?
“I believe so. What do international critics want from Cannes? To be stunned and excited by surprises. A filmmaker who returns with a good film will never make the same splash as a new discovery who astounds us. Surprises don’t come when you expect them and it follows that they don’t have a nationality. A surprise ranges from an experimental film like The Matrix with the desire of the festival to return to a more European genre, that includes comedies and crime stories.
I think that having stars on the red carpet can be compared to an engine that drives the industry and creates media interest and positive word-of-mouth for the “difficult” titles. Bring Madonna and you can also bring De Oliveira. The metaphor of the engine works as far as foreigners are concerned: they’ve been telling me for years that getting stars to come to Cannes allows them to sell their films better. Stars doing the red carpet is perhaps the most visible part of the whole process, but there is a lot of real work that results from their being here that is done all over the world.”

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