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CANNES 2022 Critics’ Week

Ava Cahen • Artistic director, Critics’ Week

"Getting close to emerging talents and revealing them to the world"

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- The new artistic director of Cannes’ Critics’ Week explains her 2022 film selection

Ava Cahen • Artistic director, Critics’ Week
(© Aurélie Lamachère/Semaine de la Critique)

Having spent five years on the event’s selection committee, Ava Cahen has now been crowned artistic director of Critics’ Week (read our news), the 61st edition of which is unspooling between 18 and 26 May 2022 within the 75th Cannes Film Festival. Cahen shed some light on this year’s selection (read our article) in an interview with Cineuropa.

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Cineuropa: What kind of personal touch can you bring to your first selection as artistic director, while staying true to Critics’ Week’s heritage?
Ava Cahen: For me, it obviously all about continuity. I spent five years on Charles Tesson’s selection committee, so I’ve learned from the best, and I intend to continue all the work carried out over the past five years. But I do have my own personality and I think it will show here and there, like in the poster of this year’s edition which is rather different to those in previous years, with its art photo and picture of an artist like Charlotte Abramow, who has a real pop air about her and is really cinegenic, and who explores the body and all things female. It’s another way of announcing that a new era has begun, whilst staying true to Critics’ Week’s mission: getting close to emerging talent and revealing them to the world.

This year’s competition is wholly composed of first feature films. Was this a conscious decision?
It was absolutely what we wanted. We’ve seen a lot of first films this year and Critics’ Week is offering up a hefty 2022 selection because we’re back to our usual numbers: not only was it our 60th anniversary last year, we also held two festivals in one, after going without a festival in 2020, so we wanted to make a point of being very welcoming, very generous. This year, it’s more about getting back to normal, hence our decision to pay tribute to some brilliant first films.

Will there be different film genres in the competition?
Yes, but there will also be a few themes which the press will no doubt have fun teasing out. This year, there are films which look more closely at family, at the family structure, at the female condition. Two feature films in competition, Aftersun by Charlotte Wells and Alma Viva by Cristèle Alves Meira, are portrayed through the eyes of children, for example. But it’s mostly about the desire to create an event each and every day, in different registers, colours and forms, with all of these approaches forming a galaxy of new talent which we wanted to create and which can tell us a thing or two about the film world. These films also need to be able to exist alongside one another rather than in opposition to one another, even though it’s obviously a competition and the jury will have to choose between them.

Of the seven filmmakers competing, five are Europeans. Is this the result of variable production volumes across the various continents, linked to how the different countries have managed the pandemic over the past two years?
Yes, because we did mostly receive European films. There aren’t any films from Africa this year, but we did select Andrés Ramírez Pulido’s La Jauría in competition for Colombia, which is an incredibly promising region when it comes to film. And Iran is making its return to Critics’ Week’s competition for the first time in 20 years, by way of Ali Behrad’s Tasavor. We also have an American film screening out of competition (When You Finish Saving the World by Jesse Eisenberg) alongside a South Korean production (Next Sohee by Jung July), two works which totally bowled us over. Obviously, it’s a way for us to internationalise the selection, because this is Critics’ Week’s vocation. So there are several fewer French films than usual (Summer Scars by Simon Rieth in competition, and Céline Devaux’s Everybody Loves Jeanne and Clément Cogitore’s Sons of Ramses in special screenings) and it’s also a way for us to state our position on French film: we expect a lot from it but, above all, we believe in its potential to travel abroad and to shine, and we want to play a relevant role in this.

Have you adopted any rules of conduct for potential films put forward by streaming platforms?
Critics’ Week isn’t so heavily impacted by this, because platforms naturally tend to gravitate towards more established names and aren’t yet taking any risks on first and second feature films. But we are starting to receive films from platforms, and we can’t close our eyes to it. We follow the same guidelines as the Official Selection: these films are eligible, but only out of competition.

How did the selection process go, given that films seem to be arriving later and later, for various reasons?
At Critics’ Week, the prospective work we carry out is huge. The event is 61 years old, it’s very high profile and its editorial line and the talent it has produced are now well known: so we could easily sit back in our armchairs and wait for people to send us their films. But the reality is that, before watching these films and selecting them with the committee, there’s a whole other phase which involves going looking for films and travelling to countries where they’re being made. It’s really important to make this kind of contact and I travelled a great deal between September and February. It was really educational because, as a critic, we mainly interact with talent: filmmakers, actresses, actors, screenwriters and potentially producers. It’s really helpful to initiate this kind of dialogue.

As for submission volumes, we thought it might drop off compared to the previous exceptional year, but that really wasn’t the case. Our number fall within the 2019 average with 1,100 feature films and 1,700 shorts, which is pretty impressive. It’s also true that we received a lot of films rather late, so it wasn’t easy, and we were forced to speed up, but we made the right choices, I think, without feeling up against the wall. I didn’t feel there was any kind of competition between us and the other Cannes selections; there was actually real dialogue, because we all have the same goal and we’re working towards the same thing: for these films which we’ve found and which we want to share with others to be shown in Cannes.

Two of the films selected in competition have also spent time within Critics’ Week’s Next Step Workshop. Does the workshop act as a high road to the event or is their selection purely coincidental?
It’s always satisfying to see projects which have spent time in Next Step being spotted by festivals, and many of them have already travelled to Berlin, Venice and Locarno. There’s no rule, obligation or even priority for us to select these works for Critics’ Week, it just so happened that we were bowled over by Mikko Myllylahti’s The Woodcutter Story and Cristèle Alves Meira’s Alma Viva, so we couldn’t not select them. We’re delighted about it because it means we’re seeing this workshop bear real virtuous fruit.

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(Translated from French)

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