Cannes Film Festival kicks off under threat of looming controversies

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Jury president Greta Gerwig.
Jury president Greta Gerwig. Credit: picture alliance/dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

The red carpet has been rolled out and the celebrities have descended on the glamorous French coast.

The annual Cannes Film Festival has kicked off and while there are yacht parties, star-studded premieres and awards, this year, it’s against the backdrop of a slate of potential controversies.

Foremost is a whispered-about explosive list of 10 men in the French film industry including high-profile actors and directors who are alleged to have engaged in abusive conduct against women.

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The list is said to have been sent to the National Centre for Cinema in Paris and French film finance companies, according to The Guardian.

Rumours have been swirling in France that the list may be made public on the first day of the festival, Wednesday, to coincide with the premiere of the Judith Godreche-directed short film Mon Aussi (Me Too) which is about abuse in the industry.

France Cesar Awards
Judith Godreche’s film Mon Aussi is premiering at Cannes. Credit: AP

Asked about the potential list, this year’s jury president Greta Gerwig, the director of Barbie and Lady Bird, responded, “I think people in the community of movies telling us stories and trying to change things for the better is only good. I have seen substantive change in the American film community, and I think it’s important that we continue to expand that conversation.

“So, I think it’s only moving everything in the correct direction. It’s only good to keep those lines of communication open.”

The French film industry is experiencing a renewed wave of MeToo which has included more accusations against actor Gerard Depardieu.

Gerwig was also asked to address why the French industry had moved slower than in the US, “I can’t speak to timelines, but it’s evolving. It’s not a destination we all reach together”.

The festival is also at risk of disruption from potential strike action from Cannes’ freelance workers who are seeking greater protections around unemployment.

The workers staged a protest on the rooftop of the festival’s opening night gala where Meryl Streep had been awarded an honorary Palme d’Or.

Juliette Binoche honours Meryl Streep at Cannes
Juliette Binoche honours Meryl Streep at the Cannes Film Festival. Credit: BANG - Entertainment News

Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux dodged questions of the looming controversies during a press conference by charging reporters, “Before we used to talk about cinema. Before, the only anxiety was about the films – whether they were going to be liked or not.

“What has changed the most in the last 20 years are your questions. There is no polemic this year. There are polemics outside the festival, but they do not come from the festival.”

This year’s festival has 22 films in the official competition for its highest honour, the Palme d’Or, including Francis Ford Coppola’s self-funded epic, Megalopolis.

The film stars Adam Driver and Aubrey Plaza but has not yet secured an American distributor despite screenings for studio bosses in the US.

There is also Poor Things director Yorgos Lanthimos’ anthology film Kinds of Kindness, Paul Schrader’s Oh, Canada and British filmmaker Andrea Arnold’s Bird.

All eyes are on The Apprentice, a drama depicting the early years of Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump with Sebastian Stan and Maria Bakalova in the roles, and The Seed of the Sacred Fig, whose director, Iranian Mohammed Rasoulof, had secretly fled his country to attend the festival after coming under pressure from authorities to withdraw the film.

Days earlier, he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

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