Pre-Cannes Conference:
The festival's lineup is announced and we reflect on the politics of cinema
By Grant Rosenberg

On Wednesday morning, about 200 print, radio, TV and online journalists filed into a movie theater on the Champs Elysees to learn which would be the 55 feature films to be screened at the 55th annual Festival de Cannes next month. In a classy yet informal atmosphere, the president of the festival, Gilles Jacob, along with Véronique Cayla (managing director) and Thierry Frémaux (artistic delegate) presented the list of films chosen out of 934 from 89 countries that were submitted and viewed during the last year.

There are certain highlights, all of which can be seen on the festival’s website, such as Woody Allen’s new film Hollywood Ending which will open the festival, with him in attendance for the first time. Among the films both in and out of competition are Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-drunk Love, anticipated for more than a few reasons, among them its surprising lead actor Adam Sandler and its curious, un-P.T. Anderson-like running time of 89 minutes. There are also new films from David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski, as well as Atom Egoyan, Mike Leigh, Olivier Assayas and Ken Loach. The Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who won the Palme d’Or three years ago with the film Rosetta will be there with a film called The Son. There are some anticipated American documentaries such as Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine and one made by Rosanna Arquette called Searching for Debra Winger about Hollywood’s treatment of actresses over forty. There will also be screenings of remastered prints of 1939 films, such as Goodbye Mr. Chips and The Wizard of Oz. The festival is a smorgasbord, really. It would be interesting to see what is the highest percentage of films one can possibly see if fatigue, madness and the temptation of the French Riveria just outside the door were not factors.

Martin Scorsese, already scheduled to be in Cannes as the president of the short-film jury, will be screening a 20-minute montage of his long-delayed new film Gangs of New York. Its stars, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day Lewis, are expected to attend. The fact that stars of that caliber would come across the Atlantic to promote a film of which only a fraction is being screened speaks of the impact of Cannes, the anticipation for an epic film starring DiCaprio and by Scorsese, and the fact that the festival is plainly and simply a market as well.

In addition to the festival’s lineup itself, we were treated to a ten-minute taste of the planned tribute to the recently deceased director Billy Wilder, featuring a selection of scenes from his films–memorable moments with Maryiln Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn and more. It is a forgone conclusion that the glitzy Technicolor days of Hollywood are often held in the same esteem as the revolutionary French films here. Wilder personified Old Hollywood, virtually embodied its behind-the-scenes story: European immigrant comes to Hollywood in the ‘30s and makes films of all stripes starring some of the most notable personalities in cinema. He does this for the next fifty years, retires, then lives for another twenty watching his own place in history settle in for perpetuity. It seems a natural homage to give. Having lived in Paris for most of 1933 on his way to Hollywood only adds to the veneration in this country.


Much like any other sort of press conference, its audience was populated with faces familiar to each other, the day-to-day media workers. And when the floor was open to questions, it was a mixed bag, reminding us how this film festival, being the most notable internationally, is like the Olympics. It is a crossroads of pop culture, high art and politics, and these films, coming from all over the world, cannot be separated from the strife in their lands.

The thought was never far away that perhaps a film festival feels a bit indulgent in light of world events and the politics at hand. A few light questions are asked, including whether the rumor is true, that there will be a surprise midnight screening of Episode II: Attack of the Clones (if there is, nobody is saying). Then two journalists from other nations ask about the lack of representation of their lands in the festival. It feels less like a thing for movies and more like a government press briefing. But this is apparently an annual tradition, these questions of why not more from this or that country, and certainly it is in the asking of the question, not the response that is the point and the goal. After all, what can the organizers say, but "we saw many films and our criteria was which films were the most engaging for us as viewers." Perhaps they are valid questions. How can one not question why there are no films from his country at an International film festival? Or perhaps it is a way to demand that the selection of art become something purely political, the demand, as it were, for films to be judged based on their origin, and not on their merit. It is a can of worms that the organizers do not need to open further, and they sidestep it, perhaps wisely.

Yet cinema is already politics in France, much more than in the United States. I spoke with a journalist who will be covering the festival for both Polish and French publications, who stated that in France, film falls under the category of general culture. It is not simply a ‘biz’ like in Hollywood, where film is defined as pop culture unless otherwise stated. Here, it’s all cut from the same culture cloth, whether it is politics, classical music or business. To be sure, there are French films that seem to be made as mass entertainment, but for the most part it seems that the rest of the world leaves that up to the American film industry. Though this is a bit of a generalization, it is quite evident when one looks at the films playing at the major chain cinemas, where you find feature films from France, Spain, Japan the U.S. and a documentary or two, all receiving wide distribution. Though such a variety can be found in the U.S., it is usually limited to one or two theaters per city, and not the biggest chain around the entire country. It is out of this environment that comes Cannes’ schizophrenic days, presenting films of every stripe on the inside–of humor, love, death and revolution celebrated as a love of art the art of cinema–and yet outside it is a heady, crowded beach walk of glitz, sweat and classist brinksmanship.

After the conference ended, we filed into the lobby, which became more of a classy lounge, where we were served champagne and spiced olives. Cannes, even before the show, knows how to put on a show.