Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #5: Other festivals, in Cannes?

by Karen Jaehne

May 16, 1996

I ran into Roger Ebert on the way to a screening. "Hi!" "Hi!" I met his wife and confirmed her charm. We all like Roger, because he did what very few people can do - make oodles of money off the numb-nuts in television and still be able to discuss cinema. He knows about movies, reads all the egghead periodicals and keeps track of what's going on beyond cineplex hell. So I told him I was working in cyberspace and he smiled, as I said, "Filmscouts."

"Oh, yeah? I've seen that. Very good, very good." He continued to smile, and I could see his eyes turning around the constant question - is it really a unique medium, or is it just magazine style getting broadcast? I haven't been here long enough to answer that, but I have some opinions, so we chatted until Bertolucci came sweeping through, followed by a horde of paparazzi and TV cameras and media vultures. Ebert will be at the next festival, too.

Cannes as the Bloomingdale's of Film Programming

One of the important things done at Cannes is the shopping for other festivals. The directors of the Toronto Festival of Festivals, the selection committee of the New York Film Festival, of Telluride, of London, and of course all the smaller ones that are going after the same films.

What happens, you see, is that the directors like a movie - for argument's sake, "Breaking the Waves" - and they try to befriend the film's director (hard in this case, since Lars von Trier never came). The film will be distributed in various countries by companies, who want to control who sees it and when. So the executives of those companies (Miramax, Fine Line, October, Gramercy) might not want - for reasons only known to them - this movie to play at, say, Chicago or Miami. They have a great deal of control.

So the festivals are obliged to build a reputation - to give something back to the movie and not just to soak up the audience that would otherwise pay their money to the distribution company. Today I saw Michael Kutze of the Chicago Festival; he's an old hand and likes angular, little films that will challenge his very sophisticated audiences. (Even after people got tired of intellectual Germans, he still shows German films.)

The New York crowd likes to keep their likes and dislikes secret, because if a film is selected for the NY Festival, then it means Lincoln Center and the Times and all the hoopla. That's good for the film, but if you're not chosen by New York, you can whine in your wine a lot. The nice thing about NY is the committee is a sociable bunch, and they can't help but talk about movies. Keeping them from expressing their opinions is like keeping the yachts from clunking against the pier. I hear gossip about their preferences, but it would be very mean to tell you, and have the filmmaker read this, then not be chosen for New York.'ll have to wait until August when they announce their program.

The biggest and best North American festival is in Toronto in September. The Canadians always throw a good party at Cannes and make their presence felt. They give no prizes, just glory to everybody who's invited. It's unpretentious and solid, so it commands a lot of respect and filmmakers want to be invited.

At an Argentinian party, I met a lovely women named Laura Zapata who is helping to revive the old festival at Mar del Plata - their Lido. It was suspended for some years - how many I couldn't find out; South American sense of time is loose - but will open again this year. Since the festival at San Sebastian is the premier Spanish-language cinema event, it will be interesting to see if Mar del Plata tries to compete on that level.

Speaking of San Sebastian, they had an exquisite party on a big lawn from which you could watch the fireworks display over the Bay of Cannes. Wow! Perfect - like everything done by the San Sebastian Festival. (They have notoriously good taste; last year they honored Susan Sarandon's work and Director and Actor went to "Leaving Las Vegas").

It's getting harder every year, according to Mark Fishkin of the very respectable and pleasant Mill Valley Festival, just outside of San Francisco. Everybody wants the same films, and a very few companies control them all. So some 120 festivals around the U.S. are being filtered out in terms of importance for geographical release, and if the festival fits in with the plans for opening the movie, good. If not, forget it. The worst thing, says Fishkin, is when somebody two towns over decides to start a festival and try to compete with you; it really fouls up the works, because a movie will only be given to one festival per area.

Much of this festival discussion took place yesterday during a small yacht party hosted by producer Josh Woodward. Jonathan Dana, who has headed up several small companies, quipped, "Maybe that's what's wrong. I should be in the festival business, not the distribution business. At festivals, everybody loves films; back home, they get grouchy."

Amen - now back to this festival, the one that has wrapped us in a celluloid cocoon for the last week. What is going on in the world out there?

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