Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Day 5: Decrying the Faults of American Cinema

by Richard Schwartz

CANNES, May 11 - "The American Pavillion ... where American filmmakers talk about the dearth of American filmmaking" -- Director John Singleton

The Pavillion's inaugural seminar of Cannes '97 was titled "The Art of the Screenplay," but the nine panelists spent the better part of the Sunday afternoon session decrying the creative bankruptcy of the studio system, explaining the difficulties of independent filmmaking, and, in the process, fulfilling Singleton's prophetic statement.

Throughout the nearly 90-minute discussion moderated by Geoff Gilmour of the Sundance Film Institute, all the panelists seemed to agree that the ever-growing emphasis on marketing has made it nearly impossible even for independent filmmakers to carry forth their vision pure and unadulterated.

"The people who finance independent films are much more marketing driven than they have ever been," said Larry Gross, the writer of Un Certain Regard entry "This World, Then the Fireworks."

Just as large studios need worry about targeting their films to test audiences, indie producers have to market their projects to festival organizers, Gross said. The mere inclusion of a film at a Sundance, for example, could mean millions of dollars to the producer.

While the media heralded the success of independent films in the wake of their success at this year's Oscars, this panel urged caution in light of the studio's increased involvement in the independent film industry. Miramax, for example, once known as the vanguard of the independents, is now owned by Disney.

Director Paul Mones explained the effect of the "McDonalds mentality" -- test marketing -- on quality filmmakers.

"The studios will ultimately take gourmet chefs, put you between a bun and put on some special sauce," Mones said.

Yet despite the doomsday scenario projected by most panelists, actor Dylan McDermott and "Sunday" director Jonathan Nossiter among them, the seminar was not without a glimmer of optimism.

"These things will change," Gross said. "They are going to change because the appetites of the audiences. (But) there needs to be a much broader conception of what 'being commercial' entails."

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