Film Scouts Interviews

The Jury Press Conference
at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival

by Henri Béhar
Attending : Martin Scorsese, director, president
Chiara Mastroinanni, actor
Lena Olin, actor
Sigourney Weaver, actor
Winona Ryder, actor,
Zoe Valdes, novelist
Alain Corneau, director
Michael Winterbottom, director
Chen Kaige, director
MC Solaar, rap-singer

As journalist Carrie Rickey, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, put it : This has got to be the most gorgeous jury in the entire history of Cannes ! No doubt about that. If possible and conceivable, the beauty of the whole was more so than the sum of the beauties of each, as Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Chiara Mastroianni (daughter of Catehrine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni) and Lena Olin enhanced each other’s radiance and éclat, while Paris-based Cuban novelist Zoe Valdes was a dead-ringer, though more subdued, for Rosie Perez.

The men were no slouch in that respect either. Chinese director Chen Kaige (Palme d’Or for Farewell My Concubine) is a Toshiro Mifune-like grand séducteur ; Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo) looks like he’s still got milk behind his ears ; French rapper MC Solaar is one of the handsomest young men in the music business and French director Alain Corneau’s face is, er, pleasantly lived in. As for Martin Scorsese, you all know what he looks like.

One common trait to all the members of this jury : they all radiate ten years younger when they start discussing films.

QUESTION (to Martin Scorsese): As the President of the jury, do you think today's filmmakers are making movies for people's taste or trying to go into new dimensions?

MARTIN SCORSESE: I think that we all have to deal with the reality that films are ultimately business. But there can't be a business if there is no art. They can't sell it if it isn't an art form. What's happening all over the world, which I think is extraordinary, is new ways of dealing with telling the narrative, telling the stories with pictures. It occurred 20 years ago in Australia, Germany. Now it does in China - Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan. And Ireland. It's very interesting. The younger people, it seems, want to express themselves first in film. And I honestly think it's such a resilient medium and it's such an art form that I don't think we'll ever stop seeing enthusiastic young people bursting through, saying things differently. I think it's very exciting.

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM: I think money has always been a part of filmmaking. Probably for everyone, when you start watching films when you're young and you're growing up, films can really make a mark on you.
That sort of for you envision that Golden Era of Cinema. It's very hard when you get older to keep that enthusiasm. Surely now, I like it as much as any of them. I'm sure money is playing no more a part now than during the 40's or 50's when the studio system was intact.

CHEN KAIGE: Of course we have the same problem that the filmmaker is aware of: we need money to make the film we want to make. I still hope that film can be treat as an art form. Of course that's a business. But I 100% agree with Martin Scorsese that we want to see the younger people to express themselves. This is the hope of the world.

ALAIN CORNEAU: This problem is as old as cinema. We should have examined this at the very beginning of it.
Doing films, we're finding our own answers to this problem.

QUESTION (To Martin Scorsese) : Had you had the choice, would you rather have had "Kundun" in competition, or be the President of the Jury ?

MARTIN SCORSESE: If I had a choice between being the President of the Jury or having my film in competition? I'd rather be the President of the Jury. I get to see all the films. I can see all the films. You never know! Sometimes, as Michael Winterbottom was saying, you get very tired. You look at things, especially when you're shooting, you get up really early in the morning, you crawl there... and seeing some new films or even seeing some old ones rejuvenates me and I get excited, and I remember why I wanted to make movies.
Yeah, there are a lot of young people who continue to want to express themselves in film. But the beauty of it is you have to be obsessed. You have to be crazy, in a way, and you can't be afraid of anything or anybody to make a film. Actor John Cassavettes told us, "Don't be afraid of anybody or anything." And that means you cut right through the business if you really want to do it, and you find that you make more films.
And I find watching new films by people like that to be energizing and exciting, and you say, "My God! I never thought you could do that kind of thing with film.".

QUESTION: There are so many different criteria for judging a film. What will you all be looking for?

ZOE VALDES: Emotion. Professionalism. A story. Characters.

WINONA RYDER: To put it real simply, it has to affect me gutterly. I have to feel it in my stomach. That's how I tend to judge everything, with all of my instincts. Obviously, new ways of telling a story is what I find really intriguing now. I'm also very anxious and very curious to see how I am going to hold up as a juror. What part of me is going to let myself be manipulated by certain type of filmmaking because I'm a sucker and what part of me is going to be challenged. So the whole thing is trying to keep a very open mind and open heart. Let the movie speak to me and affect me as it happens.

ALAIN CORNEAU: I'm just trying not to get into the abstract and I want to enter freely the film, because for me it's a new world to enter into. If I feel good about that film, if the film is showing me a world that I can relate to, and then trying to find out what I think to myself for myself... But then as a cinephile, I'm always happy. I must say that for me watching film is as important as making a film. I don't see the difference. It's like being on the set, in a slightly different way.

LENA OLIN: For me, it’s when you're looking for something and you find something that you weren't looking for at all. When something takes you by surprise, like, from the back and you weren't prepared, without being strange, being very simple. Something that changes my life. Something that stays with me. I guess that's it?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Well, I guess I'm a traditionalist in the sense that the story is the most important thing, especially when the story is about something other than the story. If it's about something more than the people in it. I guess what I look for in a film is an experience that illuminates something for me, that I'm unaware of before and will actually take me to another place, as Alain was saying.
I'm very curious. I've never seen 24 films in 10 days. I hope I can be fair to all of them. I plan to take notes. But I also want to see what films stay with you, what films grow inside of you and what films tend to disappear. Acting is a subjective thing and I'm very excited to be among this very diverse sample of people and seeing all the different points of view. I have a feeling it will open me up to watch films in a different way in the future because I'm so used to myself and my boring reactions. So I'm very excited about the parts of me that will be stimulated and challenged by my co-jurors.

MARTIN SCORSESE: Watching films, to a certain extent, is like working, as Alain Corneau pointed out. It's like being on the set, in a way. I mentioned the other day that last year Alain Renais was in New York and I spoke to him and he said to me, "I just don't know whether to watch films or make them anymore. I don't know which one I like better because it's all part of the same thing." But I think I'm looking at in new film, I'm looking for a narrative – which is different from plot. I'm interested to see where the new ways of telling a story are coming from, and how they're being used. How one is telling a story or creating emotion... psychological and emotional reactions with the audience. Whether there's a new way. Where would I look? How they paint the picture within a single frame of film. How it's composed. How the camera moves or doesn't move. I think, we're talking the difference between Orson Welles and Ozu. There's a wide range in between, and film is so resilient.

CHEN KIAGE: I try not to have any approach before I see the movies because I know the answer is in my heart. So I will watch a movie first and so I will talk with my heart and I will find out which movie is best.

MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM: I think I like films that take me to another world, films that sort of make me create a world, that make me think about my own. There's lots of different ways of seeing the same film. You can see it on a Friday evening. You can see it on a Monday afternoon in empty room instead of watching it on a video at home. I haven't had the experience before of watching as part of jury at 8:15 in the morning, so I'm looking forward to that experience.

QUESTION (to Martin Scorsese): What does it mean for you to be in France and how does France’s film culture relate to the larger picture of culture?

MARTIN SCORSESE: As far as my own work is concerned, I owe France a great debt. Really. I think the first French film I saw - there were two I saw on television when I was 10 years old. I saw "Les Enfants du Paradis" (Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise) and "La Belle et la Bête" (Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast) and this opened a whole other world for me. The first real French film I saw on the screen was Claude Autant-Lara’s "Le Rouge et le Noir based on Stendhal’s same-title novel. It introduced me to another way of seeing the world, a magical world, a very different thing.
Then, of course, I owe a great deal to French criticism really. You see, I was raised on American movies with a smathering of 3 or 4 French films and several neo-realistic Italian films. Basically, I saw many many American movies. By the time I was 17 or 18, it became the fashion that all American movies were bad -- just pure entertainment and not worth anything. The only good films were foreign films. And it took the French critics to remind us of the treasure trove of the old Hollywood films to bring me back to reality. I'll never forget... I think it was a book Andrew Sarris wrote called "The American Cinema". I would start underlining films under, let's say, Nicholas Ray's name and underlining the films under John Ford, and realizing, "My God! I've seen practically 75% of these films, and I like 70% or 80%. I really like this director." In other words, as Chen Kiage was saying, I was going by my heart. Originally. And I was also a film student at the time of the French New Wave, with Claude Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge and François Truffaut’s "400 Blows" and "Shoot the Piano Player" and Godard’s "Breathless." And Jacques Rivette’s films. It was just an amazing time to be picking up a camera for the first time. So when they requested I be President of the Jury, as a gesture to France, I said, "Absolutely."

QUESTION (to Martin Scorsese) : You’ve won the Palme D'Or in Cannes (for Taxi Driver). How much of an impact does that have on a director's career?

MARTIN SCORSESE: I would say positive and negative, but it depends on the person. I was a very weak person. It went to my head and I failed in my next picture or 2. Since, I've had to be thankful to the festival of Cannes for giving us that Palm D'Or, but I don't think I was ready to accept it. What happened was I became too self-confident, and it allowed me to fail. Without the Palme D'Or, I couldn't have made "Raging Bull."
The danger of failing for those 2 or 3 years is that you may not survive it. But this is my own dramatic answer to your question and, as you say, I'm basically a very weak person.

QUESTION: What do you think about the current trend towards blockbuster films ?

MARTIN SCORSESE: In Hollywood, they're called "Popcorn movies". I don't know. It's a fascinating thing. I find the use of the new computer generated images interesting. But I gotta tell you. You have to be able to deal emotionally with the audience. There has to be an emotional impact. If the characters are cardboard or fake, you see that in 1000 other movies made since 1914, it really won't last, I think. If there's a way to harness this technology, where you're telling stories about people, it might be good.

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION (to Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder) : While working on Alien 4 : The Ressurrection and, for Ms. Weaver, of the previous Aliens, did you feel you had to fight for the character to have more time than the special effects ?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Actually I think computer graphics are still pretty primitive.
I can always spot them a mile away, and I don't know anything. But I agree with Marty. The actor has to make sure the special effects are working. The special effects don't work at all if you don't make them work as an actor, or you use them in a way that's believable. I think there's room for all kinds of pictures, popcorn movies are a wonderful herd experience, and I think what's fantastic about the business : based on how much money you have, there are all kinds of different pictures to make. And I think there is certainly an appetite for all of them, and why not room for all?

WINONA RYDER: That's certainly a really interesting question and I have mixed feelings because I do like the popcorn movies. Sometimes I hear about the salaries being paid and as an actor I think, "God, you could make 20 movies for what this actor is being paid." I find it really frustrating, especially when you know they're making an action movie that's going to be forgettable. Financially... my worst nightmare would be to be on a cover of a magazine with the caption, "Is She Worth It?" underneath me.
At the same time, the Alien movies had an enormous affect on me as an actress because Ripley (the character played by Sigourney Weaver) was the first female action hero, and all of her performances in all of her movies were so exceptional and it wasn't about her fighting monsters. There was other story lines and the themes. I was very moved by her character and what needed that film together.
I knew what we were making. I was just excited that I was going to be in a science fiction movie. So it was just fun. I had a great time. I thought it was a great movie to be in. Maybe I prefer the movies that wouldn't involve having to look at a piece of tape and pretending it was a monster. But I also... like Sigourney said, there's room for them all. I think it was a great experience.

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