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Cannes Highlights: Gilles Jacob, the Red Carpet and the Economy of Cinema

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Firstly, the weather cooperated beautifully, but the Icelandic volcano did not. During meeting at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival this past week, industry folk spent as much time discussing whether or not their flight was canceled as they did films and deals. But by the time evening cocktail hour rolled around, who cared as the sunsets over the Med were gorgeous, the vodka and rose champagne generous, and the overall ambiance quite enjoyable. If the anger of Eyjafjallajökull was forcing a few people to remain in Cannes, and all of the money, power and glamor could not control nature...well then perhaps one could focus on what really matters most about the festival...seeing some damn fine films, putting together new projects, falling in love for a night or two and running into friends from around the world who all gather in this town on the Riviera for ten days to celebrate cinema.

After last year's exodus, when hotel rooms remained empty and you could grab a table at some of the better restaurants with no reservation, this year saw the return of Hollywood, the buyers buying, the Americans figuring out how to obtain more of that European funding, the Europeans trying to figure out what to do about the fact that public tax money subsidizing the digitization of cinemas was playing into the hands of tent-pole 3-D Hollywood (thereby lowering the box office for local product). Aligned with the US were the Indians, both trying to figure out who was using who, the Abu Dhabians with what has increasingly become each year the best party with the best food and the most free flowing drink (I especially appreciate the music and the mix of people). There were the usual suspects: the Poles, the Scandinavians, the Brits, the Chinese, a seemingly less flashy set of Russians (rumors on the Cote d'Azur that after years of seeing dubious money rain down on villas and hotels, the locals have had enough), the dresses, and a gaggle of wanting to be famous people, all looking over the shoulders of those they are talking to see if there is anyone more important with whom they must speak.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the festival for me was that the French were back in full force, on their "home turf" as it is because of their very love of cinema, and because they protect and respect it, that we have a festival of the quality and a market of the magnitude of Cannes. This is due in no small part to the extremely hard work of the festival director, Gilles Jacob, and his crew. Jacob's right hand man, Thierry Fremaux, and their team spread out across the globe and brings in cinematic gems, while the market head, Jerome Paillard, somehow manages to put together screenings, stands, press calls, talks, and the business side of things . As usual, there is a fine balance between art and the commercial side of cinema, and it is finding the right balance which Jacob must do year after year. The big money and big stars which bring the press and attention to Cannes, also help to support lesser known artists, and newcomers.

Robin Hood may bring in the Hollywood stars, but the film which impressed me was Tavernier's Princess of Montpensier. That the director and producer, Eric Heumann, managed to put together what is a simply exquisite film with extraordinarily high production values for a mere 13 million euros should teach us all that we need not waste money in these days of hard time for many, and that a truly spectacular, and exciting period piece can also be refreshingly modern. The young actors in the Princess of Montpensier were simply perfect, and my friend, screenwriter Michel Fessler summed it up best when he stated that Melanie Thierry, playing the title role, is the new Romy Schneider. Surrounded by young actors portraying the aristocrats who fought, seduced and made French history, the princess brings a depth of female emotion and power, along with a screen presence I have not seen in French cinema for a very long time...indeed not since the days of Romy Schneider and Anouk Aimee. Add to this the fact that they are all drop dead gorgeous young actors does not hurt and I would not be at all surprised to see them gracing the cover of international magazines in the years ahead. More French than this film does not exist...and it shows us what we love about France and the French, why we keep coming back, year after year to France...perhaps adding a week's vacation before or after the festival, or, in my case, why I settled down in France for good.

The festival's director, Gilles Jacob, insists upon keeping the human side of the festival intact, and that the festival not be used to serve various causes, unless they are linked to freedom of artistic expression. Jacob's deep love for filmmakers is reflected by the festival's dedication to helping those artists who find themselves in financial difficulties, through his creation of the Camera d'Or prize for a first film and the CineFondation support for film students. How I wish we had this kind of national support in the US, as film schools are ridiculously expensive and there is no state support for cinema. Part of the reason for this support is because when Jacob began working with the festival decades ago, he saw that the greats were disappearing. The Fellinis, Antonionis and Bergmans were on their last legs. He wanted to look into the distance and see new filmmakers arriving on the scene Jacob tells me that the festival reflects what is going on in society and then amplifies it. A film can come to Cannes and go away having been sold in many many territories. Everyone wants to walk down the red carpet and up those steps into the hallowed salle, past the flashing cameras and dressed to the nines.

The Cannes fest helps to launch Hollywood cinema internationally with its glamor and international press. I would argue that without festivals such as Cannes, and all of the countries in the world which support cinema through public funds (in other words, in an international industry the Research and development arm, which is mostly less commercial and allows for experimentation) we would have no innovative cinema at all. 3-D has been around for a long time, but we must have quality films which tell stories, not just more technology and special effects. Soon they will be churning out their old film libraries and 3-Dizing them, monetizing old films while Europe, Asia India and the rest of the world create new works. The only film I want to see in 3-D is Fantasia!!

As one leaves the festival and the beaches and shades of blue sea are left behind, and we say goodbye to friends and film buffs who really know their stuff, what we are left with is the feeling that cinema itself and the industry, would be less rich and a sadder place without a strong Cannes festival. And those folks who work behind the scenes, making the finances available, creating the legal infrastructure, along with the hundreds of people who both work and volunteer for the festival, all know the immense efforts expended on bringing this event together.

But some of us come back year after year, and want more than good meetings and a great film to see...we want to enjoy the best that the Cote d'Azur has to offer, a game of boules, sipping a glass of rose, tasting the sea bass with thick aioli, listening to the lilting accent of the men and women from the South if France as they welcome us back, again and again, to experience why so many people over the years have found this stretch of coastline from Monaco to St Tropez so endearing...there is simply no place else like it in the world. And we will be back next year, and for many years to come.