A version of this story first appeared in TheWrap magazine’s Cannes edition.
The Cannes Film Festival has laid down some new, or at least updated, rules this year. No selfies on the red carpet. No Netflix films. No press screenings in advance of premieres.But what does that mean? Is the 71st Cannes Film Festival a bold new reinvention of the venerable institution, or simply a tweaking of a format that’s been going strong for decades? And will they take away attention from the films that ought to be at the heart of any Cannes experience?
We think it’s a tweak, and we think attention will go right back to the films once Cannes gets underway on Tuesday.
For starters, those three rules were widely touted in the press as being brand new additions to this year’s festival, but that isn’t really true. General Delegate Thierry Frémaux, for instance, told guests not to take selfies three years ago. A de facto Netflix ban — i.e., no competition berths without a French theatrical release — was announced even before last year’s festival began, along with the note that it wouldn’t go into effect until 2018. And the cutback on advance press screenings has been hinted about, if not officially instituted, for more than six months.
Still, the rules do have a chance to change the Cannes experience. Take selfies, for instance. In 2015, Frémaux said that those photos are “ridiculous and grotesque” and slow down the red carpet. But his plea to stop them didn’t really work, as plenty of guests still found it irresistible to snap a shot at the top of the stairs that lead into the Grand Théâtre Lumière.
Every Cannes premiere, and lots of Cannes press screenings as well, becomes a staging ground for innumerable selfies. Yes, the festival could deploy some of its security guards to try to stop the practice, in the same way that those guards have been known to police women’s footwear and men’s neckware. But here’s guessing that at best it’ll make people take faster, sneakier selfies.
The Netflix ban is more significant, though it’s not really a ban. The streaming company is still welcome to submit its films to Cannes, but it can’t have them in the main competition unless it commits to a French theatrical release. But that release is governed by the Media Chronology Law, which requires a clearly untenable 36-month window between theatrical and screening.
Lots of major Hollywood studios are perfectly happy with the out-of-competition slots that are still open to Netflix: That’s where Disney is showing “Solo: A Star Wars Story” this year and where Warner Bros. showed “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015, among others. If Netflix really wants to be one of the big boys, maybe that’s where it belongs — but the company also backs auteurs like Bong Joon-Ho and Noah Baumbach, so on the heels of its 2017 competition entries “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” its feelings were hurt by the competition ban, and it opted not to submit anything to the festival.
The absence of Netflix won’t change the artistic complexion of the competition much, but this year it robbed the festival of what could have been a true highlight: the Cannes Classics screening of Orson Welles’ final, unfinished film, “The Other Side of the Wind,” whose completion Netflix financed.
That’s not a Cannes upheaval by any means, but it is a shame.
Of the recent changes, the change in press screenings has the biggest chance to truly impact the festival, at least in the way the 4,000 accredited press members experience it and the way movie fans read about it.
In general — though there are lots of exceptions to this — Cannes holds black-tie premieres in the Grand Théâtre Lumière for two of the main competition titles each day, one in the afternoon or early evening and the other later in the evening. In the past, the earlier premiere was usually screened for the press the night before in the Salle Debussy, while the later one got an 8:30 a.m. press screening in the Lumière on the morning of its premiere.
That timing meant that tweets and reviews had been circulating for hours before the official premiere took place. For a movie that wins raves, like “Toni Erdmann,” “BPM” and “Son of Saul” in recent years, that simply built up expectations; for widely panned efforts like “The Sea of Trees,” “The Last Face” and “The Search,” it meant that the savage reviews cast a pall over the premiere, and made the inevitable standing ovations seem more like a forced reaction to those mean critics and press-screening boobirds.
This year, the early-premiere films will hold their press screenings simultaneously with the public screenings, which will give the critics and the invited guests an equal shot at spreading the word. Realistically, though, one of those groups is more eager to make their opinion known than the other, so there’s not much a few thousand invited guests can do to stem the tide of vitriol if a movie is hated.
But it’ll be nicer for the filmmakers, because they won’t know that the critics hate their film until after the premiere, rather than walking the red carpet already feeling like a failure.
For the late premieres, the press may have to wait until the morning after to get a look. This will delay the formation of a critical consensus until the filmmakers have had a night of hearing nothing but nice things from their invited guests. But it may also create incentive for the most well-connected press members to snag premiere invites and scoop their colleagues.
And watch out, Cannes filmmakers: It could well make that morning-after press audience even crankier than usual, and less inclined to soft-pedal their criticism since they’ve been denied their position as the first voices.
Will the press grumble? Of course they will. Will they adjust? Naturally. And as they adjust, attention in Cannes should turn to an intriguing batch of films, one that’s uncharacteristically heavy on newcomers to the competition (Nadine Labaki, David Robert Mitchell, Kirill Serebrennikov, Eva Husson … ) and light on filmmakers who in the past were given all-but-automatic berths at the festival (Naomi Kawase, Paolo Sorrentino … ).
So Cannes will present some intriguing matchups: Jean-Luc Godard, such a cinematic eminence that his 1965 movie “Pierrot le Fou” inspired this year’s poster, vs. A.B. Shawky, a young Egyptian-American director who landed in the competition with his first film, “Yomeddine.” Nuri Bilge Ceylan, whose “Winter Sleep” won the Palme d’Or in 2014 but didn’t land a foreign-language Oscar nomination, vs. Pawel Pawlikowski, who has never been in the Cannes competition but whose 2013 film “Ida” won the Oscar.
Then there’s Spike Lee with “BlacKkKlansman,” sure to be a hot-button title; and Terry Gilliam with “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” the troubled production that will close the festival unless a lawsuit blocks the screening; and Lars von Trier’s “The House That Jack Built,” that will return the Danish provocateur to the festival that declared him persona non grata in 2011 after his press-conference comments about being a Nazi and sympathizing with Hitler.
Plus the festival will present the world premiere of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and Christopher Nolan presenting a 50th anniversary screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and films from two directors, Jafar Panahi and Kirill Serebrennikov, who likely won’t be allowed to leave their home countries and come to Cannes.
Chances are, that’s enough to make most of us forget that we aren’t supposed to take selfies and aren’t seeing any Netflix movies.