A version of this story first appeared in the Cannes issue of TheWrap Magazine.
With the enjoyably goofy Pedro Almodovar serving as president and the cheerful likes of Will Smith, Jessica Chastain and Paolo Sorrentino also sitting on the panel, jury deliberations at this year’s Cannes Film Festival should be a breeze, right?
Maybe. But last year, at the festival-opening press conference for the Cannes jury, director George Miller had this to say about his task of heading the panel: “Leading the jury is like a parent taking children on a film holiday … It’s a real pleasure because we have nothing else to do. Our job is to watch films which we know nothing about and then think about them.”
A week and a half later, at a fest-closing press conference, Miller admitted that things might have been tougher than he expected. “I called it the nine-headed beast,” he said. “It was a collective experience, a hard one over many hours. It was incredibly vigorous and rigorous.”
We don’t know yet if this year’s panel will have its differences, and if so how heated the discussions will get. (And even if they have screaming arguments, they probably won’t tell us about it afterwards.) But we do know that in the past, jury conflicts have not been uncommon.
Here are some highlights over the years:
1977: One of director Robert Altman’s most ardent champions was critic Pauline Kael, so the filmmaker was no doubt happy to find her on the jury when he took his 1977 film “3 Women” to the festival. But the Palme d’Or went to Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s “Padre Padrone” instead, with Ettore Scola’s “A Special Day” reportedly also in the running. The perceived snub at the hands of his old supporter caused Altman (who’d won the Palme in 1970 for “M*A*S*H”) to scream obscenities at Kael when he ran into her in the Nice airport as they were both leaving town.
1981: French author Françoise Sagan headed the Cannes jury. During the festival and immediately afterwards, she publicly accused then-festival president Robert Favre le Bret of pressuring her panel to make Francis Coppola’s work-in-progress “Apocalypse Now” the co-winner of the Palme d’Or with “The Tin Drum,” which she thought should have won the award outright. In retaliation, according to reports, the festival rejected Sagan’s 10,000-franc expense bill.
1988: Screenwriter and novelist William Goldman devoted an entire book, “Hype and Glory,” to the year in which he served as a Cannes juror and a judge at the Miss America pageant. The jury decision, he revealed, came only after some old-fashioned horse-trading: Bille August’s “Pelle the Conqueror” won over Chris Menges’ “A World Apart” in a 6-4 vote, but jury president Ettore Scola only got the “World Apart” supporters to stop arguing when he offered to not only give that film the Grand Jury Prize (second prize), but also let its lead actresses share the best-actress award, making it the only film to win more than one prize. The losing jurors, he said, “were satisfied. They hadn’t won, but it was clear the movie was considered something special.”
1996: Jury president Francis Ford Coppola reportedly hated David Cronenberg’s “Crash,” which won a special jury prize. When he presented the award at the closing ceremony, Coppola took the unusual step of pointing out that the award was not unanimous and that some jurors “did abstain very passionately.” That rather graceless disclaimer didn’t sit well with Coppola’s fellow juror (and Cronenberg’s fellow Canadian) Atom Egoyan, who called it “an odd thing to do.”
2007: British director Stephen Frears was the president of a jury that, for the only time since 1968, did not include any Americans. They gave the Palme d’Or to the Romanian drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” and few found reason to quibble with that selection. But one member of the panel told TheWrap that deliberations were contentious, as a couple of panelists — among them Canadian actress-director Sarah Polley — fought to keep the American contenders, which included the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” and David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” from winning anything. In the end, American artist/director Julian Schnabel did win the best-director prize for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a film entirely in French.
2015: The famously outspoken (and occasionally bratty) Canadian director Xavier Dolan has been competing at Cannes since he was a teenager, so it’s natural that the festival asked him to serve on the jury two years ago. But Dolan was apparently not the most congenial panelist, getting on some of his fellow jurors’ nerves as he lobbied feverishly — and perhaps rudely — for his favorites and against the likes of Todd Haynes’ subdued love story “Carol.” At the jury press conference that followed the awards ceremony, Dolan said, “I somehow feel like a better person.” Sitting nearby, jury co-president Ethan Coen audibly muttered, “You’re not.”
Click here to read more from the Cannes issue of TheWrap Magazine.