Ahead of its return on Tuesday, AFP spoke to Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux about the nail-biting build-up and efforts to address criticism on questions of the environment and gender.
Q: It's the first edition since the pandemic. Will this big get-together turn the page on the crisis?
A: Not quite. The pandemic hasn't been defeated. We have invited the films selected in 2020 that weren't able to climb the stairs (of the Palais des Festivals) as a way to remember that at the start of the year, nothing gave us confidence that Cannes would take place.
But the organisation and the spirit are the same as a normal edition. Everything is in place on the technical and health front to ensure there are no problems. The selection is beautiful and rich. The festival-goers, the press and all the film teams will be there, as will the beautiful jury led by Spike Lee, who is the first black man to hold the position.
The restaurateurs and hoteliers can't wait to welcome everyone. Artists are coming especially to be there, like Jerry Schatzberg (winner of the Palme d'Or in 1973), who at 94 is the oldest living filmmaker. We are touched that he said: "Cannes is restarting, it's our family -- I want to be there."
Festival-goers have been in France for 10 days to do the quarantine, journalists have taken their precautions. It's all very moving. The cinema world is coming back together.
Q: Only four women directors are in the competition, though many young female talents are in the parallel sections. Where are we on the question of gender equality?
A: Four women in the competition -- I'm the first to think that it's not enough. But in the Un Certain Regard section, dedicated to new talents, there are many more, which shows notable progress. There were countries where there were no female directors, and even there things are starting to change. Of the three Russian films selected for Cannes, there is a woman director this year.
At Cannes, we can't use quotas, but we can be pragmatic. The teams and bodies of the festival have been feminised. The jury is mostly women this year even if the president is a man. The selection committee is mostly women. Any time we can send a signal, we do it. No film will ever be selected on the basis of the director's gender, race or religion, but if we are hesitating between two films and one is by a woman, we will pick that one. We do the same regarding geography. Cannes is a universalist festival.
Q: The festival has taken measures to reduce its impact on the environment, and put together a special programme on the subject. What role can it play on the climate question?
A: Cannes is the biggest international cultural event in the world, so we aim to set an example. A team of advisors was recruited to work with the festival to put in place a series of strong measures to reinforce our efforts to be responsible on green issues.
And since Cannes is first and foremost a festival of cinema, we are using films which reflect our concerns: works that show how serious our situation is, in Asia, India, Africa, and others; from the generation of Greta Thunberg that recognise that it is today's children who will save us and who won't give up. There's a documentary about the beauty of the world, "The Velvet Queen", and even a "generational climate comedy" by (French actor-director) Louis Garrel, "The Crusade".