THE FESTIVAL TODAYInterview with Thierry Frémaux

Thierry Frémaux, Délégué Général  © FDC
Thierry Frémaux, Délégué Général © FDC
Carried by its 76 editions, the international Festival de Cannes is one of the world's most widely publicized events and certainly the most important film festival in terms of worldwide impact. Through the works, artists and themes it platforms on the world stage over the course of its 15-day line-up, the event is forever engaged in a process of self-renewal.

We put ten questions to Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate since 2007, on what the Festival de Cannes means today.

What is the mission of the Festival de Cannes?

In order to achieve this level of longevity, the Festival de Cannes has remained faithful to its founding purpose: to draw attention to and raise the profile of films, with the aim of contributing towards the development of cinema, boosting the film industry worldwide and celebrating cinema at an international level. And to this day, this profession of faith constitutes the first article of the Festival regulations. It is a Cannes tradition to raise a glass to household names and usher emerging directors into the international film scene’s spotlight. That’s what makes Cannes, Cannes. We always painstakingly curate our offering to ensure we showcase hidden gems alongside more mainstream films.

What is the "Official Selection"?

The Official Selection serves to highlight the diversity of cinematic creation through its different sections, each of which has its own distinct identity. The films are screened in world preview showings, meaning it’s often the first time they come under the watchful gaze of a demanding audience made up of professionals and film lovers.

Some sections culminate in awards, such as the Competition where incredibly high-level “mainstream art film” works are presented, Un Certain Regard, which recently shifted its focus to return to more experimental up-and-coming arthouse directors, and CINEF film school graduate offerings.

But the Official Selection also centres on Out of Competition, Special Screenings, Midnight Screenings, and Cannes Première films, as well as heritage works screened as part of Cannes Classics and the Cinéma de la Plage. The important thing is that this Selection is both balanced and representative of cinematography at the time in terms of creativity and geography.

“ The most important work, but also the least visible, is done by the "head hunters", who search all over the world and at festivals in order to find the most promising directors. ”

What do the non-competitive selections consist of?

The Out of Competition films are often films that have a big impact on the cinematic calendar, and the Special Screenings and Midnight Screenings represent a special opportunity to view more personal works. Cannes Première was launched in 2021 to showcase silver-screen legends whose work doesn’t necessarily fit neatly in with Competition criteria, while Cannes Classics shines a light on restored copies of old favourites, as well as tributes to and documentaries about cinema.

Cinema lovers can also explore the world of cinema in different ways by attending masterclasses, tributes, or exhibitions which make up the Events of an edition. In 2022, for example, the “Rendez-vous” sessions gave festival-goers the chance to spend time in the company of such exceptional artists as Tom Cruise, Alice Rohrwacher, Javier Bardem, Agnès Jaoui or Mads Mikkelsen.

Where do short films fit in at Cannes?

At Cannes, short films feature in the Competition, at the end of which the Short Films Jury awards a Palme d’Or, and in the Short Film Corner, a platform dedicated to the art of shorts amidst the Marché du Film.

These two entities operate in symbiosis to serve up an overarching snapshot of the international short film scene and foster ties between creative output and industry.

What initiatives has the Festival set up to encourage film production?

The Festival is very keen to discover new talent and act as a springboard for creation. The most important (and least visible) task is performed by the team’s Selection Committee. These talent-seekers travel the world and scour film festivals each year to unearth the most promising directors and bring a fresh look to the Official Selection.

The Festival’s past has been scattered with schemes designed to support fledgling talent. The Caméra d’Or for the best début film across all categories (Official Selection, Directors’ Fortnight, Critics’ Week) and the Short Films Competition, CINEF graduate films, the Résidence, the Atelier, the SFC | Rendez-vous Industry… All these initiatives combine to elevate us into a supportive observatory of trends, which is why we opted to bring them together under a single name: CINÉMA DE DEMAIN.

What do the “Red Carpet Steps” represent today?

They are our flagship! No doubt they are the part of the festival that draws the most media attention. For the organisation, they represent above all an opportunity to give an initial and equally special welcome to both the world’s greatest film artists and emerging talent. They also represent an opportunity to honour the creativity of those artists on whom the Festival’s prestige depends. After appearing at Cannes, which boosts directors’ reputation, the films often enjoy success at cinemas and festivals around the world.

Red stairs © Getty Images
Photocall © Getty Images

How do you maintain the Festival’s international dimension?

Every year, the Festival invites artists from all over the world to give their own interpretation of the world of today and tomorrow. In 2019, the 57 films in the Official Selection were produced by 35 different countries. Accredited professionals come from all around the world as well (170 countries were represented in 2022) and there is international coverage of the event in the media. In addition, the Festival de Cannes offers filmmaking countries the chance to showcase the richness of their cinema in the Village International, which hosts an increasing number of countries every year – More than sixty in 2022.

The Festival embodies something vital on a global scale, and we’re working to harness this image for the benefit of the selected works by helping to support filmmakers and their films around the world, in places where they aren’t given the same platform as in France. We did this with Les Films de Cannes à Bucharest and at the first Asian edition of Cannes Film Week in Hong Kong in 2019. Launched in 2008, Cannes Film Week in Buenos Aires remains very active still today.

“ The Marché du Film offers professionals services and targeted tools that help them to facilitate exchanges, negotiations and discoveries. ”

Does the Marché du Film represent the economic side of the Festival de Cannes?

From a very early stage, the Festival de Cannes has placed an emphasis on its Marché du Film as a way of promoting the dual cultural and economic nature of cinema, and in 2019, the Marché du Film celebrated its 50th anniversary! Today, boasting in excess of 12,500 participants, it remains the world’s leading market, serving to add dynamism to the global film industry. It forms an integral part of the Festival in the sense that it also facilitates networking and provides professionals with the services and tools they need in order to exchange information, hold negotiations and uncover new opportunities.

What does the Festival do for the general public?

A film’s success and its director’s reputation depend above all on how it is received in cinemas. Despite being an event for film professionals only, the Festival is mindful of this reality and is taking steps to improve the way it reaches film enthusiasts.
Since 2012, the opening film has been released in French cinemas on the same day as its screening at Cannes and the opening ceremony has been broadcast in cinemas enabling audiences to experience the Festival launch night live.

At Cannes, the Cinéma de la Plage screens a different film each night, often in the presence of prestigious guests. These open-air screenings are open to everyone and represent a strong link with the general public and can play host to other events such as concerts, for example.
In 2018, we began “Three days in Cannes”, as encouraging the future love of cinema also forms part of the Festival’s missions.

The scheme involves inviting young people aged between 18 and 28 to the beginning and end of the festival to discover films from the Official Selection. It was so successful that it has been made an annual event. In 2022, it joined with the “Cannes Cinephiles” programme to welcome more than 7,000 fans to its cinemas.

What will the Festival of the future be like?

The Festival is a key event on a global scale. We are constantly endeavouring to help our selected works benefit from this image, by supporting the promotion of directors and their films in regions of the world where they have less prestige than in France. For example, we are already involved in the ‘Buenos Aires Cannes Film Week, the ‘Cannes Films in Bucharest’ programme, and last November, Hong Kong also welcomed the first Asian edition of the Festival de Cannes Film Week.
At the same time, we are in a world of constantly changing images and as such, we must continue to reinvent ourselves from the inside.  The smallest actions undertaken in Cannes can turn into major turning points further down the line, and it’s by constantly asking ourselves questions about the various aspects of the event that we can best prepare for the future with conviction and commitment, while staying attuned to the issues of our time.