The Making of Cannes 2020 Film Selection Process

By Pickle  June 4, 2020
Thierry Frémaux, the festival’s artistic director

Here’s the transcript of the speech of artistic director Thierry Frémaux unveiling of the Cannes Official Selection 2020. (Credit: Festive de Cannes official website).

Due to the global pandemic, the Cannes Film Festival will not take place this year under its usual conditions, nor on the dates it was scheduled: May 12th to 23rd, 2020.

On March 19, the Festival was postponed to the beginning of July. With Pierre Lescure, the Président of Cannes, we had until April 15 to make a decision. But on April 13, French public authorities announced that no major cultural event could take place during the summer. September being traditionally the time of Venice and Toronto festivals, it was out of the question that we would hold our festival in September. As for organizing Cannes later, in October or November, after all the fall festivals, that was just not possible either.

However, cancelation has never been an option. As you probably know, the Festival was canceled only once, in 1939. And only one other edition did not go to completion, it was in 1968. In 2020, if the International Film Festival (the FIF as locals like to call it) could not take its usual form, it was necessary for it to take another form. It could not just disappear.

It was also because of the filmmaker’s hard work that we didn’t want to give up. We couldn’t send everyone to 2021. So, we continued our selection. And it was the right decision. By choosing to work until the end to establish a selection, we received more than 2000 feature films, 2067 to be precise.

This Selection is here, and it’s a beautiful one. Even though movie theatres have been shut for three months – for the first time since the invention of film screening by the Lumière Brothers on December 28, 1895 – this Selection reflects that cinema is more alive than ever. It remains unique, irreplaceable. We live in a world where moving images are in constant evolution, whether we talk of the way the movies are shown or the movies themselves. Cinema makes a difference thanks to those who make it, those who give it life and those who receive it and make it glorious, “Coming soon to a theatre near you”: the formula has never been so compelling. We will see it soon: cinema is not dead, it’s not even sick.

During the winter and spring of 2020, the selection screenings continued. First collectively in the Festival office in Paris, and then individually. Selection committee members received films via the Internet and watched them at home. Then, through written exchanges and many conversations, we distinguished the films that caught our attention. It was quite a busy confinement!

Some of the titles revealed on June 3, 2020 appeared in commentator’s forecasts. They saw in the selection a lot of recognized filmmakers whose work was known to be ready this year. Other films, also expected, viewed and loved by the selection committee, will be absent because their authors and producers have chosen to postpone their release to winter or spring 2021 and thus apply for festivals next year – including Cannes. Therefore, their absence in the Official Selection this year won’t be surprising. We’ll
meet them again in 2021.

On the other hand, we’ll see that many discoveries are shaping this Selection 2020. A festival’s purpose is to place emerging talents on the world map. In Cannes, we’re fully aware of this. In this year like no other, we saw films made for the big screen masterfully occupy small screens. So we want to confirm our desire to preserve the mythology of cinema as well as to look towards its future. To be adamant in our decision to deliver an Official Selection is ultimately, for the Festival, the best way to help cinema, as well as focus on the films that will be released in theaters in the coming months. The reopening of cinemas, after months of closure, is a crucial issue. The Cannes Film Festival intends to accompany these films and support their careers in France and abroad, as well as confirm the importance of theaters as in what makes the value of the Seventh Art. We know that many festivals are taking the same position.

Because of the absence of events on the Croisette, the Official Selection will more than ever retain its role. The means may be different, but we will retain the same convictions and, thanks to all, the same efficiency.

With our teams in both Cannes and Paris, but also alongside the artists and professionals of the selected movies, and the exhibitors and festival directors around the world, the Cannes Film Festival will maintain its mission of putting cinema at the heart of the world, as it has been doing since its first edition We will bear witness to cinemas imperious presence and prodigious vitality.

Usually, the Festival shows about 60 films in its Official Selection (59 in 2019, 56 in 2018). The selection presented on June 3, 2020 is comprised of 56 films. They were chosen from the 2,067 feature films received this year compared to 1,845 in 2019, 1,916 in 2018 and 1,885 in 2017 or, to take a more distant figure, 1,665 films in 2010. It’s the first time that the number of films submitted to Cannes exceeds 2,000. The crisis and the slowdown in post-production processes have therefore had no impact on the number of films sent for selection.

We must look for this increase on the side of the first films: 909 were submitted to the selection, more than any previous years. 258 of these movies were directed by women (28.4%), 651 by men (71.6%).

In the 2020 Official Selection we have 15 first films (26.7% of the total), compared to 10 in 2019 (17%). We have never had this many first time filmmakers in the Official Selection. It comes to prove the vitality of cinema. It’s also a proof of the Festival’s commitment to the future of cinema.

Another growing figure is the constant geographic expansion of the film’s countries of origin. In 2020, the films came from 147 countries, compared to 138 in 2019, an increase of 6.5%. Regarding the presence of female directors, the Cannes Film Festival has made a commitment to “Collect if 50/50” to provide statistical information on the presence of female directors.

Here are two:

  • 532 female directors submitted their film to the Selection, 25.7% of the total, compared to 575 female directors registered in 2019, a slightly lower figure.
  • The number of female directors included in the Selection showsa significant increase. We will have 16 female directors in the selection. They were 14 in 2019, 11 in 2018, 12 in 2017, 9 in 2016, and 6 in 2015. In percentage, this number is 28.5% of the selection, higher than last year (23.7%) and, above all, higher than the percentage of female directors submitting movies to the selection. It should be noted that the same figure rises to 38%, when we only talk of French cinema in the official selection.

This growing number of female directors in the selection is the result of an evolution observed for several years. It testifies, in number and in value, to the artistic and human contribution of women in contemporary cinema, whether they are directors or technicians. It is also less a matter of numbers than an enjoyable prospect: when we will publish the statistics of the short film competition or that of the Cinéfondation films later in June, you will be able to see that, among the younger generation, the presence of
female directors is even more important and promises the advent of
a parity that we are all looking for.

Since there won’t be any screenings on the Croisette, and there won’t be any traditional festival programming, we have decided to group the films selected in one single list without registering them in the usual separate categories: Competition, Un Certain regard, Out of competition, Midnight Screenings, and Special Screenings. We will therefore let you, when you’ll have viewing all the films, forge your own opinion about the ideal Cannes 2020 program, and which movies would best fit each category.

You can also, in a list containing many newcomers, invent other categories, that will be more sentimental, more arbitrary, geographic or artistic. It will all depend on what one finds there: some established filmmakers, surprises, young filmmakers, rare countries, documentaries and animated films. And more this year: comedies, which we too often regret the absence in the Official Selection. To confirm what we stated above, this selection was built with the prospect of seeing the Cannes Film Festival assume more than
ever its primary mission: to promote films, artists and professionals by showing their work, to be the bridge between the screen and the public.

This Selection was also made with filmmakers, producers and distributors who decided to face the uncertainty of the times by committing to release their films by winter 2021. This 2020 Selection therefore reflects our desire to focus our attention on films that will try to reach there audience before the end of the year. To our usual criteria of selection, as undefined as obvious (and sometimes not so much!), to our usual question: “Is this a film for Cannes?’, we sometimes added this question: “Isn’t this a perfect film to get people back to the theaters”.

That meant a wider selection, in particular for French films. Alongside countries always well represented on the Croisette (USA, South Korea, Japan, UK) as well as rare or new territories (Bulgaria, Georgia, Congo), the 2020 crop distinguishes itself by a strong French selection. Each year, Cannes presents between 10 and 15 French films. This year we have 21 French films, 5 more than in 2017, 11 more than in 2018 and 8 more than in 2019. Many international festivals also give professionals and journalists an opportunity to publicize their national cinema. This wasn’t the case here. This is not a return to this old section of the Festival: “Perspectives du cinema français”. Rest assured, French cinema is not getting any special treatment. Simply put, even if some well-known artists will wait for next year, the number and quality of films viewed have led to this strong presence.

A political presence, in this case: we know how much the necessary international diversity of creation comes first from the strength of each region of the world. France thus shows the example of a pugnacious cinema, which produces its vision of cinema, its own films and, sometimes, those of other countries. That is why I would like to express our support to the filmmakers and producers of Mexico, a great country of world cinema and a great supplier of films for the Festival de Cannes who, through the voice of the 2019 Jury President Alejandro González Iñárritu, and those of Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro, fight for a brighter future.

This French presence is also the fruit of this opportunity: we want to be in harmony with future theatrical releases. Finally, it should be noted that among these 21 French films, where a new generation of actors explodes, 8 are directed by women, that is 38% of the total and 9 are first films (42%), two figures pointing to the future.

We will all miss the Cannes experience this year. We will all miss the Cannes effect: what a single projection at the Palais des Festivals gives birth to, an acclamation, a reputation, a storm and sometimes a thunderstorm. All things that make up the flavor and richness of the 12 days of the Cannes Film Festival, before the films go to find other fortunes and other successes in cinemas and festivals around the world.

With my colleagues on the selection committee, we will also be deprived of the bets we make each year on the films reception. Of the thrill when the lights go out, the curtain opens and Camille Saint-Saëns’s music begins. There are some works we selected specifically for this moment. For the emotion they can provoke, the effect that they will cause in the room, the “Croisette buzz” that a single projection can give birth to, the support that we give them, and the appetite they will create at the Market. To see exhibitors around the world rejoicing in their coming season.

We will have to find another way to support these films. Now that the world premiere at the Palais won’t happen, it will have to be in theaters and festivals around the world. It has been abundantly written and commented, we all felt something was missing last May. The manner in which newspapers (I’m thinking in particular of the marvelous New York Times article which gave voice to “Cannes” filmmakers and to all those who wished to bring to life our shared memories last May) expressed their deep attachment to the Festival encourages us to continue and to think about the future. The year 2021 will be important in many, many ways.

Many other festivals around the world have expressed the desire to welcome the Cannes 2020 selection films. The Cannes Film Festival will soon unveil how it will operate next fall. Traditionally, successive festivals such as Locarno, Telluride, Toronto, Deauville, San Sebastian, Pusan, Morelia, Angoulême (for French cinema), New York, Rome, Rio, Tokyo, Mumbaï or Mar del Plata and even Sundance have invited the films of the Official Selection. They will do it again this year with the active support of Cannes and its teams. As we did last year, the Festival will present one or two films together with ACID (Association du Cinéma Indépendant pour sa Diffusion), one of the Festival’s parallel sections that will also announce a selection. The Critics’ Week will also announce its own selection. Finally, Lili Hinstin, the Locarno Festival’s director wanted to be the first to welcome
Cannes films (before she too was unfortunately forced to give up), and we also spoke with Jose-Luis Rebordinos, the director of the San Sebastian festival, who decided that the films included in the Cannes 2020 Official Selection could also compete in San Sebastian. He changed the rules, just for us. Exceptional circumstances, exceptional measures.

As previously announced, the Marché du Film will have an online edition this year, organized by its director Jérôme Paillard. Such an online edition was possible for the Marché, but it is not something we wished for the Festival itself (we don’t even know if it would have been allowed by the right-holders of the films). At the Marché, both participation and desire are promising (all information is available at https://www.marchedufilm.com/en/

The short film competition and Cinéfondation competition selections will be revealed in the coming days. The complete list of the Cannes Classics program will also be revealed soon, headed by Wong Kar-Wai’s masterpiece In the Mood for Love, announced last February and which will be released in French theaters next December.

Through this text today I hope to share with you a glimpse into the Selection process and the preparation of the entire Festival during this challenging year. And I would like to pay tribute to all those who make the Festival possible, and first of all thank Christian Jeune, the director of the Films department, true conductor of the organization of the Official Selection, and his assistants Zoé Klein, Nadine Famien and Bruno Munoz, as well as those who make up the selection committee Virginie Apiou, Paul Grandsard, Laurent Jacob, Stéphanie Lamome, Eric Libiot, Lucien Logette, Johanna Nahon, Guillemette Odicino, Caroline Veunac, and to our foreign
correspondents Didier Allouch, Joël Chapron, Isabelle Glachant, Agnès Poirier, José Maria Riba, Yuka Sakano and Ilda Santiago. I would also like to salute the beautiful presence of François-Michel Allegrini, Oualid Baha, Lorenzo Chammah, Luc Dandrel, Simon Gabriele, Clayd Genestet, François Lardenois, Manuel Moutier, Emmanuel Raspiengeas, Adrien Valgadier, Wang Muyan, et Julien Welter.

I wanted to also thank François Desrousseaux (general secretary), Aida Belloulid, Fred Cassoly and Clément Lemoine (Press service), Samuel Faure (Partnerships), Michel Mirabella (Executive secretary), Geneviève Pons (Un Certain Regard), Vinca Van Eecke (Cannes digital service), Caroline Vautrot (Communication service), Isabelle Michaud and Emiline Ange Gbehiri (Accounting), Nicolas Van Herrenthals, Olivier Bouilland and Pierrette Clain (I.T.), Christine Aimé (Service Archives), Patrick Lami (projectionist Paris), Jean-Pierre et Virginie Vidal, Sylvain Lauredi (Cannes’ Team), the entire team Marché du Film as well as Marie-Caroline Billault, our general
assistant.

I have a special thought for Fabrice Allard and Emilie Renault (Credential Service), Laure Cazeneuve (Jury) and Laurence Churlaud (Protocol), who saw their great work abruptly interrupted this year. This is also the case for all of those who join us on the Croisette: projectionists, hostesses and hosts, technicians, security agents, etc. I also have a thought for the publicists in very dire economical difficulties today, for the freelance journalists, the drivers, the florists, the cooks, the beach attendants, the hoteliers and all those who in Cannes and around also organize this Festival with us and contribute to its prestige.

With Pierre Lescure, we would like to express our gratitude to the CNC, the PACA region and the Alpes-Maritimes General Council for their unwavering support. Valuable support is also given to us by the City of Cannes, a city especially threatened by the coming economic crisis. Finally, we would like to thank all of the private partners without whom the Festival can exist as it is and who are going through the same torments.

All of us together, we will have even more energy and desire to meet again in 2021 and make the most beautiful of festivals. Finally, it is an important tradition even if it is full of sadness, I would like to salute the memory of those who have honored Cannes with their presence, their support and their affection: the journalists Claude Carrez and Peter Van Bueren, our dear colleague José Maria Riba, as well as Jean Douchet, Philippe Nahon, Christophe, Guy Bedos, Tonie Marshall, Jean-Loup Dabadie, Kirk Douglas (President of the Jury in 1980) and Michel Piccoli, so often present in Cannes as both an actor and director, Best Actor winner in 1980 and member of
the jury in 2007. He made his last appearance in competition with Nanni Moretti’s Habemus Papam in 2011, before entrusting his Mémoires to our former president Gilles Jacob for the book J’ai Vécu Dans Mes Rêves.

One last thing: 2020 is Federico Fellini’s centenary. During these twelve days, we would all have embraced the three words from the Maestro that Quentin Tarantino never fails to repeat and which, more than ever, flow through the veins of all film lovers:

VIVA IL CINEMA!

See you in the movie theaters.

Thierry Frémaux

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