The Dignity of Cannes in its Defiance of the Pandemic
- Writerby Lee Sunpil
Is it Hybrid or Fully Online? - Another Edition Held Without a Hitch Despite Box Office Sales Slump
The Cannes Film Festival, one of the three major film events, closed on July 17 after 12 days of screenings. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic that was gripping the world, the festival decided to go forward with an in-person event, and the least we can say is that the risk they took paid off.
It was of course Covid-19 that delayed until July the event which usually takes place in the seaside resort town of Cannes, in Southern France, every May. The announcement of the cancellation last year of the festival that has been running uninterrupted ever since its first edition in 1946, initially planned to be held in 1939 but delayed because of WWII, was a shock. This might explain why the organizing committee was displaying such a strong determination to hold the festival one way or another this year, eventually opting for a so-called ‘hybrid’ form that consisted in employing an online platform in addition to offline events.
An Edition that Confirmed the New Status of Korean Filmmakers and Actors
The 74th Cannes Film Festival comprised all the usual programs we have grown used to, starting with the Official Competition and including the film market and the historical sidebars, i.e. the Director’s Fortnight and the Critics’ Week. There were 25 titles in the international competition, and a total of 11 Korean films were invited and screened across the Out of Competition section (Emergency Declaration by Han Jaerim), the new Cannes Premieres section (In Front of Your Face, by Hong Sangsoo), Cinéfondation (Cicada, by Yoon Daewon) and the short film corner.
What made this year special was the fact we were able to witness firsthand the new status Korean filmmakers and actors have gained over the last year or so. Korean films have become a regular presence in Cannes since Im Kwontaek’s Chunhyang became the first to be selected for the official competition in 2000, and this movement reached its culmination in 2019 with Parasite winning the top award, the Palme d’Or.
This year, the father of Parasite, Bong Joonho, was invited to participate in the Q&A event ‘Rendez-vous avec...’ and had a short speech on the opening night, while Declaration of Emergency leading actors Song Kangho and Lee Byunghun respectively participated as a jury member for the competition and as one of the presenters of the closing ceremony. News outlets in Korea and abroad widely commended Bong’s declaration: “I think cinema never stopped even once in the 100 years since the train in the Lumiere Brothers’ film started running”.
The Korean films of the selection were by and large favorably reviewed. Thierry Frémaux, director of the festival, said of Declaration of Emergency which screened on July 16: “It has a profound meaning to have this film as the last screening at the Grand Auditorium Louis Lumière. Korea is a great country of cinema.” Major French news outlets such as Cinemateaser and AFP called it an “impressive genre film”, noting that “the 150 minutes passed in an instant”. In Front of Your Face was also praised by Critika, which said, “Hong Sangsoo presented a film that is even more profound and accomplished.”
The Rise of New Voices, the Result of the Festival’s Commitment to Change
The selection of the official competition this year could be described as the reunion of seasoned directors, as is the case with Leos Carax whose latest film Annette was presented on the opening night, along with the rise of brilliant new authors. The latest works of previous Palme d’Or winners Nanni Moretti’s Three Floors and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria, as well as Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s Drive My Car and Julia Ducournau’s Titane gained the favors of the audience and the critics.
Major media outlets like The Guardian may have singled out Drive My Car, A Hero and Memoria as strong Palme d’Or winner contenders, but the result was unexpected. Julia Ducournau’s Titane, which depicts the reunion of a son who went missing ten years ago and his father, took the biggest prize of the night. An unconventional result, so much so that the president of the jury, Spike Lee, caused some sort of commotion at the ceremony by announcing it at the very beginning, instead of waiting until the end of the night as it should have been. Julia Ducournau is a rising star who made her name known in the industry with her previous title Raw (2017), which revolved around a cannibal woman. This endorsement by the festival can be seen as the proof of the festival’s commitment to change, after years of being called out for its underrepresentation of women filmmakers.
Meanwhile, Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero and Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No. 6 both won the Grand Prix, and Leos Carax received Best Director for Annette. The Best Screenplay Award went to Hamaguchi Ryusuke and Oe Takamasa for Drive My Car, and the Jury Prize was shared by Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria and Nadav Lapid’s Ahed’s Knee. A number of directors boasting impressive careers left the ceremony empty-handed, and in their place stood newcomers. Yoon Daewon picked up the Second Prize of the Cinéfondation programme with Cicada.
The Appropriate Use of On and Offline Events by Cannes’ Marché du Film
The Cannes Marché du Film, which boasts to be the largest in the world, took place both offline and through online platforms over 15 days from July 6 to 15. Film professionals from Europe and neighboring territories who had easier access to the festival could attend screenings and have in-person meetings, while those in Asia and the Americas could do as much on the event’s online platform. According to the organizers, 99 territories were represented at the offline market, and 94 territories on its online counterpart, with a total of more than 2,000 titles screened across both events.
KOFIC sets up online pavilion on the Online Marché du Film platform to reach out to professionals from around the world. 15 Korean film sales companies participated and operated together their own screening rooms, while KOFIC made good use of both online and offline means of communication by presenting each participating company through a dedicated website and running an online campaign to promote Korean actors, but with various promotional materials for Korean film along with outdoor advertising in Cannes and magazines.
However, the atmosphere at the offline market in Cannes was calm and quiet to a certain extent. “Around the Palais des Festivals where the red carpet events are held, you could feel the exciting fever of the festival, but the market and the other booths were rather quiet”, said KOFIC Representative in France Kim Saetbyeol. “The online screenings run without problem after we proved that we were taking serious steps regarding piracy concerns, but the environment was not really suitable for sales negotiations as the official screenings happened too soon after the pre-Cannes screenings which were held in late June. With the pre-Cannes screenings taking center stage in terms of sales concluded much to our surprise, the role of these official screenings remained vague.”
“It was extremely difficult to secure an online meeting with European buyers due to the time difference. On the other hand, with Asian countries, we were able to be proactive in organizing online sales meetings, just like we did in previous editions”, said a film sales representative who participated in the market. “It’s just that Southeast Asian buyers were more cautious as the situation in their countries wasn’t really good due to the pandemic, so it was difficult to see the kind of intense bidding we used to see in the past.” Another representative said, "We didn’t have many new releases, with the pandemic, so we didn’t conclude many sales for new titles, but interest in remakes and library titles was on the rise." It is said that new genre films such as Mysterious Mansion kept receiving a lot of inquiries from film festivals and South American buyers after their online screenings.
Cannes in the City, a new project by the Marché du Film
One of the particularities of the Marché du Film this year was the establishment of a program called ‘Cannes in the City’. As an event for film professions who couldn’t attend the festival in person, screenings were organized in five non-European cities: Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, Melbourne and Mexico City. In Seoul, a total of 19 films were screened at Art Nine, a cinema specialized in arthouse films, from July 8 to 9 and from July 12 to 16.
“It appears that the organizers picked three Asian countries that are relatively active in the movie sales market and countries that symbolize their respective continent”, said Yang Junghwa, CEO of Hamil Pictures that organized the Seoul component of Cannes in the City. “The vast majority of the titles that were either presold or highly anticipated didn’t make it into the program of screenings, so we were a bit short on the department that would stimulate sales, but it was still something positive to bring all these industry people together for the first time in a while and to exchange information and talk.” He continued, “I'm not entirely sure whether this event will continue in the future or not, but it seems to have the potential to reinvigorate the film market at a relatively small cost. I hope it will be renewed every year.”
In such a rapidly fluctuating situation, the Cannes Film Festival itself questioned the purpose of the film market and began to provide some answers. As opposed to a few years ago when films produced by streaming services were excluded, the selection as the opening film of Annette, an Amazon Prime original movie, was particularly symbolic. It remains to be seen whether the Cannes Film Festival, which was prompt to turn its market into a hybrid event, will show its splendor again and make sensible use of this new platform.