by John Fithian
I recently made my maiden voyage to the Festival
de Cannes to meet with cinema operators and studio executives;
to discuss digital cinema, release windows and movie theft;
and to learn from that famous gathering.
At first blush, the event struck me simply
as 30,000 people crammed into a very small town, trying somewhat
desperately to stake their claim in the worldwide movie industry.
Upon further reflection, and some necessary distance from
that frenetic environment, I have drawn some different conclusions.
Many, many movies screen at Cannes. The festival
exhibits massive Hollywood productions with sizable marketing
side-by-side with small, independent and often personal projects
struggling for distribution deals. Some movies screen in
competition, hoping for a shot at the coveted Palme d’Or
and other prizes, while many additional films can be experienced “hors
competition.” Short films enter their own competition
and have their own “jury.” Maria and I were overwhelmed
by the Marche du Film (market) where booths offering information
on hundreds of additional films from many different production
companies filled up several floors of a large convention
and “Cinematic Art” Are Very
Different Things. During the two weeks of the festival, many
critics offer their opinions to the world of the movies they
see at the festival, while hundreds of journalists describe
the reaction of the cognoscenti gathered there. I witnessed
little, if any, correlation between the views of those gathered
in Cannes with the commercial viability of the films. But
then again, I don’t believe that critics in America
have much to do with the success of movies either.
Consider two movies exhibited at Cannes this
Da Vinci Code,” screening out of competition, received
a miserable response at the festival. The critics’ screening
AND the screening for elite festival-goers both fell flat.
Yet that very next weekend, waves of ordinary citizens around
the globe made their way to local cinemas and shelled out
their money. As we all know, the picture has grossed hundreds
of millions worldwide.
Similarly, Sofia Coppola’s beautiful “Marie Antoinette,” screening
in competition, drew a lukewarm reception at the evening
screening I attended, and reportedly some catcalls at the
critics’ screening earlier that day. (The subsequent
reviews were not kind.) When I spoke with Sofia Coppola and
Kirsten Dunst the night after the screenings, they both carried
themselves with consummate grace. But they looked a bit exasperated
with the entire process. Meanwhile, that same day, the French
people marched out in droves to see the picture at the cinema.
I believe the movie will do quite well when it opens this
October in the United States.
Simply put, when the elite few believe that
particular movies lack cinematic art, the masses likely will
love the product
anyway. Maybe the cognoscenti should be left to eat cake.
The World Does
not Lack for Talented Filmmakers – They
Just Don’t All Get Distribution Deals. The world reads
about the most important movies screening at the festival.
Most of those pictures secure significant distribution deals
and deserve their chance in cinemas. At the film market,
however, many movies go unwanted. Beyond the market, Cannes
hosts rows and rows of tents along the water representing
the film industries of many different countries. A small
minority of the festival attendees venture there.
As I contemplated the depth of talent on display
at the festival, I wondered what percentage of those movies
would ever make
it to the projection booth in a commercial cinema. Our
friends at the Directors Guild of America have reached out
several times seeking initiatives to get more of their
movies into cinemas. But the cost of distributing and marketing
movies today places a ceiling on the number of movies exhibited.
Digital cinema, however, will substantially
reduce many of those barriers to entry. I believe that digital
broaden our slate of movies and entice more people out
of their homes and into theatres. That is one of the
I am excited about the coming transition. Technology
will improve the outlook for many filmmakers and theatre
In the End, Though,
It’s Still About the Magic of
Going to the Movies. The final conclusion from my trip, however,
brings me back to the reason I took this job in the first
place. Going to the movies is magic, pure and simple. Whether
I am walking up the red steps of the Palais des Festival
to see a screening in the Grand Theâtre Lumière,
or buying a ticket at the box office at the local multiplex,
I always get excited about the imminent thrill of the big
screen, the sound, the communal experience, and the respite
from the pressures of the day. Filmmakers do everything within
their power to get their movies on the big screen at these
festivals, and then on the big screen at your cinemas. They
aren’t killing themselves for a spot on a DVD.