INTERVIEW: The secret of Cannes is that it has no secret: Director Thierry Frémaux

Ahmed Atef Dorra, Monday 6 Dec 2021

The Cairo Film Festival paid tribute to Thierry Frémaux, the director of the Cannes Film Festival, in its 43rd edition.

Thierry Fremaux

Frémaux, who has been in office for about a quarter of a century, is also a film historian, documentary director, and director of the Lumiere Institute for the History of Cinema in France, and one of its rare experts.

The director of the Cannes Festival granted special statements to Ahram Online in recognition of its value.

Ahram Online (AO): What does your visit to Egypt mean?

Thierry Frémaux (TF): I was interested in visiting Egypt and accepting the invitation. Also being honoured by the Cairo International Film Festival is a tribute to the Cannes film festival itself and to all its employees. This gesture from the CIFF also honours the cultural exchange between Egypt and France.

Coming here is also important because Egypt was one of the first countries to which the Lumiere brothers (cinema inventors) sent one of their photographers to film its landmarks, to be at the head of the nations in which the first cinema camera was installed. So, it is natural for me to be here, as if I am one of the heirs of the Lumiere brothers or a guardian of history.

AO: What is your opinion of the current state of Egyptian cinema?

TF: There is a new generation of authors’ cinema directors (artistic cinema) in Egypt, but also in the Arab world, whether in North Africa, Lebanon, or Palestine. We are following this up. I regret that I did not show at Cannes the wonderful works of Egyptian cinema in the fifties, especially musical films.

We screened the Indian film ‘Delta Musical’ at the Cannes Film Festival and got great acclaim. I recently watched ‘DIVAS’, which is an exhibition about the great female singers of the Arab World Institute in Paris (including Oum Kalthoum, Warda, Sabah, and Laila Murad), and it showed me how important cinema was in Egypt.

Throughout its history, Egypt respected the art of cinema and the people that were associated with it. Egypt is also a wonderful cinematic country. As experts and film lovers, it is our role to let the world know this.

AO: How did you manage to maintain and develop the legendary success of the Cannes Film Festival?

TF: The secret of Cannes is that it has no secret. I can’t tell you because I don’t know it. It’s something special, every year is different from the other. This is what makes the Cannes Film Festival the largest film festival in the world. We are in the month of December and the Cannes Festival will be held in May of 2022, and I don’t know what it will look like because I haven’t seen all the films yet. And every year we wait for something special to happen.

AO: Do Hollywood and Cannes have a love-hate relationship which could be behind the absence of their films sometimes at Cannes?

TF: No, It’s always a love affair.

AO: Is the red carpet the facade of Cannes festival or an integral part of its entity?

TF: The Festival de Cannes is a permanent and continuous mixture between glamour and the red carpet; between artistic cinema or author’s cinema; and the presence of international stars alongside the rare country cinema, showing works and screening films for new generations and discovery. It’s a balance. But the stars don’t impose any conditions of their own on Cannes.

AO: Is Cannes festival driven by the whims of politics?

TF: No. It is not a political festival; but the directors are the politicians with their films. And when we show a film about a political issue and it wins the Palme d’Or, the festival’s biggest prize, it’s not the festival, but the jury.

Many of our films win other international awards, which are chosen by other festivals or critics’ unions, for example.

AO: How do you choose films and based on which criteria?

TF:  All films are selected through the selection committee in the same way based on their quality and regardless of their nationality. For example, the Egyptian film ‘Yom Al-Din’, which was shown in the official competition of the festival, was a real surprise to us. The biggest surprise is that it was a first-time director. So, we encouraged him. But it was also a way to show a different kind of cinema.

We do not make political choices. The festival does not compromise in the level of works it presents, as the eyes of the international press and critics are all focused on us. We only choose a very good movie. The same applies to our selection of French films, which we do not take for granted.

AO: Are you with the international film festivals that were held online recently, including major festivals, and why did you refuse to hold the Cannes Film Festival virtually?

FT: Film festivals cannot be held virtually because they are based on human presence. They rely on human encounters; they are live performances of art. It is also a way to show good movies from every corner of the world, not only American and European cinema.

All film festivals everywhere in the world strengthen the art of cinema and make the industry stronger. And the more online platforms multiply over the years, the stronger film festivals will be.

AO: What is your vision of the world after the pandemic?

FT: At the time of the pandemic, we were talking about the world beyond that period. But now no one is talking about the future; and I think it’s better to go back to that tone and dream of a post-COVID world.

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