Updates on the Virus’s Toll

The Daily — Apr 15, 2020
Sarah Maldoror

The three main programs that run parallel to the Cannes Film Festival each year—the Director’s Fortnight, Critics’ Week, and ACID, organized by an association of film directors—have cancelled their 2020 editions. On Monday, French president Emmanuel Macron announced that the country would remain in full lockdown until May 11 and that there would be no large gatherings—concerts, sporting events, and of course, film festivals—until at least mid-July. “However,” the three programs note in a joint statement, “in order to support the whole film industry impacted by the current circumstances, each section, in consultation with the Cannes Film Festival, is looking at the best way to keep on featuring the films submitted to its 2020 edition.”

Cannes itself is not giving up. While the festival has scrapped its Plan B, a postponement to the end of June, Cannes announced yesterday that it’s now working on a Plan C. By this point, though, it’s “clearly difficult to assume that the Festival de Cannes could be held this year in its original form.” Some will find the festival’s determination to stage cinema’s premier annual event encouraging, maybe even uplifting. Others may wonder whether a truncated Cannes, possibly taking place in the fall, and possibly presented in cooperation with the Venice Film Festival, would really be any sort of Cannes Film Festival at all.

As artistic director Thierry Frémaux told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn earlier this month, “Cannes is the place for shows, for movies screened in front of 2,200 spectators, with attention, noise, acclamation, critics, market consequences, etc.” But talking to Variety’s Elsa Keslassy, Frémaux is now floating the idea of sending films out into the world, even if this year’s edition does not take place, with “a ‘Cannes 2020’ label that would allow us to accompany and help promote films that we have seen and will be seeing until the end of June.” He very much wants the festival to have a presence in the fall if that’s when things begin opening up again. “The cinema and its industries are threatened,” he tells Keslassy, “we will have to rebuild, affirm again its importance with energy, unity and solidarity!”

Cannes’ current dilemma is not unique, of course. Every spring and summer festival around the world is now faced with three options: cancel outright, postpone to a later date, or stage a virtual edition. For Variety, Kaleem Aftab has spoken with the organizers of the Munich Film Festival, who felt that they had no alternative to calling off this year’s edition, which was to have run from June 25 through July 4. A later date would have had them bumping up against an already crowded fall season, and according to artistic director Christoph Gröner, going virtual would have been a nightmare. “Dealing with streaming rights is like being in a jungle,” he says. “There are no established rules, so you have to go film by film, and if you play 200 films, that’s 200 very complicated processes, and like many festivals, we don’t have an in-house legal department.”

For Aftab, this jungle “explains why festivals that have gone online since the coronavirus outbreak, such as CPH:DOX and Visions du Réel, have predominantly been documentary events.” But while rights issues may be easier to sort out for documentaries, the filmmakers still face an uphill climb without a festival from which to launch their work. And as Anthony Kaufman reports for the International Documentary Association, “prominent U.S. sales agents such as Cinetic and Submarine” are reluctant to premiere their titles virtually. “You lose all control when you put the films out on online platforms,” Cinetic sales agent Jason Ishikawa tells Kaufman. “It’s probably the least effective, least creative way to show titles for acquisition.”

The Latest

The coronavirus carries on taking its tragic toll. Filmmaker and activist Sarah Maldoror, a pioneer of pan-African cinema, died on Monday at the age of ninety-one. Her children have released a statement: “Her luminous cinematic oeuvre, including more than forty films, reveals a valiant fighter, curious about everything, generous, sassy, very caring about others, who crossed all sorts of boundaries with her poetic approach.” Jean-Laurent Cochet, the renowned acting teacher who taught Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert, died last week. He was eighty-five.

The virus took comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor, who worked with John Cleese and Stephen Fry, over the weekend. He was seventy-nine. And Howard Feinstein, a critic, programmer, and former film editor at the Village Voice, has passed away. “Extravagantly malicious, acerbic, tirelessly unforgiving, a world class bearer of grudges,” tweets Wendy Ide, who reviews films for the Observer and Screen. “But also generous, funny, gossipy if you were on his side. The world of film criticism is a more polite place without him, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.”

As noted last week, Jean-Luc Godard recently spoke live on Instagram about “Images in Times of Coronavirus,” and now, thanks to Elena Lazic at Cineuropa, we have a report on his talk with Swiss filmmaker Lionel Baier in English. “What emerged several times throughout this conversation was a rejection of the idea that speech and words should be copies of reality, as well as a profound desire to return to a pictorial alphabet, which would come closer to painting,” writes Lazic. Godard also spoke about his working relationships with François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol. “We were a team.”

In support of the Art-House America Campaign, Zipporah Films is making a conversation between Frederick Wiseman and Wes Anderson available for the first time since 2017. The occasion was the fiftieth anniversary of Wiseman’s first feature, Titicut Follies, and the two filmmakers discuss the controversy that landmark documentary kicked up.

Home viewing recommendations are still on a roll, and it’s only natural that we’re going to mention first Sean Fennessey’s series of conversations with directors and critics at the Ringer. He’s asked over a dozen interviewees to recommend one title each that’s currently available on the Criterion Channel. Midsommar director Ari Aster has been immersing himself in the Japanese New Wave and selects Shohei Imamura’s Profound Desire of the Gods (1968). Barry Jenkins goes for Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), and Alex Ross Perry discusses Larisa Shepitko’s The Ascent (1976).

In his third dispatch from Madrid, Pedro Almodóvar offers “a few film recommendations that will obliterate any trace of melancholy, boredom, or tedium . . . They are extraordinary U.S. comedies in general, screwball comedies, crazy comedies, a genre the Americans are dab hands at.” On the Pure Cinema Podcast, Edgar Wright talks about what he’s been watching lately as well as ten selections from the list of his hundred favorite comedies at Letterboxd. Meantime, any list of ongoing series of recommendations would have to include “At Home” at Film Comment, “Connected” at Reverse Shot, and “Watch This” at the A.V. Club.

For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

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