“Cinema is voice. And its the way, where I’m from in Compton California, that I was able to understand the humanity of a family in Iran or in Shanghai. There was nothing outside my window to orient my place in the world. It was cinema that gave me a voice.”
These were words of famed filmmaker extraordinaire Ava DuVernay at the press conference for the 2018 Cannes Jury where she is serving as a Jury Member. If you know anything about Ms. DuVernay and her mission of gender and racial inclusion in Hollywood, then you might have some idea as to the power and continued influence of the Cannes Film Festival for the world of cinema and beyond. This was very much so the case when Cannes’ President Thierry Fremaux allowed streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon to compete in last year’s Festival. That decision, which was met with much controversy, sent a very powerful message about the shifting world of cinema. That message? Form and infrastructure as it relates to non traditional theatrical cinema. This year Cannes opted to ban Netflix and other Streaming giants from the completion, and instead is much more focused on content as opposed to form. We are seeing this with many new names entering the competition and with the exception of a few heavyweights Spike Lee and Jean Luc Godard, many filmmakers are here for the first time in competition from the world of African, Arab, Asian, American and South American Cinema.
There are also more women filmmakers in the completion than any other time in the Festival’s history. This inclusion and diversity politics is also reflected in the the Jury selection with an equal amount of men and women on the panel. Academy Award-winning Actress Cate Blanchett is serving as President of this said Jury President and was keen on emphasize how the panel reflects the lens through which all the contending films will be seen. And while no jury in a festival is without debate she said that she is confident in the intellectual and emotional intelligence of those around her. Along with Ava, Ms. Blanchett also addressed the very topical #MeToo movement head on (it should noted that disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein was a very power mover and shaker at Cannes in the past). Blanchett stated that change in the film industry must come through “specific action” and not through mere talk. And while she praised the gender gap and inclusion at Cannes this year, she reminded us that political considerations would not play a role in selecting a winner of the 71st Cannes Festival.
As it relates to cinema of the African Diaspora, I am (well, most here are) personally looking forward to Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman in competition for the Palm ‘Dor. BlacKkKlansman, which tells the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), an African American police Officer from Colorado, who successfully managed to to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and almost became the head of its local chapter. And in the Uncertain Regard Contest is a film from Kenya (the first to enter Cannes from the African country) called Rafiki from Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu. Rafiki has gotten lost of early buzz as it it a lesbian love story featured in a country (Kenya) where homosexuality is still outlawed. I will personally be covering cinema from the Black Americas, Africa, and the Caribbean here at the festival.
The other members of the jury are directors Denis Villeneuve and Andrey Zvyagintsev; French actress Lea Seydoux, Taiwanese actor Chang Chen, Burundi singer Khadja non and French writer Robert Guediguian. Arab filmmaker extraordinaire Asghar Faradi’s Everybody Knows which stars Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem kicked off the completion last night.
The festival runs through May 19th. Stay tuned for more coverage on Shadow and Act.