Watching Films Now? Why We Still Care About the Cannes Film Festival
by Alex Billington
May 17, 2017
"The most amazing thing is that every single person who sees a movie, not necessarily one of my movies, brings a whole set of unique experiences. Now, through careful manipulation and good storytelling, you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time." (–Steven Spielberg) With the world the way it is right now, why should we care about movies? Why does anyone want to hear about cinema when there's so much bad happening all around, when there's so much else to worry about? As I make my way to the 70th Cannes Film Festival, I have an answer to this question that has been on my mind for a few weeks ever since a quote first popped up on Twitter. And it's a vital reminder of how important it is to still give time to cinema, art, & entertainment no matter what.
This is my 8th year back to Cannes, and as always I'm very excited to return. But, of course, I write the same introductory post year after year. But this year seems a bit different. (Doesn't it? Have you looked at the news recently?) One of the teaser trailers for the new film Redoubtable by Michel Hazanavicius playing at the festival (about French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard) includes a hilarious exchange between Godard and a friend marching in a protest with him during the late 1960s. He quips: "Who cares about Cannes? Only a fool would go this year with all that's going on now! That is hilarious!" He starts laughing and the teaser cuts, which is Hazanavicius' amusing nod to the fact that he's still showing up with his new film even though he's aware of what's going on anyway. Which is what's happening now. The show must go on, as they say…
So, why, exactly should the show go on? What makes it important to continue to give our attention to films and art and entertainment in times like this? The best answer I've heard actually comes from the one and only Audrey Hepburn. Yes, indeed, she had some lovely things to say as well, many years ago. Hepburn was given a BAFTA Special Award in 1992, and in her acceptance speech she spoke about how wonderful it is to work in the "entertainment" business. "Surely it's the most exciting and fascinating [business], taking you not only around the world, but also into the hearts and thoughts and feelings of men and women through the ages; of every nationality, color, and creed, and walk of life… A profession that makes people laugh, and let's them cry." But it's what she says about why movies are important that really stuck with me.
As you can hear in the video embedded above (a big thank you to Jose Solís / @josesolismayen for the tip on this), Hepburn makes the case for movies no matter what is going on in the world. "I'm proud, very proud, to have been in a business that gives pleasure, creates beauty, awakens our conscience, arouses compassion, and perhaps most importantly of all, gives millions a moment of respite in our so violent world." It couldn't be said any simpler, any better than that. Yes, movies are too often labeled as "escapism" entertainment but they're more than just that. They do give us respite, as Hepburn says, but they also give us something to believe in, something to hope for, something to inspire us. Even sad movies, even dramas, there's an emotional core to them that gets into us and (perhaps subconsciously) gives us relief and reminds us we all have the same feelings, wants and needs. They unite us all through riveting storytelling.
Sometimes we go to the movies to escape from the world around us, to laugh and smile, and remember the good times. Sometimes we go to the movies to remind us what has happened and how we can be better than we before. Sometimes we go to the movies to watch epic space battles, or shootouts in the old west, or superheroes defending their city from supervillains. Sometimes we go to the movies to laugh, or to cry, or together with friends or family. Sometimes we go to the movies to get out of the rain, to get out of the heat, to pass the time. No matter what makes us go back to the cinemas, we must keep going. And coming back to Cannes, I'm reminded that this is the reason I love being here, no matter what. I have to come back, I have to see the latest that filmmakers have to offer, and I have to talk about what I fall in love with. I can't help it.
There's plenty of interesting films in the Cannes line-up this year that could inspire or encourage us to think differently. Take, for example, Bong Joon-ho's Okja - which is about a girl who tries to save a giant, mutant pig she befriends. From the looks of it (the film premieres on Friday, May 19), the film is anti-capitalism and Bong Joon-ho has even said that it was hard to make. "Others turned [the project] down because the film had a bold storyline. Netflix guaranteed both the budget and my complete creative freedom," he explained. Another film I'm very interested in is Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck, telling two interconnected stories of deaf children. One follows a boy living in Minnesota in 1977, who escapes to New York to find his father. The other follows a girl from New Jersey in 1927, who also escapes to New York to see her favorite film actress.
There's plenty of other unique stories being told by filmmakers from all over the world, and plenty of other discoveries among the films in this year's line-up. And I can't wait to start watching these films and finding out what will move us, give us pleasure, show us beauty, awaken our conscience, and arouse compassion.
I love coming back to Cannes every year because this festival, different than almost any other fest, brings together so many people from all over the world. Many of my colleagues from America are here, but there's also thousands of other press from almost every last country on this planet. I've written about this in the past after making friends randomly on the street. I'm staying in an apartment with a mix of Italian, Spanish, and French critics who I've never met before arriving, and in one day it has already been exciting to talk with them about movies, and the world, and so much more. This is what cinema can do - bring us together, unite us, and connect us in ways we couldn't have imagined. We fall in love with the stories being told on the screen, but we also can strengthen our bonds as humans striving to live our lives on this floating space rock.
So no matter what, no matter how bad it gets, don't forget that there is hope out there. Filmmakers young and old are making art, and telling stories because they can't help it. Because they have to keep doing what they their heart tells them. They want happiness and peace and prosperity for everyone as well. They're just like the rest of us, hoping things will get better, believing that there are good things coming. And their way of pointing us down the right path is by telling stories that make us feel compassion, love, and happiness. And sometimes stories of sadness, and struggle, and troubling times, can lead us in the right direction as well. If you love movies as much as everyone here at Cannes, then pay attention, and keep an eye out for films that remind you of the beauty of life. For now, it's time to kick things off and discover what lies ahead.