The French government saves films better than Hollywood

France is investing in bringing cinema to life. What would it take for the United States to follow suit?

Fifteen years ago, I made my first trip to the Cannes Film Festival and spent two intense weeks consumed by cinema. It was a chaotic experience dominated by exhaustion and attempts to stay awake and consume as many movies as possible. After a dizzying ride through showings of everything from “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” to “No Country For Old Men” and “Secret Sunshine,” I found it hard to process the world outside of the plays. dark and crowded. And I couldn’t wait to go back.

Back home, my euphoria gave way to frustration and envy. Cannes rolls out the red carpet to authors and treats cinema as high art; even in New York, movies seemed like a much smaller part of the cultural equation. Which give? The answer, of course, comes down to money. It helps to have a government with tremendous resources invested in the arts, as France does, and Cannes reflects the equation of cinema as a civic duty of its country. The result is a nationwide effort to save movies that has more impact than anything Hollywood does.

I’m not the only one noticing the contrast. On the red carpet this year, an official festival reporter asked Andie MacDowell what she liked about Cannes. “It’s a very definite perspective in filmmaking,” she says, “a more artistic perspective than how we see movies in America. It’s a different creative avenue to explore art and filmmaking.

This does not mean that the investment is guaranteed. The festival’s programming schedule fell at a tricky time this year with the French presidential election, which thankfully ended with the re-election of Emmanuel Macron and not his frightening far-right opponent Marine Le Pen. (During her campaign, Le Pen said she would prioritize the preservation of French national heritage sites over other cultural initiatives.) France’s election drama is not over: June 12 , the country will hold its legislative elections which will determine which of the country’s political parties will hold the most power. Historically, the country’s newly elected president tends to win. Yet the world knows not to take these confrontations for granted; if Macron loses, his party’s cultural priorities could also suffer.

The president appointed his new culture minister last week and Cannes was his first assignment. I was a few rows away from Rima Abdul-Malak at the Théâtre de la Croisette when the artistic director of the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs singled her out in the audience as she settled in for “The Dam”, a Sudanese feature film by Paris-based Lebanese artist Ali Cherri. Abdul-Malak previously worked as a cultural attaché in New York and was an adviser to Macron during his first term; at 43, she brings a breath of fresh air to her firm and the potential to accelerate her investment in cinema. She will also be responsible for choosing a new leader for the CNC, the public funding body that pours millions of euros into film projects each year and provides half of Cannes’ budget.

If Le Pen’s party were to take over parliament next month, it would be much harder for Macron to prioritize cultural initiatives on his own terms, including Cannes. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the festival would immediately lose resources, but it is a reminder that this enviable ecosystem remains fragile in its own country. And if you care about movies, you want Cannes – and France‘s extraordinary film culture – to thrive. The fallout from the festival is felt around the world. It doesn’t necessarily have the power to galvanize the arthouse market, but it generates enough noise and energy around the idea of ​​cinema that many of the countries present feel compelled to bring back some measure of this attitude in them.

It’s entirely possible that ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ would do just fine at the box office without its raucous launch at Cannes, but Tom Cruise’s arrival at the festival showed a clear solidarity with his investment in the films’ potential. on the big screen. Paramount spends huge sums of money on marketing, but that’s nothing compared to the heavy work done by French taxpayers’ money. Arte France presented 33 projects at the festival this year and set up many future off-market projects. You could practically smell the silver floating from the yachts at the pier.

These funds are going to far bolder projects than strapping Tom Cruise to a jet. They include Lea Mysius’ extraordinary biracial time-travel thriller “The Five Devils” to Albert Serra’s dreamlike rumination on colonialism, “Pacifiction” and “Forever Young,” a touching look at the theater troupe of the 80s directed by Patrice Chéreau. The range of cinema that France supports is like Cannes itself: it argues for the survival of the art form.

I marvel at this kind of investment every year. When I mentioned this to a top French actor at an event a few nights ago, he laughed and said it looked like I wanted to move there. (It was the movie-going equivalent of “If you love him so much, why wouldn’t you marry him?”) I don’t love him; I want to see some measure of the infrastructure involved in supporting films brought back to my own country, however unlikely that may be.

America has so many heartbreaking problems that complaining about a lack of support for the arts may seem flippant to some. But storytelling, of course, can change the world, or at least enlighten it. In its capacity to create jobs, it is an economic imperative with lasting value for society.

Yet Hollywood treats movies and television under the guise of the dreaded C-word, which has no place in Cannes. You know this one, just like Martin Scorsese, who talks about it on stage every time he is handed the microphone. “Cinema is devalued by contents“, he wrote in an essay for Harper’s Magazine last year, decrying the use of the word as “a commercial term for all moving images: a David Lean film, a cat video, an advertisement of the Super Bowl, a superhero sequel, a series episode.” This homogenization “has created a situation in which everything is presented to the viewer on an equal footing”, he added, “which seems democratic, but is not”.

There is no point in dreaming of an ideal world in which the National Endowment for the Arts suddenly supports film production across the United States. Earlier this year, the French government announced the investment of 1.3 billion euros in French productions; the CNC supported them all. Hollywood studios support their own projects for other reasons.

What America needs is greater private investment in the global cinema ecosystem itself. Companies exploring their next big moves, from BRON to A24, may want to start thinking bigger than individual grants and production resources.

Companies with the ability to spend big must close the sustainability gap. They could account for some of the shortcomings of the current market, a few of which I’ve covered in recent months, including the lack of first-look deals for emerging filmmakers and the lack of reliable financial support for the festival circuit. regional.

Art houses (and Art House Convergence, for that matter) need a pipeline to support the only bold exhibition potential left in the country. They need broad infrastructure solutions rather than piecemeal investments. It’s so much more than throwing money around; companies that really want movies to survive need to think in terms of hard metrics solutions that do more than make them feel good.

If there’s no real progress to be made on that front, well, at least we have Cannes. For the moment.

Do you have any ideas for broader economic support systems that could help film culture survive in the United States, or bring more empowerment to Cannes on the other side of the Atlantic? Give me your ideas and I’ll pick up the phone to see how viable they are in a future column: [email protected]

Speaking of which: one takeaway from Cannes this year is that my story about the dire situation facing the programming profession has got people in the field excited and ready to see more progress. More details next week.

Browse previous columns here.

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