Thierry Fremaux by Brigitte Lacombe
Thierry Fremaux, by Brigitte Lacombe

ARF: You continue to keep Cannes relevant. Why do you think the festival remains so globally captivating?

TF: The Festival has always remained faithful to its primary vocation, which is to reveal and highlight works of quality. This is done with a view to serve the evolution of cinematic art. And even if it remains firmly rooted in its history, it is also always on the lookout for novelty and originality. The Cannes Film Festival is a collective, worldwide celebration of cinema, and remains the absolute reference by its media strength, by the interest it arouses and the echo it provokes. But also by its prestige, with the legendary “marches rouges”. It is a reflection of its era, through the works that it highlights, while also bringing attention to films and auteurs from around the globe. Take the incredible journey of Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, which won the Palme d’Or in 2019. It then won the 2020 Oscar for Best Film and Best Foreign Language Film. Or more recently, Drive My Car by Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, who after being awarded the Screenplay Prize at the 2021 Festival, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year.

ARF: In an ever faithless, fractured world, how does great cinema – like those shown at Cannes – continue to be a force for positive change?

TF: Artists are always ahead of their time. They are royalty at Cannes, allowing us to adopt another perspective and apprehend our reality in new ways. Art has always allowed us to take this step aside. Cinema itself remains a shared experience above all, allowing us to collectively think about a reality that can sometimes surpass us, scares us, and makes us face it. This is the strength of art, and the Festival remains the refuge of artists from around the world, despite the crises they go through, and continue going through. In Cannes, it is the totality of these filmmakers’ views that offers us sense. The Official Selection bears this mark each year, and is cemented, through the awards, in our memories. By highlighting these works, they are then distributed around the globe and their circulation will thus transform our perception of our world. Defending culture is now, more than ever, a priority.

ARF: Have the stars of cinema lost their shine over the years, and if so, what/who have they been replaced with?

TF: The word ‘star’ is complicated, as it is used for everything and anything. This year, we have two absolute stars: Tom Hanks with Elvis and Tom Cruise, with Top Gun: Maverick. Cruise’s presence at the Festival will no doubt be a big event. Cannes wants to celebrate this immense actor, who has continued showing incredible consistency, as well as a fierce defence of the values of cinema. But I don’t think the brilliance of stars is tarnished. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio sparked great fervour on the Croisette in 2019 with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…In 2021, the Festival presented films like Annette by Leos Carax – with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard – or The French Dispatch, which had an incredible cast of Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Timothée Chalamet, Lyna Khoudri, Mathieu Amalric, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson…Notoriety is no longer necessarily earned through the same means today, but talent and charisma are still celebrated and continue to inspire dreams.
ARF: We believe the theatre screen, the shared experience of watching film is essential to the art form. Are we old fashioned, nostalgic… and does the current mode of distribution offer anything to the cultural experience?

TF: It is neither old-fashioned or nostalgic. This idea stems from a concern that more fundamentally affects our societies. It questions our ability to share and build an experience together – of favouring the collective over individuality. Nothing can replace the shared experience of a room. But it is also our duty to question and prepare for the future. We can no longer deny the success of streaming platforms. Our way of discovering films has evolved a lot, and this has an impact on the culture of cinema. But the mission for the Cannes Film Festival is one we have long defended: supporting, encouraging, and highlighting creativity, and keeping the desire for cinema alive at all costs.
ARF: How do the Festival de Cannes and the Lumière Film Festival sustain our innocent love and curiosity for cinema in unique ways?

TF: The Lumière Festival was launched on a spontaneous, natural initiative. Everyone wanted a Film Festival to see the light of day in Lyon – the birthplace of the Cinématographe Lumière. The event celebrated its 13th edition in 2021. The idea of showing great films, without a jury and without a red carpet, solely through the eyes of those who create cinema today, was audacious but met with success. It proves to us that it is always possible to gather a fervent public around these works. Rediscovering them on the big screen, in the company of hundreds of people at the Halle Tony-Garnier – a place typically reserved for large crowds – the likes of Buster Keaton and Edward Sedgwick’s Cameraman; hearing the spectators laugh out loud like children…that’s priceless! The great pleasure is also discovering to what extent those artists are great cinephiles. In Cannes, it is the euphoria of discovery that prevails. A few weeks prior to the start of the Festival, the excitement is palpable. This reaches its height at the opening: as much for journalists as film professionals and artists, the stakes are high.
ARF: With the documentary, Lumière!, you’ve done your best to preserve the memory of the Lumieres brothers. How much do you think they, and their city of Lyon, deserve more credit as a birthplace of cinema?

TF: With the film, I wanted to restore the enchantment of the Lumière story by bringing it to the present. It’s a film of 108 films that transports us to their cinema. Strangely, when I was young, we never spoke about Louis and Auguste Lumière in Lyon. There was nothing in the city that reminded us they invented the cinematograph, except the Villa Lumière and the rue du Premier-Film. We felt the need to do something. So, I devoted myself to the Lumière cinema, because aside from a few specialists, no one was paying it any attention. With the creation of the Lumière Festival in 2009, now the meeting place for heritage cinema, I believe Lyon is returning to the centre of the global cinematic landscape by celebrating its vitality and heritage. The invention of the art was indeed not because of one person. Edison or Lumière, it doesn’t matter – the idea was that Lumière was also a filmmaker… that he himself asked questions about film. In 1895!

ARF: We all mourn the death of the great Bertrand Tavernier, and we know how close friends you were. What did you learn working by his side, and how did he shape your life and affection for film?

TF: I met Bertrand in 1982, during the press conference for the Institut Lumière’s launch in Lyon. We quickly became friends, and when he invited me on the set of La vie et rien d’autre, I no longer wanted to be away from him. I remember his humanity, his intransigence, but also his incredible erudition. He had seen everything, heard everything, and read everything. I spent a lot of time listening to him talk about films, and his words nourished our work together at the Institut Lumière for almost forty years. He was always there, until the end, supporting our fight. He was obviously a great artist, but also a cinephile, like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, with whom I saw him speak so often. I am preparing an essay on him, a eulogy – an exercise in admiration.

ARF: Do you remember the experience that convinced you to dedicate your life to cinema?

TF: It was the discovery of Kings of the Road by Wim Wenders. Three hours, in black and white, it recounts the wanderings of two men in a truck along the East German border. Also Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola, which I saw on its release, and whose importance grows more over time. I was also moved after discovering Pierrot le Fou by Jean-Luc Godard.

ARF: Can you describe your first impression of the Cannes Film Festival?

TF: As a festival-goer and spectator, I had so many joyful experiences. When I arrived in the Cannes team, I will always remember the unforgettable moment of walking the carpet for the first time, at the presentation of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! In two hours and in a single triumphant screening, the film had set the Croisette ablaze. I am always impressed by the ability of the Festival to create thunderclaps, that forever transform the destiny of a filmmaker or an actor, to make legends in no time, and to simultaneously touch the hearts of moviegoers around the world.

ARF: What does it mean to be known as the ‘King of the Croisette’?

TF: I’m not the King, just a servant! My role as General Delegate is to pick the films for the Official Selection and help the Festival remain alive and organised. My only ambition is to serve the Festival, and through it: cinema. It’s true that for two weeks, I am somewhat of the President of the World Republic of Cinema – and I have a table where we eat very, very well! But the day after it closes, I take off my tuxedo, resume normal life, drive back to Lyon and the Alpine mountains…and return to classic cinema.