When you realize that she was born in Australia and she had the biggest success in Hollywood, it makes sense. Cate Blanchett was chosen as the most important international movie star in the world, to become the latest President of the Jury at the Cannes International Film Festival. After all, she was part of the same festival, six times before, with six of her big movies. Nominated seven times for an Academy Award, Blanchett has two Oscars at home, and certainly has more than enough experience to vote for another award like the Palme d’Or. Yes. It sounds perfect to call her «Madame La Présidente». Cate Blanchett talks about her role as president of the jury at Cannes Film Festival 2018, the #metoo movement changing the industry and why movies still matter today…
«Movies are the most powerful tool to tell stories»
What is a good Palme d’Or? Well, there are many different awards in this extraordinary film festival. The Palme d’Or by its very definition is an award that is given to a film that contains everything. So we have to award the performances, the direction, the cinematography, the script, the extraordinary crew that made the movie possible. So, hopefully it will last not only with the jury but the minds and imaginations of the audience, beyond the time of the festival.
Was it a challenge, in the beginning, to find a diamond out of such diverse international movies, to reflect what you really love but also could reflect everyone’s point of view? As a creative person, from the beginning, I had to accept that task is impossible, and without having a single conversation about any of the films, before seeing them, I knew we would disappoint and confound. The fascinating part of this platform that is Cannes, is it’s a cultural international melting pot where every single film is worth seeing. Of the 1,600 films they selected only 21. I can’t even imagine sorting so many films in a 12 months period but they do. But often I think what happens is the directors that have been chosen are guilty as charged.
Did your point of view as the President of the Jury change the point of view you could have had as an audience? It’s wonderful as an audience to go in an open heart way to try and attend to what the filmmakers are saying. And often, from afar, if I haven’t, being in the Festival that year, I’m not just interested if the film has won the Palme d’Or but it might often be the one I heard through word of mouth. So there are many ways which these films could reach you. Cannes is a very purist festival. I think that’s sometimes the problem with awards because I don’t just focus on awards, it’s much more about the process to them.
Then, why did you become the President of the Jury? Well, although I’m not interested in awards, what drew me to this position is the dialogue that I could have among the extraordinary other voices in the jury about the diversity represented in the competition, and outside Cannes, too.
«Cinema is a universal language where emotions carry the day…»
Did you need a translator for those members of the jury who don’t speak English or French, like the actor Chang Chen from Taiwan? Yes, we had a translator. It’s very important for a jury to understand what everyone says (laughs). That’s the basic of communication. Cinema is a universal language where emotions carry the day, but at the end of the week, some of us were fighting like cats and dogs!
Is it the first time that the Cannes Film Festival has a female jury majority? No! That was one of the first things I asked: to have gender and race equality on the jury. I didn’t choose the rest of the jury and they told me «we do have that!», because they always choose four men and four women on top of the President. I just happen to tip the balance. Sorry (laughs).
Has the #MeToo movement, along with the sexual harassment accusations, changed the movie industry or Cannes in any way? I don’t know about that. It’s a movement, but nothing changes overnight. It’s going to take time before we achieve equality, but it will happen. This movement will reflect what happened in Cannes this year, next year and no doubt in the future. For quality change to occur, for a profound lasting change to occur, it needs to take place through specific actions. Not through generalizations, not through pontifications. Addressing the gender is about addressing the gender gap and addressing the racial diversity and equality and the way we make the work. And of course that is going on in our industry and I hope many industries, because the creative industries are not different from any other industry around the world in terms of the same problem that they face. Now, is it going to have a direct impact on the films in competition this year, six or nine months on? Not specifically. There are several women in competition, but they are not there because of their gender. They are there because of the quality of their work and we are assessing them as filmmakers, as it should be.
Some people still say the red carpet is to show beautiful women in their beautiful dress but that has nothing to do with their movies… Being attractive doesn’t preclude being intelligent. I think this is by nature a glamorous, fantastic and spectacular festival full of joie de vivre, full of great, good humor, full of discord and disharmony. Making art is not always going to be harmonious. We are not always going to be in concord agreement. The world would be terribly boring if it was. I think the glamorous aspects of the festival are things to be enjoyed in an equal, fair, and equitable way.
«The Cannes Film Festival is by nature a glamorous event
full of joie de vivre, good humor and discord…»
And the fact that there’s only few female directors who won in Cannes? A few years ago there were only two female winners in Cannes, but I know the selection committee now has more women on board than in previous years, which will obviously change the lens through which the films are chosen. But these things are not going to happen overnight. Would I like to see more women in competition? Absolutely. Do I expect and hope that is going to happen in the future? I hope so. But we are dealing with what we have this year, and our role is to deal with what is in front of us. Also, I’m not looking at the filmmakers as an Iranian filmmaker, or a Chilean, or a Korean, or a female, or a transgender filmmaker. See? We don’t have any transgender directors this year. Oh my god, we failed already. Again, we’re dealing with what we have in front of us. And our job, as industry professionals away from the festival, is to work towards change. So, we are dealing to what we have in completion right now.
The film festival selected also controversial directors this year, like Lars Von Trier who came back after he was banned in the film festival for joking about Hitler. The Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov who is still under house arrest for fraud in his home country and the Iranian director Jafar Panahi can’t even leave Iran to come to Cannes. Could you forget about the real facts when is time to judge one of these movies, too? It’s a level playing field. Isn’t it? So, when you remove everybody’s name, it’s very hard when someone has being profoundly influential in the international cinema not to bring their body of work into the films they are making, for someone who continues experimenting. So, nobody knows what a new particular experiment would be and I’m sure directors body of work like Godard will stand with or without a Palme d’Or. It’s very hard to sit and judge another artist. That is the most challenging moment for a jury. That’s why I can’t answer personally about that, because I came to Cannes with a genuinely open mind and we had to remove any names and pasts, to just deal with present.
Do you take in consideration the political backgrounds of the directors and their movies? This is not a political film festival and I think the making of the work is not political about them, although it may have political implications to people who open their minds and hearts in situations that are going around the world… The same way we earn empathy to family situations or love situations, people you could relate to, even if you grew up in Idaho or Australia like I did. We’re not talking about the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s the Palme d’Or, so it’s different function, but yes, it’s a terrible situation that two of the filmmakers can’t be here when their films are screened.
Why do you think movies are so important? Why do movies matter today? Movies are the most powerful tool to tell stories where you hold up a mirror in front of everyone. It’s so important to consistently self-assess and also explore and also be shown the things you are not currently living with. Things that are not even remotely in your realm. So, it’s like two sides of a beautiful coin. Conducted by Fabian Waintal / The Interview People