Cate Blanchett: "This Isn't The Nobel Peace Prize It's The Palme d'Or"

CANNES – There were a number of interesting issues brought up at the official jury press conference for the 71st Festival de Cannes.  The effect of the #MeToo movement on the festival to the fact there are five women and four men on this year’s competition jury were noteworthy, but perhaps the most interesting response came at the end of the 30-minute Q&A and from none other than jury president Cate Blanchett.

This year, it is likely that two prominent filmmakers will not be on hand for their film’s premieres in competition because of political reasons. Jafar Panahi, director of “Three Faces,” has been under a twenty-year media and travel ban since 2010.  Kirill Serebrennikov, director of “Summer,” has been placed under house arrest until October 13 due to fraud charges that many believe are politically motivated.  Blanchett was asked whether the jury would take the status of those directors into consideration when determining the awards they will hand out at the end of the festival.  She gave an eloquent, yet also blunt response.

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“I think it’s not a political film festival and I think making the work is often inherently political and how it is going to be digested and disseminated post the festival may well have political implications for people and open their minds and hearts to situations going on around the world,” Blanchett said.  “As Ava was saying, forming bridges and family situations or love relationships or the trials and tribulations of people you can relate to whether you lived in Compton or grew up in East Ivanhoe in Australia as I did.  But this is not the Nobel peace prize, it’s the Palme d’or.  It’s a slightly different function.  But, yes, it’s a terrible situation that two of the filmmakers will more than likely not be here when their films screen. It’s a very, very terrible situation.”

The “Ava” Ms. Blanchett referred to is none other than Ava DuVernay the lone newbie at the festival. She joins Blanchett, as well as Cannes veterans Kristen Stewart, Denis Villeneuve, Chang Chen, Léa Seydoux, Khadja Nin and Andrey Zvyagintsev (notably quiet on the subject of his countryman), on the jury.  The “Selma” director had some thoughts about the importance of film and intriguingly segued her comments to subtly comment on the lack of Netflix or alternative screening options currently being debated within the industry.

“I feel like cinema is this voice and it’s the way that where I’m from, Compton, California, was able to understand the humanity of a family in Iran or in Shanghai,” DuVernay said. “There was nothing outside of my window to orient me to my place in the world. It’s film that brought me that. It’s film that allows me to assert my voice. I feel Cannes is so important because it brings us together from all points of the world from wherever we are to assert our voices to assert ourselves so our voice actually speak to each other in cinema. It’s so important I feel that we are inclusive in the ways we participate in film, whether that’s in a theater or not. It’s still film. I think this is a question that the industry and artists and executives alike are grappling with. What is a film? A film is a story told by a filmmaker and the way in which that film is presented to the audience I don’t think has a bearing of whether or not it’s a film. I look forward to having those debates with my fellow jury members, like the ones sitting next to me and others.”

DuVernay laughed when making that last comment, referring to a smiling Villeneuve by her side.

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Stewart added to the conversation in general noting, “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. Always have introspection and self-reflection and additionally open ideas to things that are not always like yourself and that’s how you grow. Movies [are] obviously my favorite form of that.”

Somewhat surprisingly Blanchett dominated the conference, perhaps out of respect from her jury.  She made it clear that despite having no conversations with her colleagues they will likely “disappoint and confound” with their picks.  She also had a sharp remark to those criticizing the image choice of a woman in this year’s poster.

“Being attractive doesn’t preclude being intelligent,” Blanchett notes.  “This is by its very nature a glamorous, fantastic, spectacular festival.  Full of joie de vivre.  Full of great good humor.  Full of discord and disharmony.  Making art, making work is not always going to be harmonious.  We are not always going to be in concord and agreement. The world would be terribly boring if it was. I think those aspects of the festival are things to be enjoyed but in an equal fair and equitable way.”

The 71st Cannes Film Festival runs until May 19th. Look for complete coverage on The Playlist.