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The Festival’s choice, interview with Thierry Frémaux

the 25.01.2010 at 12:00 AM

Following Isabelle Huppert in 2009, Tim Burton, the director of various films including Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Mars Attacks!, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Ed Wood (which competed at Cannes in 1995), has been selected as the President of the Jury for the 63rd Cannes Film Festival. Here, exclusively for the Festival’s website, Thierry Frémaux answers some questions about this choice.



Why him and why this year?

The choice is both surprising and obvious, given the way in which Burton has quite subtly imposed his particular style, hallmark and unequalled imagination on international cinema. He’s a popular creator because he listens to his audiences and is a fantastically brilliant jack-of-all-trades kind of artist. He is also an extremely endearing and, as it happens, rather charming person. This is important, because we will be living out almost two whole weeks together!

How and when is the President of the Jury chosen?

The tradition is the same every year: in autumn, Gilles Jacob, the President of the Festival, and I draw up a list of potential names, which we then submit to the Board of the Cannes Festival. Then, with their agreement, we study the list of approved choices and ultimately select one of the names on the list.

What other names are on this list?

I can’t disclose the list, it might still be very useful! The men and women involved in international cinema today – be they directors, actors or screenwriters, etc. – are also those who will shape the cinema of tomorrow.

You generally choose people involved in cinema, and very often directors. In the history of the Festival, Presidents of the Jury have also included writers…

Yes, it was Georges Simenon who, as President of the Jury, crowned Fellini. It was like a legendary encounter at the summit of the arts! Writers continue to feature in the Jury: the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, the Italian Erri de Luca, the American Toni Morrison and the Haitian author Edwige Danticat have all been Jury members.

What criteria govern your choice?

The first criterion is legitimacy. It is an absolute necessity that directors competing in the Festival know that they will be judged by someone who has the ability and credibility to lead a jury and compose a list of winners. It has to be someone who knows cinema and can put him or herself in the place of his or her peers. Sean Penn put it beautifully when he asked his co-jurors to imagine that they were personally implicated in each of the films they were judging.
Then, we also have to keep a certain balance: last year’s President, Isabelle Huppert, was a French actress. This year’s will be an American director. He follows in the footsteps of Quentin Tarantino, Emir Kusturica, Wong Kai-Wai, Stephen Frears and Sean Penn. The composition of this list over the years glitters like a pantheon of the greatest names in worldwide cinema.
Finally, we must avoid repetition and try to secure an element of surprise. That’s not easy when you consider that Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and David Lynch have all already been Presidents at Cannes…

Have you ever been rejected?

Some artists do not want to judge their peers and this is position is totally understandable. Others are filming, writing or are unavailable for some other reason. It’s not enough just to click your fingers.

Did Tim Burton accept straight away?

In principle, yes. But he had to check his schedule and take a bit of time before giving his official response. He wanted to be sure that he could do the job justice. He is extremely busy finishing Alice in Wonderland and is heavily involved in a large exhibition currently being devoted to him at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. We met last week in Los Angeles, where he officially accepted our invitation.


How did he react?

With great passion and enthusiasm! He was delighted to be able to immerse himself in worldwide cinema again following the hectic period leading up to the release of Alice in Wonderland.

What happens next? Is everything already in place?

No. We always start with the President before deciding on the other Jury members. Many different things have to be taken into account.
The complete list will be announced at the press conference in mid-April, along with the official selection.

Does the President of the Jury participate in the choice of the other Jury members?

No. The members of the Jury are chosen at the sole discretion of the Festival. The only question we ask the President is: “Do you have any enemies with whom you would rather not come face to face on the Jury?” I asked Tim Burton this question and he replied, “That’s true, I’m going to have to think to work out who my enemies are…!”, before giving us the complete freedom to pick whoever we wanted.

(Interview conducted by V.V.E. and E.B.)

Credits: drawing by Tim Burton from The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton, originally edited by Rob Weisbach Books, 1997.

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