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Cannes Jury, President Greta Gerwig Bombarded With Political Questions at Lively Opening Presser

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The 2024 Cannes Film Festival competition jury, led by president Greta Gerwig, met the international press Tuesday — and it didn’t take long before the assembled stars were urged to address the various fraught political issues swirling around this year’s edition of the world’s most glamorous film fest.

On the eve of the 77th festival, Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux had set the tone by attempting to distance the event from hot-button topics, saying at his own press conference on Monday, “We are trying to have a festival without these polemics. In Cannes, the politics should be on the screen.”

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The French festival head, who has served in his role since 2001, noted how coverage of Cannes has changed over his tenure, as the international media’s interest has shifted from the films on exhibition to an expectation that the festival be responsive to surrounding social issues. That was certainly the case Tuesday, as the Cannes jurors were peppered with questions relating to France’s resurgent #MeToo movement, the war in Gaza, and the threat of strikes disrupting the 77th festival, among other urgent worldly concerns.

Gerwig was asked almost immediately how France’s recent #MeToo movement was affecting this year’s festival.

“I think people in the community of movies telling their stories and trying to change things for the better is only good,” she responded. “I have seen substantive change in the American film community, and I think it is important that we continue to expand that conversation.”

Moments later she was probed for her thoughts on recent labor activities among festival workers at Cannes. “Well, I certainly support labor movements, and we’ve certainly gone through this just now in our unions [in the U.S. film industry,]” Gerwig replied. “I hope that the festival and the workers can form an agreement that is good for them.”

Next, Gerwig and fellow juror Lily Gladstone, star of Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, were baited with a question about how they felt — as women — with there being a Donald Trump movie in the festival’s competition, Ali Abasassi’s much buzzed about The Apprentice.

Smiling but also audibly sighing, Gerwig began her careful answer by saying, “I try to come to every film with an open mind and an open heart.” She added that you never know what a film is really about until you’ve seen it.

Film journalist Chaz Ebert, widow of the late, great critic Roger Ebert, brought the meta issue of the press conference to a head by calling back to Fremaux’s comments the day prior — that “sometimes we concentrate too much on the controversies rather than the cinema,” as she summarized. Ebert then added: “But with so much happening in the world” isn’t it “also fair to consider the controversies in the world when you are judging for the Palme d’Or?”

Gerwig said the jury had discussed that very issue the night before with Fremaux. “The marvelous thing about cinema is that it’s a slow art form,” she went on to say, explaining how feature films are works that require years of focused consideration to create and hours of quiet contemplation to consume. “In that space, artists from all over the world get to say something extremely specific and extremely personal… So, I think, actually, just the very act of watching cinema and engaging with it seriously is part of the discussion of what’s difficult [in the world].”

She added: “It certainly is important to consider it, and I think the very nature of Cannes does consider it.”

Alongside Gerwig and Gladstone, this year’s Palme d’Or will be selected by French stars Eva Green and Omar Sy, Italian actor Pierfrancesco Favino, Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki (Capernaum), Spain’s Juan Antonio Bayona (Society of the Snow), Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters), as well as Turkish screenwriter and photographer Ebru Ceylan, co-writer of 2014 Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep (with director husband Nuri Bilge Ceylan).

“I still think that one of the most peaceful things that we can do is to sink into beauty,” Favino, star of Comandante, which opened last year’s Venice Film Festival, said near the end of the press conference in a response to a question that referenced the war in Gaza. “Reminding the world that there’s beauty in the world, it’s one of the few things that filmmakers, as we are, can stick to — to say that there’s meaning in what we do.”

He added: “This is why I decided that I could be here without feeling guilty as a human being… because if we look for beauty, then we might look for peace — we might look for the good things in life.”

The 77th Cannes Film Festival opens Tuesday night with the premiere of French director Quentin Dupieux’s Le Deuxième Acte (The Second Act), starring Léa Seydoux and Vincent Lindon. A slew of much-anticipated world premieres will follow over the next 11 days — including new works from Francis Ford Coppola, Yorgos Lanthimos, Sean Baker, Andrea Arnold, David Cronenberg, Paolo Sorrentino, Jacques Audiard, Jia Zhang-Ke and Abassi — before the festival wraps up with the Palme d’Or ceremony on May 25.

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