By Imane Kurdi
Would you pay €2,500 for 20 minutes with Brad Pitt? Or €1,000 for time with Kristen Stewart? These are the prices journalists have been asked to pay in order to interview the Hollywood stars during the Cannes Film Festival. For the first time in the Festival’s history a distribution company — the Canadian company Alliance Films — asked journalists to pay for interviews with the stars of its films. Not a flat rate of course, but a sliding rate depending on the celebrity rating of the star, Brad Pitt being top gun at €125 a minute.
Celebrity, celebrity, celebrity. Money, money, money. Cannes has become a circus. Do we ever hear of the films that are being promoted? How many of you can name the films in competition or the members of the jury? How many of you know who won last year's Palme d’Or? Instead of a film festival, Cannes has become a giant advertising shoot that lasts ten days, a mammoth photo-op where fashion houses and luxury brands vie for the best celebrity endorsements.
The French speak of Cannes as “monter les marches,” climbing the stairs, a reference to the red-carpet covered stairs of the Palais des Festivals. As stars arrive for each film screening, they make their way up the stairs in front of a wall of paparazzi and a cordon of screaming fans. Those photos are the festival. It’s where the money is made. The fickle public don’t care what happens inside the building, whether the films are any good; they care about whether Brad showed up with Angelina (he didn’t) and who wore the best dresses.
It’s little wonder that a company has decided to charge for time with the stars. Except that it’s more complicated than that. Alliance Films claims it is not making money from these fees, just recouping some of the cost of bringing stars to promote films at the Cannes Film Festival, costs that now run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. As it happens the outcry against it has been so vehement that it’s unlikely to set a precedent. Paying for news is sadly not new, nor is paying for celebrity interviews, pictures of their weddings, of their homes, or their private lives, but Cannes is a film festival, stars are there to promote a film, and television and press interviews are part of that promotion. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the film industry needs the media to promote its films and the media need the celebrity stars to sell their newspapers.
Still, I find it obscene that the film festival has been hijacked by commercial interests into becoming little more than a vehicle for selling luxury brands. It is after all a film competition, and a good one. Whereas the Oscars celebrate success, the Palme d’Or, and the other Cannes prizes, celebrate filmmaking — films that may be difficult or challenging, films that make you think or ask questions, films that just leave you awed by their beauty, and sometimes films that are just plain weird.
But Cannes is first and foremost an industry event. Behind the flashing lights of the paparazzi and the dazzling dresses of the stars, thousands of people are getting together to sell films. Parallel to the film competition is the Cannes Marché du Film where more than 11,000 industry professionals get together to buy and sell the rights to 4,000 films.
The first ever full-length feature film entirely made in Saudi Arabia is at this year’s Marché. “Wadjda,” directed by Haiffa Al-Mansour, is about an 11-year-old girl growing up on the outskirts of Riyadh who dreams of getting and riding a green bicycle. It is said to be a moving and uplifting movie, and I look forward to seeing it when it eventually hits the screen. Meanwhile, I am amused by the symbolism of stars climbing stairs and of a girl riding a green bicycle, and by the irony that the first film made by a Saudi woman should be presented in Cannes in a year marked by a film competition where all 22 films up for the Palme d’Or are directed by men.
Imane Kurdi is a Saudi writer on European affairs. She can be reached at email@example.com.