How to get to Cannes… from Edinburgh

Last Friday, Scottish Documentary Institute and CMI (Centre of Moving Image) held their first joint masterclass with the special guest Gaelle Vidalie, representing the legendary Cannes Director’s Fortnight.  The idea of that session was to engage Scottish filmmakers with a festival whose philosophy is based on discovery and creative energy. As an introduction Gaelle screened the documentary film John Cassavates by Hubert Knapp and Andre Labarthe. It was a beautiful recording of John Cassavetes, shot in Hollywood 1965, while he was editing Faces, and 1968 in Paris, when the film was finished. Fifty minutes listening to the inspiring credo of Cassavetes affirming that you can make independent, free films in America if you dare to follow your convictions and forget about the limits of your credit card. His words and creative energy was wonderful, life enhancing, a must-see – not just for every film student but every filmmaker in the room to be reminded why we make films. It was fascinating that the truth of many of his statements was still meaningful to 2010. Perfect choice of film to describe what the Director’s Fortnight search is about. (You can watch a 10-min excerpt here.)

Last year, Directors’ Fortnight selected eleven first films, four documentaries, and one its films won the Camera D’Or award. For Gaelle Vidalie, who recently joined the team of programmers, it was the culmination of a year of travelling, discussing and watching films. The purpose of the Festival, set up in 1969, is clear: to dig deep, find and reveal new talents and offer audiences new forms of cinematic expression.  We caught up with Gaelle after her presentation at the Filmhouse, to talk about her background and how the programming process happens at the festival.

What is your background and how did you start working with Directors’ Fortnight?

GV: I worked with the Cinemateque Francaise for almost 20 years. During that time I had the opportunity to see a lot of films and meet a big variety of people, from film critics, to filmmakers, to festival directors and film lovers. I also worked with the EntreVues Film Festival, created by Janine Bazin. The Festival was devoted to showcasing first, second and third films and it quickly became a very important place for filmmakers to kick-start their careers. We also aimed to create a warm, welcoming and nurturing environment for the filmmakers. For me that is very important. I found that same spirit in the Directors’ Fortnight so when the opportunity arose to join the programme team, I took it.

The 2010 edition was not only your first festival but also the first year for newly appointed Artistic Director Frederic Boyer.

GV: This team of programmers is quite rock & roll! We are deeply involved in making sure we continue the innovative tradition of the Fortnight, and of course I feel that responsibility. It is also true that our team reflects Frederic’s artistic programming direction. He chose this team and decided we could work together. Each person brings difference experiences to our decisions. Programming is of course totally subjective. What we present every year is simply an “offering.” There’s definitely an amount of risk-taking involved, which makes it fun as well. It’s hard to explain why the films we select are touching or moving. We can and do discuss structure, cinematography, storytelling, etc... But emotion is what is at the core. That is what cinema is about: sharing.  We don’t present an absolute truth because there is no such thing as the perfect selection. Our audience, the film critics, or the journalists, they can – and will - all contest or debate it, of course!

Tell me more about the programming process…  and how do the documentaries you screened fit in this picture?

GV: A lot of people send their films to Directors’ Fortnight. Last year we saw around 1,000 submissions. It sounds as if we wouldn’t need to go and look for films, but that would be a little bit lazy, I think. If you are looking for new talent, you need to be a little bit more involved in establishing relationships, in order to find the people, their work and to convince them that they may have a place in our programme.

The four documentaries we showed last year are a good example of that. If we had not looked for these films we would have not received them because nobody knew that Directors’ Fortnight is also interested in documentaries. The way we understand film is that we don’t want to separate fiction and documentary. So we had to find them. Maybe this year we will receive a lot more documentary submissions. I also think that travelling and having conversations with people around the world allows you to have a feel for where the heart of cinema is beating and where cinema is heading to. Even if it’s really hard at the end, because we only take 22 films, it’s very important to watch everything. Of course it's not possible to take them all, but it’s important to know what’s going on in South America, in Africa, in Eastern Europe, everywhere. It gives us an overview of what’s happening and informs our vision of the festival and what we might want to follow up on in future editions.

Directors Fortnight 2010 Selection

Benda Bilili (France)
Boxing Gym (USA)
Cleveland versus Wall Street (Switzerland/France)
Stones in Exile (UK)

The selected total of 22 films represented 22 world premieres and 20 countries.