The Oscars may enjoy more name-recognition, but for most filmmakers, the Cannes Film Festival is the most important date in the calendar – mainly for its artistic ethos that rewards directors and producers for their vision, and the new frontiers they explore through their craft, rather than how much they can boast in box office takings. Bangladesh has been sniffing at and about the event for some years now, shoring up its presence in various ways, from committing greater media resources to covering the star-studded event to participating in some of the fringe events that spring up like some ancillary industry every year.
Every year in May, the quintessential resort town in the South of France that gives the festival its name plays host to the Cannes Film Festival. It isn’t just another stop on the festival circuit. Cannes is famous for launching many a star into world renown, from 60s French siren Brigitte Bardot to Abbas Kiarostami, the acclaimed Iranian director.
It was at the 69th edition of the storied festival in 2016, that we unveiled a 3D colour recreation of the only film Tagore ever made, Natir Puja (1932), at the Cannes Film Market. Professor Karl Bardosh, Hungarian-born American academic and filmmaker, directed the remake which had almost been lost to the Tagore heritage, while I acted as executive producer.
This year, at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival held from May 14 to 25, a Bangladeshi-French jointly produced documentary, Amirul Arham’s “Social Business” made it to the parallel Festival du Cinéma Positif, which is genre-specific.
International Film Initiative of Bangladesh (IFIB) was founded in 2017 by filmmaker, producer, journalist Samia Zaman with the goal of connecting films and filmmakers from Bangladesh with the global film community. Naturally Cannes has become a focal point for IFIB activity. It started off with an event ‘Dhaka to Cannes - a Celebration of Talents’ which gave a glimpse of possibilities to both participants from Bangladesh and the special guests who interacted with them. Four upcoming filmmakers have been taken to Cannes under the Dhaka to Cannes programme so far. They have all attended workshops arranged by Marché du Film, the film market attached to the Cannes Festival. Last years participants - Rezwan Shahriar Sumit and Sumon Delwar are both finishing their first feature length films.
Bangladeshi film activist, scholar, and critic, Sadia Khalid Reeti was invited to attend the 2019 Cannes Film Festival as a jury for the International Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci). She is the second Bangladeshi film critic and first Bangladeshi female to earn this honour. Previously, Internationally renowned Bangladeshi film critic, Ahmed Muztaba Zamal attended the 2002 Cannes Film Festival as a jury for Fipresci. He also attended the festival in 2005 and 2009 as a Fipresci jury.
Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu served as the event’s jury president this year. As in every year, an eye-catching line up greeted guests, and this year was notable for for not being as esoteric as it has been at times over the years.
Possibly the most anticipated screening was held for Elton John and his biopic “Rocketman”, which premiered at Cannes, where the 72-year-old pop star came dressed in a tuxedo with “Rocket Man” emblazoned on the back and regaled attendees with an after-party performance on the beach.
John, an executive producer of the film, hadn’t spoken much about the movie before it made its premiere at Cannes. But donning heart-shaped, red-tinted glasses he gave the movie his hearty blessing Thursday. At the post-premiere party, he called it “an emotional night.”
“Even if the movie doesn’t make one penny at the box office — which will kill (Paramount Pictures chief) Jim Gianopulos — it is the movie I wanted to make,” John said from the stage.
At the party John performed “I’m Still Standing” before being joined by Taron Egerton, who plays him in the film for a rendition of “Rocket Man.” Egerton was visibly moved to tears after the premiere.
This year’s festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.”
French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop earned the Grand Prix for her debut feature, “Atlantics.” Diop made history as the first black female filmmaker in competition. Best actress went to British rising star Emily Beecham for Jessica Hausner’s “Little Joe.” She plays a scientist who begins to suspect that the plant she has genetically modified may have adverse side effects.
Antonio Banderas won Best Actor, awarded for his leading turn in Pedro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical “Pain and Glory.” Dedicating the award to Almodóvar, Banderas delivered a moving paean to the profession: “People think we live in a red carpet, but it’s not true. We suffer a lot, we sacrifice, and there is a lot of pain behind an actor of any kind. But there is also glory, and this is my night of glory,” before promising, “The best is still to come.”
Cannes has several sections and activities, which can be successfully used to create opportunities and connections. The most obvious step is taking a booth, small or big, at the market which can turn into a kind of hub for the ever growing number of participants at Cannes. This can be done through collaboration so several partners can access Cannes at a reasonable cost. Eventually - a country pavilion will be needed. Running a booth can be a good practice for that.
A comprehensive strategy to put Bangladesh on the Festival and distribution map of the film world is necessary. Cannes is a great starting point for that.