In Conversation With Christian Jeune: The Man Who Runs The Cannes Film Festival!

By Srikanth Kanchinadham. Posted on December 01, 2015

Christian Jeune's name is synonymous with the Cannes Film Festival. Jeune has been associated with the festival for over 25 years & is currently the Director of its Film Department. He's the man responsible for the smooth functioning of the mega-festival. Throughout the year, he travels around the globe, scouting for films that could play at the festival. He watches more than a thousand films every year, rejects most of them, negotiates with filmmakers & producers, and ensures the flawless scheduling of these films at the biggest film festival in the world.

Starting in 1977, he's been attending the festival for over 35 years now. He started working at the festival's Paris office in 1988, when the then President of Cannes' Film Festival, Gilles Jacob, offered him a job in the film department, which he went on to head in 1994.

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 Christian Jeune Now Heads The International Film Jury At Adelaide Film Festival

He was recently in Goa, attending the NFDC Film Bazaar, where he's been a regular now for some years. An industry veteran, he talks passionately about what makes Cannes stand apart from all the other festivals in the world. We were lucky to get an opportunity to speak with Mr. Jeune. He smiled through most of the interview, speaking about his journey, the festival & Indian cinema.

Published below are excerpts from that interview.

Looking at your profile, it is evident that you've worked as almost everything one could at Cannes. So could you talk about your journey at Cannes in the last 30 years and how the festival has grown?

I first attended the festival in 1977. I sneaked my way around, because there were not many people. I saw a lady handing over a ticket, and I went over and asked for the ticket and she gave me one. That was when I started to see films. So, from 1977 to 1981, I used to go to Cannes on my own and attend every screening I could. In 81 and 82, due to the introduction of the security system, the doors were closed for me, which left me frustrated. It felt like something had been stolen from me, because I discovered movies at Cannes. So, I decided to apply for working locally, because I was a student at Nice.

During that time in the year 1983, I was hired in the press. I never thought it was going to be my job. So I started working as a local employee in 1983 for fifteen days and then I went abroad. I went for an year to London and came back for Cannes, and I was in Bangladesh for two years, and I came back every time for Cannes. When I came back to France in 89, Gilles Jacob asked me to work while I was still finishing my studies. I went to London for six months and from then on I was involved with festival and its selection process.

And you've done every kind of job at Cannes?

I first worked in the press, that included dropping the leaflets at the press boxes of the 5,000 journalists. From there, I moved to the film department, the one that I'm heading now. Over the years, my position has evolved, from the selection process to many other aspects, and when you work for a festival, you are involved in every aspect anyway.

After spending around 30-35 years with the festival, could you tell us why Cannes is regarded as the number 1 festival in the world?

Firstly, they've made it the number 1 market in the world. Also, because of Jacob, when he took over the selection in 1978, it was not about countries sending their films to Cannes, but it was Cannes that started selecting films. It was a huge step because then all the festivals started doing the same. So, Cannes became very selective along with becoming the number 1 market in a country that loves films. We are also very independent, where we do not have any interference from political people, which is why we never have anyone on the stage who represent the city, or the state.

There are a lot of other parameters, like the weather. It is in May, during the most beautiful time of the year, in a beautiful city. Altogether, these factors have influenced the festival, making it one of the best in the world.

You've been travelling to India for some time now?

Oh yes. I've been coming to India for the last seventeen years. I was also living in Bangladesh in 87, which made me discover India and Indian cinema. I discovered the other side of Indian cinema like the big classics, like Pakeezah.

Could you tell us a few Indian films over the years, that you've found interesting?

In the history of Indian cinema, I am a big fan of all the black and white Raj Kapoor films. I've also seen Pakeezah ten times and it is one of the most beautiful film I've ever seen. I've also seen Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, which was the only Bollywood film to be shown out of competition in Cannes. People in India were very critical about the film being shown in the festival, but it was one of the best films in that genre.

In the last 5-6 years, we've seen a lot of Indian films coming to Cannes in the Un-Certain regard.

I've been waiting for that moment to see Indian films travel. For me, very strong directors like Kanu Behl with Titli and Anurag, who has changed the perception of Indian cinema all over the world have been a highlight. But there are more to come, and it is very exciting.

We also see that with all these independent films, there is a lot of co-production happening with France. Could you talk a bit about that, and what's so special about the relationship.

It's not only India, the French are producing films everywhere. It's a country with many producers, and that has been a long tradition. We've also signed an agreement with India, two years ago, and the first one was Lunchbox, if I remember well and then there was Masaan. It is also because France is a country that loves cinema and the producers there are very curious and are travelling a lot. The French government also aids us in the process, where we have system that helps in co-production. Producers from every country want to co-produce, but if you don't back them up, it is not possible.

Could you tell us how a film could stand-out to get selected to Cannes?

We are lucky enough to see most of the films, but then we select very few. We always select what we feel is the best, which is very subjective. We are movie fans and we want to be surprised or disturbed or moved, and we want to see a new way of showing things. There are not a lot of stories, contrary to what many directors say, but I feel there are just ten stories and those are done and redone. So it all depends on how you write a film, on how you use the language of cinema to tell a story.

Cannes has always had an amazing selection of films. This year, we saw films like Mad Max: Fury Road in the selection, which typically is not a festival film. Could you tell us a bit about how that works?

Firstly, the film was not in competition, well, it could've been, and that is another story. Cannes is a media event, with more than 5,000 journalists, just like the Olympics, except it happens every year. You will not have another event like the Cannes, with so many media personnel. We also have the red-carpet event, which is the identity of the festival. We have spectacular events and this year we had Mad Max as the closing film, out of competition.

The market is such an important part of the festival. Even if a film is not in competition, it makes a lot of sense to take the film to the market. Could you talk a bit about the market and what the value of the market is for a first time or second time producer taking their film there?

For sure, I would encourage people to come to the event, even if you don't have the film in selection. The market is very helpful, because a lot of people are coming to the market, so you have the chance to meet a lot of people.

What do you think of the Film Bazaar?

I think the Film Bazaar is the best thing in India, attracting the film industry from the rest of the world. I don't have to even convince you. And it is a very smart idea for us to travel here. Before this, there was nowhere else in India to do something like this, and Film Bazaar is doing a fantastic job.

Every year, I find two or three exciting titles.


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