Cannes Unveils Diverse International Line-Up; Scripted Drama Boom Declared Over At MipTV
Now the Cannes film festival (May 16-27) line-up is mostly announced, it’s safe to say it’s one of the most internationally diverse selections for years, across both the Official Selection and the parallel sections, although the choice of an opening film starring Johnnie Depp, Maiwenn’s Jeanne du Barry, may be raising eyebrows among the woke brigade. Also this week, speakers at MipTV suggested the streaming-driven boom for scripted drama is finally slowing down, which may lead to new financing models for episodic content.
Cannes Line-up Surprises With Entries from Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia & Mongolia
One of the unexpected elements of this year’s Cannes line-up was the inclusion of three titles from Sub-Saharan Africa in official selection – Banel & Adama, from French-Senegalese filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sy, about a young couple facing harsh realities in rural Senegal; Goodbye Julia, from Sudan’s Mohamed Kordofani, which explores differences between the north and south of Sudan through the story of two women; and Omen from Belgian-Congolese rapper Baloji, a dream-like tale of a man’s return to his birthplace.
In addition to the four titles from North Africa (Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters, Elias Belkeddar’s Omar La Fraise, Kamal Lazraq’s Les Meutes and Asmae El Moudir’s The Mother Of All Lies), this means an unprecedented seven titles from the African continent in official selection. In other sections, Belgian-Cameroonian filmmaker Rosine Mbakam has Mambar Pierrette in Directors Fortnight (which under new head Julien Rejl is one of the most risk-taking sections this year, and will also pay tribute to Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé who receives the Carrosse d’Or). Meanwhile, titles from Iran (Ali Asgari and Alireza Khatami’s Terrestrial Verses), Turkey (Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s About Dry Grasses) and Jordan (Amjad Al Rasheed’s Inshallah A Boy) are scattered across official selection and Critics Week.
However, before we declare that African cinema has arrived, it’s worth noting that Cannes is a French film festival and many of these filmmakers are based in and/or funded by Belgium or France, so there’s a colonial factor to their inclusion. Similarly, Vietnam technically has a director in competition with Tran Anh Hung, but he’s a France-based filmmaker and his competition title, The Passion Of Dodin Bouffant, is French-Belgian co-production starring Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel.
Vietnam does feature, however, in Directors Fortnight with Thien An Pham’s debut Inside The Yellow Cocoon Shell, about a man searching for his long-lost brother. Southeast Asia is also represented in Critics Week with Malaysian filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu’s debut Tiger Stripes, about a Muslim teenager who discovers her body is morphing in terrifying ways. Speaking to Deadline’s Melanie Goodfellow, Critics Week artistic director Ava Cahen flagged up the current vibrancy of Southeast Asian cinema and we can expect to see further titles from this region at festivals later in the year. Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen also has a film in Cannes – Un Certain Regard entry The Breaking Ice – although it’s a purely mainland Chinese production.
As always, Korea and Japan feature heavily in the Cannes line-up – Korean newcomers Kim Chang-hoon with Hopeless and Jason Yu with Sleep are joining festival regulars Kim Jee-woon (Cobweb) and Hong Sangsoo (In Our Day, see full list here of selected titles with sales agents where known). Japan has two strong entries with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Monster in competition and Takeshi Kitano’s Kubi in Cannes Premieres, but after the festival last year selected Chie Hayakawa’s promising debut Plan 75, this year it hasn’t strayed beyond Japan’s ‘Four Ks’.
Following a strong showing at this year’s Berlin, China is also back in force at Cannes, after a few years of mostly disappearing from the festival circuit. In addition to Chen’s The Breaking Ice, Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing has a double whammy of documentary feature Youth (Jeunesse) in competition and Man In Black, a portrait of modern classical composer Wang Xilin, in Special Screenings. However, both of these films have European funding and are unlikely to claim Chinese nationality. Directors Fortnight has selected Chinese director Geng Zihan’s debut A Song Sung Blue, a coming-of-age tale produced by Jane Zheng (The Farewell) and Justine O (Streetwise). Another first is a film from Mongolian female director, Zoljargal Purevdash’s If Only I Could Hibernate, in Un Certain Regard.
South Asia can also hold its head up high with Anurag Kashyap’s cop drama Kennedy, starring Rahul Bhat and Sunny Leone, in Midnight Screenings, and two titles in Directors Fortnight – Canadian-Pakistani filmmaker Zarrar Kahn’s In Flames, a horror film tackling patriarchy, and Indian director Kanu Behl’s Agra, about how sexual repression plays out in India’s crowded urban dwellings. In Flames was recently announced as one of the first titles from a new initiative launched by XYZ Films, New Visions, to discover and support emerging filmmakers from around the world, as well as giving established filmmakers the space to to make smaller, more challenging work.
Will The TV World Start To Adopt Independent Film Financing Models?
While the world of film was obsessing over the Cannes film festival line-up, the world of television and streaming was in Cannes already for the annual MipTV confab (April 17-19). Worryingly, many attendees were complaining about the state of the traffic and on-going construction, so let’s hope these issues are resolved before the film industry descends in May.
One of the biggest trends to emerge from the event was the declaration that the boom in commissions for scripted drama series is over. “The TV bubble has burst,” said Canal Plus deputy CEO Anna Marsh in her keynote on Monday. She added that while the industry had previously been enjoying a time of endless greenlights after short development periods, the development process is starting to stretch out and commissions for second and third seasons much harder to come by.
Nobody was disagreeing with her, and this is a trend that’s only likely to continue, with the streamers reining in costs, inflation pushing up budgets, and the WGA writers’ strike looming in the US. Also during an early panel at MipTV, Ampere Analysis’ Guy Bisson said that global streaming commissions in the fourth quarter of 2022 were the lowest in more than two years.
So the chatter for the rest of MipTV was all about solutions – unscripted shows are cheaper than high-end drama, FAST channels (Free Ad-supported Television, basically still streaming but with a linear format) might be an alternative to SVOD. There was also some speculation that we’ll start to see the TV world adopt the international financing models beloved by the independent film industry – an initial commission in one large territory, then selling off rights, perhaps even territory-by-territory, in the rest of the world, rather than a global streamer coming in and buying the world in perpetuity.
This may result in more content being available to buy on the open market, but begs the question how and where it will be sold, as the TV world lacks the kind of marketplaces that the film world has long traded in (Cannes Marche, Berlin’s EFM, AFM, Busan’s ACFM, Filmart) and so far there’s not been much crossover between international film and TV events. That’s a situation that probably needs to change as there are far too many film and TV events for any buyer or seller to attend, and in the post-pandemic world, travel hasn’t become any cheaper or easier.
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