By Mark Peranson
After a year’s hiatus from the Croisette, we’re back with our first ever fall issue devoted to Cannes, which took place in July in the middle of a pandemic, in case you forgot. Because it was summer and travel was permitted, I followed the many, many movies I saw at Cannes with a relaxing vacation on a COVID-free, beach-heavy island, where the only film I watched was, appropriately, M. Night Shyamalan’s Old. The extended gap between Cannes and our publication date gave me way too much freedom to think things over. This led to a horribly tortuous writing process that took a lot out of me, and has aged me decades in the few hours it took to write this note; and, yes, I realize how privileged this all sounds. Anyhow, I’m just expressing my feelings.
The Cannes-con, as always, begins before the spotlight proper, with extended pieces on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria (thanks for the cover image, Joe), Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, and Peter Tscherkassky’s Train Again, the Austrian avant-gardist’s latest short, which premiered in the Quinzaine. There probably were enough interesting films in the sidebars to fill up the rest of these pages, too, but this magazine does not shill for Cannes; plus, the film world is not only festivals—and especially not only one festival.
As on the Old beach, time feels like it has been squeezed, at least for those of us concerned with festivals. The summer has been one long one, beginning for me with an in-person semi-pseudo-festival in June in an alternatingly cold and hot Berlin. The late-starting Cannes was then followed directly by FIDMarseille, then soon by Locarno, the delayed Karlovy Vary, while Venice is about to kick off as I’m writing this, and with a full lineup yet (as well as social distancing, which one can easily do on the Lido). A still-truncated Toronto, presenting about half of its usual number of films (as did our online coverage at cinema-scope.com) will also have taken place by the time you read this. While it varied across the spectrum, all of these were in-person events, Toronto being the only one to also offer paid digital screenings for audiences. (New York has a more stellar lineup than all of the above, and will hopefully follow in early autumn with an all-in-person, vaccinations-required event.)
The more the post-COVID age develops, the more I also realize that this bubble in which a lot of cinephiles live allows us to ignore the changes that are happening with streaming, in particular the degree to which audiences and critics are becoming acclimated to watching films from home. I’m afraid the movement toward normalizing online festivals will gain more steam, especially in North America, where streaming is more accepted than in Europe—although Netflix is doing its best to infiltrate Venice, and every now and then I’m of the belief that the day will come when all the dominos will fall.
Perhaps counterintuitively, there are also signs that point in the opposite direction. Maybe it’s due to a lack of internet savvy or a commitment to upholding intellectual property, but audiences still have the capability of coming through. For example, the closing film of Karlovy Vary was Sean Durkin’s The Nest, which premiered in 2020 at Sundance’s final all-in-person festival, was released everywhere, and has been available online for months. From my perspective, choosing this film for a festival finale makes no sense, but it still drew the typically packed Karlovy Vary crowd. This evinces a hunger that, clearly, has nothing to do with premieres.
We should not underestimate how crucial in-person film festivals are for the preservation of cinema culture, but they need to be safe events as much as they can be, and organizers need to legitimately show some concern for their audiences. So while it is a shame that TIFF could not take place in its traditional form this year (even if the COVID situation in Toronto isn’t appreciably worse than any of the other places that avoided the scourge of the digital), better safe than sorry. Fingers crossed for 2022.