The 71st edition of the Cannes Film Festival opened last week Tuesday May 8, 2018. The opening ceremony featured excerpts from Pierrot le Fou, a 1965 film by Jean-Luc Godard, part of the French New Wave. The image for this year’s poster was taken from Pierrot le Fou. On the same night the festival opened, the first film in competition, Asghar Todos Lo Saben (Everybody Knows) was screened.
One big deal about this year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival is women’s prominence. Five women to four men constitute the main jury of the 71st Cannes Film Festival. The president of the 71st Festival jury is Australian actress, Cate Blanchett. Other women include award-winning US director, Ava Duvernay; Kristen Stewart also from the US; French actress, Léa Seydoux, and Khadja Nin, a Burundian actress.
There is also the fact that in the jury for the Un Certain Regard, chaired by Benicio Del Toro, there are three women and two men. Swiss filmmaker, Ursula Meier, is president of the Jury for the Camera d’Or.
Don’t think for one minute that this is accidental. The ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ movements are currently sweeping across America and other parts of the world. This is the kind of film festivals, especially the Cannes Film Festival, like to jump on – using film to make a statement.
The festival runs till May 19, 2018 and is scheduled to close with Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote according to festival director, Thierry Fremaux.
So what if Nigeria is not at Cannes 2018?
The above headline doesn’t mean there won’t be any Nigerians attending this year’s festival. It’s just that in the past, Nigeria used to have a very visible presence by way of having a pavilion to itself with our flag flying. Although back then, the quality of our attendance was poor. I used to also be a regular attendee at the festival. Part of my Cannes report was a section called ‘Nigeria @ Cannes’. I just was never satisfied with how and what we presented Nigeria.
After I became less regular, I still would ask ‘Whither Nigeria @ Cannes?’ Last year, just after I’d lamented the absence of Nigeria at the Cannes Film Festival came the news about the Lagos State Government’s big showing at Cannes. What benefits did the state gain? Any business deals?
This year, however, I wasn’t going to ask any questions because certain things about film festivals are now clearer to me. Filmmakers, countries or individuals must have set objectives. Nigeria does not appear to have figured out what we want to achieve from a film festival like Cannes. It is also clear to me that Nigeria does not have to attend the Cannes Film Festival just to make up the numbers. This is not to say we shouldn’t plan to attend. I love going to Cannes.
Anyhow, the fact that Rafiki, a Kenyan film directed by Wanuri Kahiu, is being screened in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ category raised the obvious question of Whither Nollywood? First, let’s clear the inferiority building up. Rafiki going to Cannes does not mean Kenya has overtaken Nigeria in some invisible 100-meter film race (I was going to say marathon but thought better of it). So, there’s no need to start a jollof war type of beef with Kenya.
We must understand that there are certain types of films best suited for film festivals, both from the aesthetic and narrative point of view. What’s your story? I’ll like to think Nigeria has every type of story that can interest an international audience. Especially with themes on sexuality, Boko Haram, caste system, plight of widows…
Plus, we cannot blame those who focus on making commercial films. The film festival circuit has to be taken deliberately and preferably for the long haul. Individual Nigerian filmmakers keep making inroads into the film festival orbit where government has yet to recognise. Even when Nigeria was attending Cannes Film Festival regularly, it didn’t seem to offer much assistance.
There are also other considerations. France may have been interested in Nigeria and Nollywood. It doesn’t appear they have that much interest now. On the other hand, the Toronto International Film Festival seems to be interested in content coming out of Nigeria. This would be a good place to focus on. At the last edition of TIFF, Nigeria was represented by the National Film and Video Censors Board which stood out like a sore thumb.
Rafiki (1 hour 22 minutes) is a lesbian love story. It is Kenyan’s first feature in Cannes, although it is identified as coming from Kenya, South Africa, France, Netherlands, Germany. The film also has support from the European Union, the ACP Group of States and the support of Aide aux Cinémas du Monde – Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée – Institut Français, Sørfond, The Netherlands Film Fund and Hubert Bals Fund, the Berlinale World Cinema Fund and ARRI – International Support Programme were also collaborators.
For good measure, the film has been banned in Kenya. You can bet the festival loves this kind of notoriety because it’s good for business. But ultimately, it all comes down to business. Will the movie be bought? Will it do well on the circuit?
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