American movies shouldn’t need Tom Cruise to go to Cannes (Chronicle)
Of the 47 films announced at Cannes this year, only four are American. Filmmakers could remedy this disconnect by going global.
Along with waning returns for “Fantastic Beasts” and hype for the jaw-dropping Viking epic “The Northman,” this week’s news cycle brought news of potential cinephile goldmines, aka the lineup for the Festival of Canes. It’s already looking like a vintage year, with new films from David Cronenberg, Claire Denis, Cristian Mungiu and Park Chan-wook.
Still, in terms of pure red carpet optics, Cannes locked its ace in the hole two years ago when it planned to screen “Top Gun: Maverick” out of competition during its canceled edition. Finally, Tom Cruise will walk the red carpet at the Lumière Theater for the first time since 1992, when he appeared for “Far and Away” by Ron Howard. The Cannes launch (following a world premiere at CinemaCon) means that even people for whom the pronunciation of “Cannes” is as mysterious as its schedule will pick up on the media buzz around May 18.
Cruise’s presence at Cannes should project confidence in the future of cinema, but American films remain a Cannes anomaly. While Cannes chef Thierry Fremaux and his team continue to put together the program (and hey, maybe even a few more female directors), the 47 titles to date don’t have much to say about American cinema. The four from this country are Warner Bros.’ “Elvis” (the Australian production by Baz Luhrmann of the biopic of an American icon); “Showing Up” by Kelly Reichardt (A24); “Armageddon Time” by James Gray (Focus); and “Beast,” Riley Keough and Gina Gammell’s first film about the Pine Ridge Reservation.
It’s as usual at Cannes, which favors new and old European authors. But if Cannes is a portal to the greatest cinema of the moment – a goal worth fighting for – its selections raise the question of what it would take for more American films to be recognized by the festival.
Part of that has to do with the nature of America, where state money doesn’t drive cinema and few American directors leverage early career success to produce multiple masterpieces. The Safdie brothers and Ari Aster are not rare birds in a sea of mediocrity; American directors whose careers take off are more likely to work on pre-existing IP or in television. They can create solid work and earn a good living, but this process does not prioritize singular art.
My recommendation: American directors should start thinking like Europeans. Make films there, or in other parts of the world, with government incentives. This is not a radical proposal; studios do it all the time to take advantage of tax credits and stage sets. Look at new releases from any given week: ‘Fantastic Beasts’ was filmed in the UK and ‘The Northman’ used Northern Ireland to replace Iceland.
At the other end of the budget spectrum, few American films take advantage of advanced co-production markets in Europe. Producers often shoo away US agencies that don’t necessarily prioritize emerging filmmakers unless they’re tapping the stars on their roster. It’s a missed opportunity. Instead, “actors with production companies might start partnering with better producers again,” producer Mynette Louie wrote on Twitter in response to my reporting on this issue, “those with an eye on new talent”.
Or, producers could plead their case with international production companies that are familiar with state funding by positioning their projects globally. Don’t just use Europe as a substitute for an American setting; put the film abroad.
Even so, some filmmakers might feel territorial about American directors trying to take a slice of the pie from other countries. But the international producers I contacted told me that they would welcome more American filmmakers who would try their luck.
“If you have a movie set in America, we could do part of the movie in Europe to use the funds available here,” Match Factory’s Michael Weber told me. The seasoned producer and sales agent has found international resources for Cannes hits like “Memoria”, which Thailand’s Apicatpong Weerasethakul shot in Colombia with British star Tilda Swinton.
“It shouldn’t just be big action movies going to Eastern Europe,” said Weber, who added that he had been in contact with some American companies to bring more productions to the continent. . Last year, he teamed up with ICM to help sell landmark films from Cannes and hoped to strengthen that relationship.
In last week’s column, I explored the challenge of involving veteran American actors with emerging directorial talent. Based on reader feedback, I agree that Jim Carrey’s career trajectory may not be the best model to gauge the problem. After all, as a well-placed source told me, it’s not like he hasn’t had the opportunity to work with “The Northman” director Robert Eggers, the Safdies and others. . Some actors may not be as excited about a bold new storyteller as festival junkies are. The American system often needs a certain notoriety to move conversations forward.
“We need a workable public funding system in the United States for low-budget and emerging films so we don’t depend on movie stars,” critic and director Gabe Klinger emailed me in response to the article from last week. Klinger made his narrative debut “Porto,” a romantic double that served as Anton Yelchin’s final feature, with European funding.
However, the NEA provides only modest support to small arts house organizations, some of which offer grants – rarely enough to support entire productions. It might be more constructive to scour the proven Cannes sales companies – in addition to Match Factory there’s MK2, Wild Bunch and many more – to grasp just how much opportunity there is when American money is not part of the equation.
State money also helps circumvent the recurring pressure to find the most bankable stars, and boy, that has to happen. Canadian director Thomas Robert Lee wrote to me to report that his 2020 folk horror effort “The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw” landed in front of major players due to its promising script, an evocative period piece. which suggested “The Wicker Man” through Sofia Coppola. However, he said, financiers and business agents balked at the casting he wanted.
“They would regularly make suggestions based on an actor’s number of Instagram followers,” he said. “It was incredibly frustrating.”
He ended up doing the movie with actors he could get for $1.3 million. “I’m in the process of bringing my new project to market but honestly I’m still in shock and terrified that I’ll end up partnering with another financier who enjoys Instagram followers over making a movie who could play at festivals like Cannes,” he said.
It is a not unreasonable fear. The presence of TikTok as a sponsor of Cannes 2022 is a stark reminder that films have become only a small fragment of a vast media equation. American films that want to survive this existential crisis might be better served by giving up the idea of being American films.
Of course, the global star system also plays a role in preselling foreign territories, and even government-funded projects face pressure from fickle financiers. Is there a better way to get American films funded domestically that I haven’t touched on? Until your answer is “hire Tom Cruise”, I encourage you to email me with your own solutions: [email protected]
Cycle through previous columns here.