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Second time around – Why aren’t we at Cannes?

I first wrote about this literally a year ago, last April, but for our newer readers and to follow up on my comments below in the weekend b.o. report, I’ve decided to bring it up again. And besides, when I wrote about this the last time, it caused a lot of heated debate and furious reactions..mainly against me. But I love it. I feed on your hate. So here goes…

But the biggest, baddest film festival on the planet, the Cannes Film Festival will soon be upon us next month as usual, and I have to ask the question that I’ve ask every year:  Why aren’t we at Cannes? We, meaning African-American filmmakers.

True, there are always a few here and there every year, but not even remotely in numbers as other filmmakers. Latino filmmakers, Asian filmmakers, filmmakers from every far flung country around the globe are there in force. And to be perfectly clear I’m not talking about African filmmakers who, of course,  are always at Cannes  in massive force, even holding an annual party and major events at Cannes every year. But not African American filmmakers. Why not?

AA filmmakers I’ve talked to, who have been at Cannes, have told me how AA filmmakers are pathetically under-represented at the festival. One filmmaker once told me that the year she was there, the only other black American film she saw represented at Cannes was Hood of Horror with Snoop Dogg which was being sold to foreign territories. And keep in mind, I’m not talking about AA films being in competition in the festival. That’s not important.

I’m talking about AA filmmakers going to Cannes to schmooze, meet people, get to learn more about the business and possibly even making a deal. And to further add, it doesn’t have to be a “black” film, whatever that means, for an AA filmmaker to be pitching at Cannes.

I’ve asked this question to other AA filmmakers and usually the response I get is something along the lines of: “Well we’re not educated about it…” or ”Maybe if a program was established to help…” Please, this is the 21st Century for God’s sake. In other words we’re too dumb and childlike to figure how to just get a ticket, fly there, get in the mix and see what happens. (At least I hope that’s not what they were saying). What do you say?

10 comments to Second time around – Why aren’t we at Cannes?

  • chester

    “I’ve asked this question to other AA filmmakers and usually the response I get is something along the lines of: “Well we’re not educated about it…” or ”Maybe if a program was established to help…”

    Not educated about it..really ..the internet has leveled the playing field as far as information is concerned so I don’t buy that(why are we always behind the curve when it comes to stuff like this). They are not applying to this festivals..alot of us opt for the black film festivals..which is cool to gain some traction towards building a base however as I mentioned in a debate with a fellow S&A commentor the probability is higher for more opportunities at these festivals(CANNES etc). So why not go where the big fish are? What are we afraid of..its france(alot of artist were accepted there in the past and often lived there so they understand and respect our Snoops film got pick up for foreign distribution(wow how did he pull that off). We need to submit to these festivals such as this as a way to create and maintain a base in those teritories.

    And the comment about maybe they should establish a program and help..I wish I was there when that person said that. Like really .. reparations for black film makers at top festivals. We gotta stop acting like massa should extend his “holly hand” to help us and “get up and get(west indian term..has another meanining however it needs not mention..but you get the point).” Bottom line make good films and compete.

    I agree with you sergio

  • E Forde

    I’ll throw a question at you.
    Is anyone making films that have an “international” feel to them to get to Cannes. This is so important to first time Director especailly if their product is 1, From USA 2, In English
    You’ve got to be doing something very different to get noticed maybe the Shoprt programme is the way to go.
    I’d reccomend every Black filmmaker to see Riva Viva or Submarine (Both reviewed on S&A) if they want to see their work in or at International festivals overseas.

    • Sergio

      Once again read what I said. I made it clear I’m not talking about AA films or any black films in competition at the festival. I don’t care about that and neither should any filmmaker. I’m talking about AA filmmakers just going to Cannes to make connections which is what most people who go there are there to do.

      • E Forde

        I take your point but if I were a AA filmmaker I’d say screw Cannes. What you should be doing is getting into an event that takes part in your own back yard.
        every late October early November the American film Market takes place and while it doesn’t have the cache of a Cannes, Toronto or Sundance it is where the true business of the industry gets done. Trust me more deals for films get done there than at most Festivals.

        I’m not saying don’t go but if you got a product you want it seen or you want to pitch something everyone any anyone at the above mentioned Film Festivals will be at AFM.

        • Sergio

          I only concentrated on Cannes because it’s the most known and oldest but you’re right. AA filmmakers should be going to all the film markets: Cannes AFM, Toronto and Sundance. Can’t go to Cannes then you definitely should be at one or some of the others

  • artbizzy

    I really don’t think you’re being fair. A lot of people don’t know or give a shit about Cannes. Or most importantly don’t know TO give a shit about Cannes. Clearly people don’t understand its significance and whose fault is that? The history we learn in this country is substandard enough. Who is going to teach us about film festivals that seem about as far away as another planet. Even if someone did know about Cannes, so what? Lots of people are jaded right now and trying to make ends meet. Not everybody can just pick up and go to Cannes. Maybe some black American film makers don’t care to go because of some “attitudes” they feel they might encounter from other black filmmakers outside the U.S of the Diaspora who “pride themselves on getting how the business works and by the way, why can’t those lazy ass African American film makers get it together they way we have. What’s wrong with them?” Reasons ain’t always simple. They are diverse and systemic. It’s like Oh my God you’ve got all this education and talent why don’t you DO something with it, since because you aren’t doing what is clearly supposed to be done, you are being lazy and idiotic.

    Maybe include more on this site, if you haven’t already, about the significance of this festival. Educate beyond just leaving a link to the Cannes website. Set up a grant. Send a plane load of Black people interested in filmmaking over there. Send Black high school students. Send me some money and I’d go to Cannes and Schmooze anytime.

  • BK

    The answer to why we aren’t at Cannes isn’t simple, one dimensional or easily answered in a blog or response but here are a few points.

    Part of the reason we don’t go is because we largely aren’t afforded the opportunity via industry job positions that allow us to learn the ropes FIRST. Many of us have a misguided sense about AA film festivals being better suited, more acommodating and increasing our chances of success with projects. That isn’t necessarily true and those who think that haven’t done their homework on the biz, acquisitions or the marketplace, etc. In lieu of having done the Int. fests on someone else’s dime the financial, business and cultural hurdle is enough to stop many of us. The truth is if you are in it to win it and are a student of the game you have to go and make your own connections PERIOD.

    HOW? Like we do everything else. HUSTLE.

    We should be at Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and Fespaco. Even the person with interest and few or no resources can plan or figure out a trip to Toronto with a year of planning and the internet.

    1) Intern and get paying positions at American fests so you get in the loop of the freelance festival employee crowd that works at festivals. Use that as a stepping stone.

    2) Find AA industry people who go and write them letters and emails asking for advice on how they did it/do it and what they suggest.

    3) Make a film that gets into the short or feature section of these fests. (Of course)

    4) Waaaay in advance gather a serious group of people who will go, have a reason to go and won’t flake and drive costs down by booking things (planes, hotels, etc.) at group rates just like your mama’s church group does. You know something about that!)

    5) At these fests, the market may be more important to you then the fest unless your film gets into the fest. Stop by every stand of every company, sales agent and distributor from every country. There are over 100 territories so……. Ask everyone what they are looking for, how to get it to them and what the trends and exceptions are. Get their card. Communicate with them throughout the year. BUILD.

    6) HEY SHADOW AND ACT, In addition to being provocative and asking the question which I applaud, round up some folks who can answer it and break it down for all on your blog. We do work in all phases of the industry although we are thin and not prominent in some areas.

    not a complete answer but a few pointers.

  • JMac

    Not an industry person at all but from my limited knowledge I’d have to side with Sergio (hope that doesn’t weaken his argument). But really people, if you’re passionate about filmmaking and want the whole world to see your art, why not educate yourself on the process? Saying there’s no resources is a complete cop-out and it is lazy, because it means if someone’s never done it before [that you know of] why the hell should I? Even if you stumble and make mistakes you’ll learn the next time and you can build up your own resources. And by ‘lack of resources’ do you just mean other black filmmakers? Again, if this is your dream and your lifeblood you should be bustin’ your ass getting info wherever and from whomever you can. Is it really because we aren’t given the opportunity to learn through specific jobs or is it because we have no interest and wouldn’t even apply if guaranteed the position? Everyone wants to be an actor. Everyone wants to make a film. How many black distributors? How many black financers? How many black studio execs?

    How do we have black doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. . .? Initially the very first of their kind had to receive education -white education- to practice their fields. Now you can go to Meharry or Harvard Med but you don’t just sit around and say, well if somebody did all the work and broke it down for me maybe I’ll do it. Everybody had to start from scratch. At least black filmmakers now have more access to information than ever before.

    And it’s not realistic to ask a handful of bloggers who have their own day jobs (I’m guessing not everyone who maintains this site is a filmmaker but critics, screenwriters, actresses, etc…) to sit around condensing information for wannabe businessmen- which is what you’d need to be. If this is YOUR craft, YOU need to pull it together YOURSELF. Create your own Black Cannes Selling group or something. Take business classes. Accompany others on their trips and watch. Don’t know anybody? Send letters out and ask. Somebody. Anybody. Offer to be an assistant for FREE. Say what?! People in other industries do it all the time. Experience is worth its weight in gold. Anyone can do all of this TOMORROW if they wanted… if they wanted. And if black filmmakers don’t know how important Cannes is despite everyone else knowing, that would tend to point to their lack of seriousness in this field. Do you really want to change the world or do you want fame and to make a quick buck?

    I would prefer to believe black filmmakers aren’t making deals in Cannes because they’re brainwashed into thinking nobody outside the US or their native country would ever want to buy- if it’s a black film. So basically it’s a lost cause and not worth the effort. Have no idea what the holdup is if it’s a mainstream movie. Both probably just boils down to fear they’ll die of embarrassment because some accented white guy might look at them and laugh in their faces or behind their backs. We’ve endured worse.

    Hood of Horror. Really? Really?

    • Sista Jmac,

      I said I wasn’t going to rattle or twist someones arm… anymore (try not to). But I didn’t say I wasn’t going to standup and cheer a great comment. You didn’t give off topic solutions, you answered Sergio question. You basically said, people gotta pay to play. And if you’re gonna play, setting the bar high “ain’t no half steppin’”.

      “And if black filmmakers don’t know how important Cannes is despite everyone else knowing, that would tend to point to their lack of seriousness in this field”

      Drop the mic!

      Wait, one more…

      “How do we have black doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. . .? Initially the very first of their kind had to receive education -white education- to practice their fields. Now you can go to Meharry or Harvard Med but you don’t just sit around and say, well if somebody did all the work and broke it down for me maybe I’ll do it”

      Damn, you’re good.