A freewheeling chat with Christian Jeune, Head of Cannes Film Festival’s Film Office at the Film Bazaar in Goa

Christian Jeune, Head of Cannes Film Festival’s Film Office was recently at the Film Bazaar in Goa and we had the opportunity to understand his perspective on why India hasn’t had a Palme D’or since Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali won it for its poignant portrayal of poverty in India.

What they look at when picking films for the competition, and what does it take. The brand of Cannes, Padmavati and censorship and why Indian film industry needs to unite to fight the evils inside it to then be able to bring in the political willingness to take the Indian Film Industry seriously and be able to fight them too if need be. The excerpts.

How do you go about picking films? That’s something everyone would want to know to begin with.

When I come to India, I’m happy to look at films which are already, ready.

But it is mainly to meet the directors and producers then if the films are sent to us in Paris. We get many films from India and just like US, India sends us many many films. But we watch them all in Paris, that’s how we do it.

A still from Lunchbox

A still from Lunchbox

We had great successes internationally and at Cannes a few years back with films like Lunchbox, Masaan etc. But in the last 2-3 years that trend is absent. What do you think is the reason for that decline? 

That’s a question you should ask an Indian filmmaker (laughs)

We are dealing with creativity here. It cannot be controlled. Indian filmmakers think there is a recipe but it’s not that.

We are dying by the way, to get Indian films in the competition. We find them occasionally, LunchBox was a big hit.

An explanation of sort is also- that the kind of films festivals are interested in, countries should be able to produce them first. And to produce them it’s not a questions of the money or willingness but people have to be able to see the films. If you don’t have a distribution system that allows people to watch those kind of films is, how can people be confident to a make those films in their country?

Christian Jeune

Yes, It’s been 25 years now and Indian film industry is amongst the largest producers in the world. What do you think is lacking in the content per se of the films from the french point of view. Is it the relatability? 

Cannes is different from other film festivals in that aspect.

You take the Toronto International Film Festival, it has 6-7 films from every country. They are thinking in terms of territory. That’s not how it works with our festival. We look at 1700 films as a whole and pick the films we think are the best. Of course we might make mistakes at times. So far, we haven’t found a film that stood out from India. Maybe Lunchbox could have been in competition and that’s probably something we missed I guess.

But maybe not. Cannes is very peculiar also, people tend to forget that it’s very unique film festival. It’s only professionals, we don’t have tickets and we have 5000 journalists with machine guns ready to shoot anything that they think is not good. It’s completely different and very tough audiences

With Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee and Karan Johar at the screening of ‘Bombay Talkies’ at Cannes 2013

Yes with that comes the status that can change the life of a film in the local/regional market. For example Masaan got a 15 minutes standing ovationl at the Un Certain Regard premiere (which is an official event) and the filmmakers used that as a way to market the film in the domestic market too. 

Yes, I know and it is a big achievement and Masaan could have been in the competition you never know. The films get either attacked or a notice, but when it is shown in competition the pressure is so big and it is very risky. The pressure is so big, so it’s great this way some times.

Censorship has a meaning. To protect films. But you cannot deny the freedom of an artist, it’s their fundamental right.

Which brings me to my next question, Cannes has given rise to numerous parallel events, sub events & festivals, where some take their films to and market it as “Our film went to Cannes” back home. Are you comfortable with that? 

Yes, specially here in India (laughs). No. But what can we do about it. The official selection is the real section at Cannes. In the market, anybody who has an event on the beach, where screenings happen on a television set of sorts, or screen short films and pose as Cannes, that doesn’t count.

But now we are trying to get involved legally to make sure the intellectual property is not misused like “Palme d’or” etc is not used anywhere in those events.

You know the lack of knowledge is also because the press here shows and highlights only the red carpet so it is like oh I was also on the red carpet with Bruce Willis.

(L-R) Omung Kumar, Deepshikha Deshmukh, Jaccky Bhagnani, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Richa Chadha and Bhushan Kumar

(L-R) Omung Kumar, Deepshikha Deshmukh, Jaccky Bhagnani, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Richa Chadha and Bhushan Kumar at Cannes

That’s true, in India the national media only talks about the red carpet at Cannes. Do you think that discourages the serious film makers, since the limelight shines upon who is wearing what, rather than their films?

No. Filmmakers are aware. The press can talk only about the red carpets and entertain their audiences, that’s their responsibility. The film makers are not concerned by that.


You travel so much around the globe and witness so many cultures. We are looking at concerns here with a recent film ‘Padmavati’ that had conflicts with regards to release due to some people’s cultural sentiments. Do you think something like that is peculiar to India or it is a global phenomenon? 

It’s peculiar to some countries. Censorship has a meaning. To protect films. But you cannot deny the freedom of an artist, it’s their fundamental right. They should be able to express whatever they want. And people have a right to criticise it too. And people’s judgment can decide the success of the film, it’s not the role of the government. But in the case of this film, the pre-censor disturbances are not good for the cinema.

In your years of travel, have you seen growth and education in terms of content as compared to past years? 

So ever since Film Bazaar is setup since 10 years, a generation of film makers are getting aware of the global business and getting a feel of it, I am not saying its’ the key to make at film but to be a part of something like a global thinktank of sorts. Its obviously an aid to growth.

Individualism is good for the creators, for the rest it has to be organised.

The kind of films that get screened at Cannes from India are very emotional dramas? Is that what you look for in an Indian films? 

We are not looking for any film or anything in a film. If you look at Titli or Ugly, these films are not conventionally emotional. It’s not at all a pattern. We are looking for good films. It can be a short or a feature.

The Masaan team at Cannes

The Masaan team at Cannes

Even though films like Masaan or Titli do so well at festivals they don’t necessarily do that well commercially back in India. Do you see any other modes of income for these films to break even and have a minimum guarantee on revenue? 

Masaan Did.

Because it was a co-production.

You mean broadly, Yes.

For that you need a political willingness to help your own industry. Look at the Korean films for example. Until the 1950’s it was a really poor country. Films were not their main concern. But they were aware and they are very pragmatic. They adapted the system of financing. For them the industry was also a way of generating employment and money. And also change the image of the country. It was the political backing that helped the industry. Politicians were so involved.

The Koreans produce blockbusters which are huge there and the money from that goes to finance the medium sized and small films. And those films are the ones travelling abroad because of which Korea is selling their products internationally.

In France you expect a very art loving culture but in Korea it wasn’t that. They saw potential in the industry and they have a very healthy and strong film industry, their films are travelling everywhere in the world.  You need to have the political willingness, especially in a country the the size of India.


You think the industry in India is very individualistic in that sense? 

Yes. It’s a huge country and there are so many regional and langual differences, and so many films. The system needs to be reinvented on a larger scale.


France has something called the Equipment Manufacturers Association. Indian markets function more independently and there is immense competition. But do you see something like that happening in India over the next few years?

People obviously have to organise themselves. It can only come only from within the industry. France has a very strong corporation of the film exhibitors for instance. It’s very powerful. You have to get over the individualism. It is nice to work together.

Individualism is good for the creators, for the rest it has to be organised. I don’t know the solution but something needs to be done in India for people to come and support each other not just when necessary but all the time.


Do you think portals like Netflix are changing film viewing from a community experience to a personal experience; killing the essence of it? 

If you see the history of Cinema, when the television was invented they said it’s the death of cinema, when the VHS was invented they said it was the death of cinema. DVD, bla bla. DIgital…

At the end of the day the system is managing itself. People still want to go cinema halls and watch films. Offcourse the question then is the financing of the Cinemas. In France we have a very healthy system where whoever is benefiting from the films showing has to participate in the productions and fund as they are buying films. Also for France, every American film is screened in the cinemas. 17% of the tickets, and it becomes a France’s production.

Do you think, festivals will go digital as well? 

It will be a part of it and why not? If you give the chance to people to go to the theatre, they will. But of course, You have to maintain that system.


But if you look at the Indian context again where a family of 4 will end up spending a minimum 30-40 Euros (2000-3000 INR) in a single outing to the cinemas. Don’t you think the pricing of theater tickets along with poor content, will bring large scale theatrical viewing to some kind of a halt?

You’re right. It’s a basic question and a basic problem.

You have to have the willingness to bring people to the cinema hall. You have to educate people, about it and through it. When I was in school, once a month our class would be taken to the theaters to watch a film. I don’t have a figure but half of them would continue to go out and watch movies. It’s a question of education and it’s a question of public willingness.

Nobody can stop technology, somethings need to be regulated.

In Korea, kids can watch films on a watch but they flock to the theatres.

But Korea tickets are much cheaper…

In terms of revenue yes, but you have to invent things.

In France, we have cinema day, once a year, where the ticket prices are really low and people can go watch films at the theaters. It’s a huge success.

It’s still a problem for large families and people find it expensive even in France. Then there are some associations screening films. You have to keep inventing and keeping the tradition alive.

The Cannes festival setup something in New York that is dedicated to restored classics is attended by over 5000 people. People are attending it with their families.

It’s about making things possible.


To wrap it up, what do you think India can learn from the European films Industries and other successfully industries like Korea?

To organise itself. Distributor’s need to organise themselves. You have to have real political willingness to give cinema its right place. Not to fool yourself. American system of studio is not similar to Europe but it works great right. You need to find the right balance, unite to make great films. European union is so strong in financing films.

Like I said, everyone is working on the same thing. Individually is great for the creator but you have to come together for the bigger impact. You have as many tastes with as many people. Masala films can not be the everything. It is important but you need more than just spice. The scale of the country requires a lot more than what is already happening politically and wit