In a thoughtful, well-composed but slightly obsequious Reeler piece about his recent experience as a N.Y. Film Festival juror, L.A. Weekly critic Scott Foundas quotes Thierry Fremaux, the artistic honcho of the Cannes Film Festival, for a concise explanation of what festival programming is basically about. “The point of this job is not to say ‘I like’ or ‘I don’t like,'” Fremaux says. “My job is to say, ‘Do we have to screen this film or not?’ Maybe I don’t like a film, but I think I have to show it. Maybe I like a film, but I’m not sure that we have to show it.”
Well and good, but how does this square with the Cannes Film Festival having turned down The Lives of Others? By Fremaux’s own words, it is fair to infer that however he and the ’06 Cannes jurors personally felt about Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck‘s deeply moving, stunningly well-directed film — an emotional and political bulls-eye with three world-class performances — they finally decided it wasn’t important or essential enough to show at Cannes.
I don’t know the backstory (was Others given the shaft because it had already shown at the Berlin Film Festival in March of that year?) but if Fremaux & friends turned it down because it wasn’t strong or attention-getting enough, then that decision would fall under the heading of “borderline loony.”
I seriously doubt that “importance” is a universally adhered-to criteria among jurors selecting a film for a festival. The first two reasons are always the quality of the film and the resume of the director (and particularly his/her past history with the festival), and sometimes vice versa. The others are (a) having a film first (i.e, territoriality), (b) a juror hating a particular film with a passion (i.e., a female N.Y. Film Festival juror reputedly hated Amelie when it was screened in ’01), (c) the political needs and forthcoming release strategies of the producers, and (d) other side political issues.