Cannes 2014: Canadians weigh the importance of film fest

Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan. (JOEL LEMAY/QMI Agency)

Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan. (JOEL LEMAY/QMI Agency)

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:36 PM ET

With three Canadian films in competition at the Cannes International Film Festival, with a clutch of other features and shorts in parallel programs, and with 15 films in the Perspective Canada-Cannes showcase, Cannes is critical for the Great White North this month.

But what effect will the festival screenings have for those films? What value does Cannes have for master craftsman David Cronenberg at the age of 71, a rejuvenated Atom Egoyan at his prime at 53, or Quebec’s young genius Xavier Dolan at the tender age of 25? Each is represented in the competition.

It is tough to put a dollar figure on the benefits of the experience, which begins May 14 on the fabled French Riviera. If they were not being screened in the world’s most prestigious film festival, it is impossible to guess what would happen to the fortunes of Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Egoyan’s The Captive, Dolan’s Mommy or any of the other Canadian films involved, such as Craig Goodwill’s Patch Town. Maybe nothing would change.

But every filmmaker hungers to be at Cannes, or featured at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, or to be part of the Berlin, Venice, Sundance, New York, SoHo, Vancouver or Telluride filmfests.

“It was 25 years ago,” Egoyan says in an interview, “that I first went into that Grande Salle Lumiere (at the Cannes Palais) to see the premiere of Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal — and fantasized that one day I might have a film in competition.”

Egoyan now has had six films selected for competition.

“In my case, I thought I was young because I first had a film in competition by the age of 34 (Egoyan was actually 33, two months shy of 34, when Exotica played in 1994). Now I look at Xavier Dolan and I go: ‘Oh my God!’”

So Cannes does have more power to excite, even though Toronto can unlock an Oscar campaign.

“I feel that Cannes is still the goddess of film festivals,” says producer Jennifer Weiss of Film Farm, the company behind Egoyan’s The Captive. “There is nothing on earth like that red carpet,” says her producing partner Simone Urdl. “To have a film accepted there and be in competition means a lot.”

Personal things are at stake, too. Weiss has worked with Egoyan for years. “I personally attribute my entire career to him on many levels. I think that’s part of the whole special thing about going to Cannes: It’s to be part of cinema history with all the wonderful auteur directors who have been there. I’m just realizing now what a landmark year it is for Atom, and to be part of that and to be part of his career and to be a colleague and a friend is extraordinary. So I really hope we have a fun time as well.”

The red carpet walk really is fun, says Weiss, who did it before with Egoyan when Adoration played in competition in 2008. “It is energy and sparkle,” she says, “along with the terror and anxiety when you’re walking into your film for the first time.”

Ah, there’s the rub. A festival experience can break a film as much as it can make it. If they do not like it, Cannes audiences can shower it with boos and derisive whistles. The mood can sour.

In contrast, there might be a prolonged standing ovation. Atom Egoyan remembers the exhilaration of being part of the enthusiastic response for Jesus of Montreal — and it went on to an Oscar nomination. So there is a risk-reward situation at Cannes, just as there is at every other major film festival.


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