Annakarinaland

Annakarinaland
Anna Karina in Pierre le Fou

2012-05-28

Queerifying the Cannes Film Festival


Queer Palm Jury 2012: Moira Sullivan, Sam Ashby, Sarah Neal, Jim Dobson, Frank Finance Maduiera, Frédéric Niolle, Jury President, Julie Gayet.
For three years, Paris journalist Franck Finance Maduiera (love his name) has tried to invoke a queer presence on the Croisette of the Cannes Film Festival, and a prize honoring the work of queer filmmakers. It is a noble and ambitious effort in this dinosaur of an event with a protocol that is rigid and obscenely heteronormative. A formal  "queer" cinema jury is a great way to encroach on this sacred territory of red carpet events, obligatory formal evening wear ("smoking" and gowns), and noxious guards.
There is no better word that captures the nature of the Cannes Film Festival than "inferno". This is a journey to experience the excesses of greed and lust and the recognition and rejection of them.  Fans can gaze at the stars as they arrive in limos, and through mediated imagery. Four thousand "media" mass and are held captive for the festival like a Hitchcock aviary. Of these are a couple of hundred journalists, and I was one of them. The badges for the press connote access privileges from bottom to top priority: Orange, Yellow, Blue, Pink, Pink with a Dot (“Rose et Pastille") and White. The caste system has to do with the frequency of publication and medial range such as Internet hits and the kind of publication (print, online). I was issued a yellow badge, and it got me into nearly everything, if I arrived an hour in advance. It got me into the splendid pressroom with state of the art computers and print facilities, and spacious balcony overlooking the Croisette and "les steppes" - the steps of the red carpet. There was also a WIFI café for laptops. It was not always easy to work, as it was far easier to attend screenings rather then switch gears and produce instead of consume. But these films will take a long time to reach the theatres, and some never will so it was a tough call to sit long hours in the press room over watching new cinema.
There is a huge Cannes market and thereby other divisions of difference: high priority purple stripe Market badges, or not. Finally there are cinéphile badges for getting into screenings where market and press go first. Two of the jury members had these; three were press, and one market. This made it difficult to get into screenings as an ensemble, and only the International Critics week took the trouble to reserve seats with our names. Franck managed to get several invitations, but sometimes we were turned away from these as well.
I came to Cannes as a member of the Queer Palm Jury and this has to be one of the best festival experiences I have ever had. Being mirrored at a predominately gender coded event by peers, not only superficially but also on deeper levels of genuine cineaste spirit and outrageous frolicking, was intoxicating. We were invited to many parties such as the International Critics Week (excessive risotto), the Chivas (a temple of bacchus) and the American Pavilion Queer party, which Macy Gray and Lee Daniels (Paperboy, official competition) attended. 
Through all of this was the recognition of excess and the constant choice to accept or reject it. On the Croisette there are invitations for sex by high-class sex workers, and there are sumptuous bacchanalian opportunities if you are suited up for them. The trip over the edge of the cliff without well-entrenched restraint can be done in a snap. It helps to be sober and there are daily AA meetings in town just for the festival.
The large Red Carpet (rouge tapis)  event we attended was the premiere of Michael Haneke's Amour, the film that won the Palme d'Or.  I was told that if I didn't wear a dress, that I wouldn't get in. Last year, a woman on the Queer Palm jury was turned away in pants. Before I left Stockholm, I searched for something that didn't make me look like a total idiot, and came up empty. I decided to wear a Chinese silk suit with no time to acquire a Manchu robe from San Francisco Chinatown, my preferred compromise. In a way I wished that I had worn that suit. . Sarah Neal whisked me over to Monoprix for a 15€ long black skirt, so in my mind it could pass for an Aikido suit, acceptable. (It looked a little like the skirt Jean Paul Gautier wore at the closing ceremony of the festival).I felt encumbered by the clothing and did not feel it was me I recognize that I was cut out of a lot of pictures. I did not look like the prototype. And in some ways I have tortured myself a bit that I am not more "femme" and can't pass. French waiters in Paris have referred me to as “monsieur” for years. Photographers are after the classic Cannes look. There were over 100 photographers who snapped pictures. For the majority of them, they were interested in the president of our jury, French actress and producer Julie Gayet.
Julie Gayet, Sam Ashby, Franck Finance Maduiera, Sarah Neal
Julie Gayet is a breath of fresh air and reminds me of a fairy. She is funny, articulate and it just so happens that she was born gorgeous. So the red carpet event for the Queer Palm Jury was labeled in the media as "Julie Gayet on the Red Carpet". This is one of many ways our jury was made "Les Invisibles". Our names were called out as we stood, and our pictures were on the screen projected outside the Lumiére theatre, but in the end, Julie Gayet represented us all.  Gayet has acted in five films as a lesbian and is adored by both the French press and the gay public. Julie was a real trooper, and insisted always on being photographed with her jury, but our heads and bodies were often cropped off since she does not have total control on what is snapped. I was cropped off the most. The un-femme, the androgynous oddity, of the ensemble, the rebel of the dress code. This is the way the media treated my presence. Still, I know that everyone on the jury and Julie treated me as a valued member. A poem by the French poet Paul Valéry who founded the alternative Collège de Cannes is useful here:
Your steps, children of my silence,
Holily, slowly placed,
Towards the bed of my vigilance
Proceed dumb and frozen.
We had intense discussions about the film that we were to award the Queer Palm. My personal preference was Lee Daniel's Paperboy. For me it was a mesmerizing document engaging the inherent connection between racism, sexism and homophobia. I revel at the embedded meaning that this queer director has assembled with a fantastic cast (Macy Gray, Zach Efron, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey and David Oyelowo - and crew. Our jury was divided on this one, and we had decided to award a film were there was no division. We would palm a film for its content and form and arrived at Xavier Dolan's Laurence, Anyways, (Un Certain Regard competition, )a film about a man who wants to live as a woman. There is no way this film cannot be regarded as queer. We looked at several films where the actor was queer in real life (Soko in Augustine, France 2012) or there were marginal queer characters, even fluid identities  in Holy Motors, and the gender ambiguous Japanese Yanki (see Kamikaze Girls, Japan, 2006) in Takeshi Miike's Ai to Makoto - The Legend of Love and Sincerity.
Xavier Dolan wanted to accept the prize, but his producer did not. In the end, even though he "accepted it", he did not show up to "accept" his award, symbolizing the inherent director/producerconflict. The reason given was that they couldn't get through the inferno, as I understood it. His absence was his presence, and even Xavier Dolan in the end made the Queer Palm "invisible".  However, the Queer Palm for a short film went to Ce n’est pas un film de cowboy, by Benjamin Parent who came to the awards ceremony. His film is about young people who deconstruct queer identity in Broke Back Mountain to come to terms with what it means to be gay.
At the Queer Palm awards the final night, we were photographed together. At one point a photo request was made by a man who wanted to be in the photo and who pushed me aside to be next to Julie. Julie looked at me in apology;  that acknowledgment was important. Julie is just great.  I know she is questioned for championing the Queer Palm and I observe how she has to deal with droolers but holds her own with acumen.  At bars I have been pushed aside, moved aside, or elbowed or ribbed. An evening gown and femme clothes might have helped, but regardless my gender is also at issue. When standing at the café bar getting a coffee with jury member Sarah Neal, a burly man forced his way through as if we were not even standing there. We remark that he would never have done that if two men were standing. I decide to say something to that effect and he looked at me with irritation and surprise. I know it helped for me to separate totally from men at one point in my life to see where I begin, and where I end. Since public physical space is an arena of genderfication, I decided to implode that invisible line. I realize since then, that men cross over it all the time. When women do it, it is for different reasons.
At the awards, an organizer from Cineffable, one of the only non-mixte lesbian film festivals in the world held in Paris during Touissant came up and was so excited I was on the jury. I love the Cineffable event, and we often have a problem explaining the festival's non-mixte space. But really, as I reflect on the inconveniences I experienced for 12 days in Cannes, I am grateful for the meaning of that space.
On the final day of Cannes as I waited for a taxi with heavy suitcases, a man tried to drive in the driveway of my residence with a huge SUV. I was exhausted lifting those suitcases and my cab was waiting behind, meter running. The driver wildly gestured for me to move and it was not easy so I wheeled the luggage through the space available, a little tiny space between his big voiture and my taxi, and he got out, not once, but twice, to call me a salope. I realize that in taking my space and trying to use my space, to him I was just a whore. 
Fortunately, I was able to meet Sam Ashby at the bus stop to Nice airport. We did a tarot reading on the way and then fell asleep until we hit the airport. Sarah Neal offered to hunt down the SUV driver and take him out. This is an example of the exceptional kind of jury I was on.
Those wondrous enchanting creatures of the jury are: regal Sam Ashby, publisher of Little Joe, with imperious debonair charm; the invigorating hilarity and generosity of LA publicist Jim Dobson, the poetic enchantment of the magical Canal Plus journalist Frédéric Niolle, the passionate and affectionate sweetness and brain power of Brisbane Queer Festival organizer Sarah Neal, and the relentless and affirming guardianship of Franck Finance Medieura journalist for Yagg, the largest queer internet portal in France.
For me, we WERE, the Queer Palm. We embodied the principles of our mission in our vision and teamwork. We exhaustively dissected each film that was on our program. Many of them were obviously not queer. But we loved them anyway for their unique perspectives. Franck told us that the definition of "queer" cinema would be of meaning to a young spectator seeing the Queer Palm winner, and would know it was a representation of him or herself. For this reason, even if Dolan ( or his producer) may not have not wanted us to award the significance of his film, we chose Laurence, Anyways - a prophetic title for us.  The French queer press in Nice and a Cineffable programmer in Paris agree. It is a paradox that what is obviously queer runs the risk of being ghettoized at a box office. Sometimes it does work like that. Dolan's film that was in the division "Un Certain Regard" went home prize-less from the "official juries" and snubbed the Queer palm. 
Every day there are thousands of movies produced. They are theatrically produced in hundreds of copies that make the cineplexes, or they have limited theatrical release and show up at film festivals, or some small arthouse cinema. For queer spectators we adore the films that are harmonious, challenging and speak to us. Queer spectatorship is a part of the film industry and yet our population is regarded by distributors and buyers as invisible. It shouldn't. One study made in Details Magazine demonstrates that if a box office releases a film with a primarily lesbian theme, the box office increases 10%. 
The Queer Palm may not make a real dent in the architecture of the pageant now, and it may take ten years to do so. But queer audiences know of the palm award. Regardless, making your way through the jungle of Cannes is often depleting, and for the queer spectator its best to note the invisibility, continue to affirm queer identity and not internalize the forces that don't matter.
We made a short film after the awards ceremony entitled "Death Quest". Each of us laid down and played dead. Above each of us, we all spoke of the things we wanted from that person, now that they were dead, such as their hair, smile, personality, or power. It was an incredible experience to realize that we had seen each other, all of us and it did not matter how we were seen by mediated culture. Every one of us has a self-image that it far too important.
When people assemble from all parts of the world, unknown to each other, and meet, they create a "Dragon". In the spiritual sense a dragon is created out of order and chaos, the bound and the unbound. We are the mirrors of the conventions of society and we have completed an odyssey, on a vision quest that has liberated those frozen steps. This is one memory I will cherish forever. Je t'embrasse toujours.
Moira Sullivan  Film Critic FIPRESCI  Movie Magazine International, San Francisco;  Film Festivals.com Paris Note: An edited version was published in The Advocate, May, 30 2012.  

2012-05-24