Pierre Lescure is back. After weeks of speculation, the former Canal Plus chief has been officially named to succeed Gilles Jacob as president of the Cannes Film Festival. Announcing the news, French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti congratulated Lescure on her Twitter account today with a “Bravo.” Lescure will take over from Jacob who is stepping down after the 2014 fest. The role of the president is largely to represent the festival and comes with some administrative power. Industry insiders believe Lescure is very complementary to Cannes executive and general delegate Thierry Frémaux who is responsible for the artistic content of the festival — he chooses all the movies in the Official Selection — and also has other managerial responsibilities. A major producer told me this week, “If they do it right, they would be a really great tandem.”
Lescure is a very popular choice with deep ties to the French and global industries, both in film and television. He was a co-founder of Canal Plus in 1984 and ran the pay-TV group as its highly-regarded president from 1994. (Full disclosure: I co-hosted a film review/talk show on a Canal Plus-owned channel in 2000/01.) Lescure’s tenure at Canal saw the creation of Studiocanal, whose execs and founders included Vincent Grimond, Vincent Maraval, Brahim Chioua and Alain de la Mata. (That quartet ultimately spun off to create powerhouse Wild Bunch — one of the major players during Cannes each year.) In 2000, after the three-way merger of Canal Plus, Vivendi and Seagrams, Lescure became co-director of Vivendi Universal and spent time in Los Angeles with an office on the Universal lot. Well liked by execs in LA, his tenure was nevertheless short after the ill-fated merger. In 2002, Vivendi chairman Jean-Marie Messier fired Lescure in what was considered by many at the time a rash and underhanded move. After the firing, employees at Canal Plus hijacked the airwaves and staged a demonstration in support of Lescure outside of Vivendi’s Paris headquarters. Lescure went on to host a film-focused TV game show as well as other programs. He also ran the Théâtre Marigny in Paris and sits on the boards of a handful of companies. In 2012, the former journalist was commissioned by the government to conduct a study on France’s piracy laws and has been increasingly present on the film biz scene at conferences and festivals — last year, he sat on the jury of the Deauville Festival Of American Film and presided over an annual industry meeting in Dijon.
Lescure is known for his penchant for American rock music, bakelite radios and memorabilia from the from the 1950s and 60s – part of his personal collection will be sold later this month by online auction house Piasa. At 68 years-old, he is still “a real rock-n-roll guy,” as one film exec says. Although some have questioned whether he’s not too closely identified with television to be the right person for Cannes, I conducted an informal poll at an industry event over the weekend and pretty much everyone I asked said they’d be delighted if he were to be the next Cannes president.
It will remain to be seen how Lescure will carve out the presidency to put his own stamp on it. Jacob, who exits after this year, joined the fest as its general delegate in 1977. He assumed the presidency in 2001. Now 83 years old, the prolific critic, author and director had taken on something of a figurehead role ever since Frémaux took over the Official Selection since 2001. But Jacob has long been a symbol of the festival. Over his nearly 40 years with the event, he has been responsible for such innovations as the Camera d’Or prize which goes to a first time filmmaker, and for the Un Certain Regard sidebar which runs concurrently with the Competition. He also stands alongside Frémaux at the top of the red-carpeted steps welcoming guests to every Competition screening during the festival’s ten day run. He has documented the festival in documentary and short films that include 2012′s Cannes anniversary movie A Special Day. His latest book, Les Pas Perdus, was published in 2013. Jacob tweeted today: “Lescure will be a wonderful president who I will support with all my heart.”