Four-time Oscar winning director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu today begins his first job in a while, heading the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. He has a few things to get off his chest before he heads into darkened theaters for the next 10 days.
DEADLINE: You are the first Mexican born person to head the main jury of the Cannes film festival. What does that mean to you?
INARRITU: I found out tonight that it’s not only that, but that I’m the first Latin American person, which is shocking. The whole zone has been dismissed for 72 years. Ultimately, I feel honored and it’s a privilege. The honor is even bigger, because of that reason.
DEADLINE: You brought Amores Perros to Critics Week, and you most recently bought your virtual reality project Carne Y Arena, with Biutiful and Babel in between. What’s special about the experience of opening a movie at Cannes?
INARRITU: It was not easy for me to accept being the president of the jury. It feels strange to me, to be judging films, and filmmakers I like a lot, and being on the other side of that. One of the things that made me realize it was time for me to do it was realizing it was 20 years ago, in 2000, when I brought my first film Amores Perros here. I ended up winning the Critics Week. Then it was Babel, then Biutiful, with Javier Bardem named Best Actor, then Carne Y Arena. My professional life has been in a way very close to Cannes. This to me was a way to honor a festival that has been the heartbeat of cinema in the world. And being the first Mexican and just finding out, also the first Latin American, I couldn’t say no. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse for emotional, professional and many other reasons.
DEADLINE: Have you done this before, spent a week at a festival as you say, judging the work of others?
INARRITU: Eleven years ago I was a jury member of the Venice Film Festival when Zhang Yimou was the president. That’s it. I found myself surrounded with amazing colleagues who formed the jury. To be surrounded here in the same ways, and watch films together for 10 days, sharing our perception, emotion and what hit us, and learning from each other’s sensibilities…I feel like a monkey in a fruit store. It’s fantastic.
DEADLINE: Thierry Fremaux held his opening press conference yesterday and he got grilled on the paucity of female directors with films at Cannes, and for honoring Alain Delon despite his caveman opinions. Anything to add from your part?
INARRITU: Well, the jury has nothing to do with the selection process on these films. It’s out of my hands and control. I found out when everybody else did what films, who was being honored. I’m not involved in those decisions. Definitely from what I can see is, yes, we need to come further and more aggressively in the quantity of women directors. There is so much to do and we need allies to do this, a conscious effort and hard work. I share that. But I have to say in the jury group, it is very balanced. There are four men and four women, and me. Last year, it was Cate Blanchett with the same balance and I heard there are 15 other directors in other sections of the festival. Unfortunately there are only three women directors competing for the Palme d’Or. There is much more to do there and hopefully each year it gets a little better toward real equality. I support the fact we need much harder.
DEADLINE: Are you of a mind to use this global platform to shine a light on social issues, or are you content to just get lost in the movies?
INARRITU: I will say, these are weird times we are living in. It feels like the festival of the end of the world. I feel the world is in a state now, it feels like we are sinking like the Titanic and the violins are playing while the boat is sinking. It’s weird to imagine being here seeing incredible films while the world outside is going nuts, every single aspect and especially the climate change. But because of that, I really believe in the liberating and humanizing power of cinema. I believe that images and ideas that are carried by stories can have the power to strike you in your solar plexus, and really change your mind. I think the frequency can be spread with a little drop in the ocean with a film can really have a big, big power. Yes, I feel ambivalent in that, what are we doing? The world is ending, and we’re watching beautiful films. At the same time, we will be exposed to 21 works of people who’ve spent years making them, and be exposed to cinema in a communal experience and we will be hit very hard by many of them. My only goal is that the films that will be rewarded will be the ones that we all share and we are all moved, and provoked, disturbed and comforted by. I’m not talking about political messages, I mean very deep human conditions that can make us feel a little bit better, or at least different. My personal take is always, go for truthfulness, a film that belongs to the true vision of an artist, a unique point of view. That’s what I’m looking for here.
DEADLINE: How about the challenges facing movies? I’ve covered films most of my career and I’ve watched how television now rules the world. There’s consolidation at the studios and Disney swallowed Fox, not much appetite for creative risk, and nobody knows what will happen to the theatrical experience for the kinds of movies you make and that are shown here. The business is all about superheroes and tent poles that are driving the box office. What concerns you the most about this part of the business?
INARRITU: I believe watching something is not the same as seeing something in a cinema where the screen is 40 times bigger than you and you are in a communal experience. Now you can go other ways and watch something, but it’s not the same as experiencing it. I think because of the very hegemonic way of production, distribution and exhibition, that is a problem. The screens have been homogenized, and with it the rich potential that cinema has to express so many things through different genres and cultures. All the things we are asking about diversity and inclusion, what about the cinemas? How many of these films that I will have the privilege of watching here in this part of the world, how many of them will shown in the United States? How many will be in the massive, popular cineplexes that could give people the chance to learn about other people’s lives, their reality, beauty and complexity and grow through that? It’s easy to blame Netflix, but Netflix has merely capitalized on the lack of diversity in the cinemas. They are putting it on TV where at least you have the chance to see films that don’t even play a week in theaters in New York.
In France, they protect that, and if you go to any cinema, these films will be exhibited there and all the kids have the ability to see them. I’m not against TV, or Netflix. They do a great job but they’re only capitalizing on the very limited vision that exhibitors are showing, and we are all the victims in not working harder for audiences to see and experience how other people live in other parts of the world. I think there has to be some middle point where Netflix can be flexible and exhibitors can be flexible also, and they can join and we have the right to see a good film in the cinema, or on TV. If I am listening to Mozart in my car, a guy from 200 years ago who comes alive would be like, what are you doing? Listening to Mozart in a car, with four speakers? I’d say, I’m enjoying it, it’s great. But that shouldn’t cancel the opportunity to hear Mozart in a room with an orchestra. That is what we are doing, we are canceling one thing for the other. It’s a delicate moment for the cinema in that sense.
DEADLINE: Trying to get people in this country to see those movies is like asking them to eat broccoli.
INARRITU: I disagree with you. I think in the 60s when Godard and Fellini arrived in the United States, they were like The Beatles. Rock stars. Cinema and culture are like plants. You have to nurture those seeds, water it. If we expect that Joe Blow will go to an Italian film, they won’t unless we educate and cultivate kids to be aware of these films, an Italian or Mexican film that will make them feel empowered. If we don’t do that, if we let it die, then it will die.
DEADLINE: How to stoke that interest when kids heads are in their iPhones? New forms of programming that deliver content in short intervals. How do you curate and cultivate that curiosity for cinema?
INARRITU: I will say it seems radical to find fault with watching something on your iPhone or your iPad. I love that. I can see a film in my computer with my headphones and enjoy it. I know that to watch is not to see and to see if less than experiencing it, but it’s still great. I prefer to see it in my computer than not see it at all, and kids do that with their phones. We can’t be old fashioned here. The only thing is, we can’t cancel giving them the right to go see a film in a big screen and experience great artists from around the world. Why do they listen to music from all around the world? The music is so diverse but films are so nationalistic and narrow minded and everybody bears some blame. Production, distribution, marketing. Not Netflix, which is making a lot of incredible stuff. I can see documentaries from all around the world and I say, bless them. What I hope is that Netflix can negotiate with exhibitors and bring down the time they ask to only be in cinemas. Or, Netflix should buy an exhibition circuit like AMC and they should be putting their films in cinemas and on television screens around that world. That’s a solution and everyone will freak out but the kids will know. They will see the right films on the right screens. The big problem is young screenwriters and directors are starting to think in TV more than cinema and every medium has its language. A TV film has a language, it needs to get your attention right away, and cinema is another thing. If people get addicted to that, then the language of cinema might disappear. That’s my take on it.
DEADLINE: Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which is in competition. It’s his first film since 2015’s The Revenant, which won him Best Actor and you Best Director Oscars. You did your virtual reality project, but haven’t directed a narrative feature since The Revenant. What was so exhausting that you both needed that time to recharge?
INARRITU: I did two films in a row and didn’t stop shooting for three years. Then I did promotional tours around the world. After two films and two tours, you get a little nauseous about it. Then I got into Carne Y Arena, which to me was a treat. I thought it was beautiful and I felt again like a tropical monkey in a fruit store because I had discovered this thing, this other way to tell a story. But I have been dangerously and happily unemployed and I have been liking it. I have been working, a work in progress that is not ready yet, but it’s only recently I have begun feeling the excitement of doing another movie. And remember my pregnancy time is always three to four years between movies. That one time it was crazy, but I have always taken that long. I’m not very prolific. Not like Guillermo del Toro, whose mind is as big as his heart.
DEADLINE: Carne Y Arena said something about a group of disenfranchised people, refugees. Between you, del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron, you seem to trade off winning Best Director and vying for Best Picture. You are all Mexican. Here in the U.S., we’re bombarded about the need for walls. Do you look at this and go, hey, we have something to offer?
INARRITU: I think it’s part of the rhetoric that is part of this time we’re living in. The mass media, politicians, every tweet…they write things that are fiction as if it was fact. What filmmakers do is fiction, and we say it is, but there is enough truthfulness that you feel the truth. The truth you are seeing in the news is misleading and manipulating and inventing so many things about people whose greatest need is just to survive. The people who are coming, they are the neediest and most vulnerable. To say these people are a threat and they are dangerous, it’s just very unfortunate. That’s what I was saying about the end of the world and the end of the species. While the ice caps are melting, and everything is going down, to be hating people at this moment…how can you have that amount of rage toward the poor? Maybe there’s a way to get back our country, with ideas and stories, and with creativity.