(Bloomberg) -- The 71st Cannes Film Festival opens Tuesday with a movie whose title fits the entertainment world’s new era: “Everybody Knows.”
The thriller starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz bears an apt phrase for the first edition of the star-studded festival since allegations of rape and harassment by the producer Harvey Weinstein emerged last fall. The public reckoning with sexual abuse that followed swept through the industry and spread to spheres ranging from the British cabinet to a megachurch in Tennessee.
“The world isn’t the same since last fall,” Thierry Fremaux, director of the Cannes festival, said during a press conference announcing the festival’s lineup last month. “We will talk about this earthquake, during Cannes and in the future.”
During the nearly 25 years since the Weinstein-produced “Pulp Fiction” took home Cannes’s Palme d’Or grand prize, the producer became a towering figure at the festival as he turned independent films into commercial hits. Now the festival -- where Weinstein is alleged to have committed one of his most serious offenses -- is grappling with the film industry’s history of letting sexual crimes and other abuses of power go unchecked.
A discussion of the place of women in cinema isn’t the only thing that will set this year’s festival apart. Here’s what to watch for as the film industry and major companies, including top fashion and beauty outfits that have hitched their stars to the entertainment industry, descend on France’s Cote d’Azur for the 12-day festival.
Focus on China
Expect producers as well as festival sponsors like L’Oreal SA to pivot eastward as China’s film market surges. Last summer, China surpassed the U.S. to become the country with the most movie screens, and it is on track to have roughly twice as many screens by 2021 as cinemas continue to be built at a staggering rate in its small and midsize cities, according to a report by PwC. That’s sending Chinese executives out in force to Cannes, where the red-carpet premieres are joined by the world’s biggest forum for buying and selling films. The country’s delegation, up 20 percent last year, is mobilizing producers and distributors who are eager for a piece of the fast-growing market.
As the country’s interest in cinema -- and the Cannes red carpet -- mounts, luxury fashion houses like LVMH’s Louis Vuitton and Dior and Kering’s Gucci are competing to dress not only Hollywood actresses but influential Chinese celebrities like the pop star Li Yuchun, a spokeswoman for L’Oreal.
L’Oreal is taking the push for China even further: It will stage a live talk show during the festival on the beach in front of the storied Hotel Martinez, hosted by the Chinese fashion editor and TV presenter Hung Huang. The show will be streamed to platforms including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s TMall site, an Amazon.com Inc. challenger, and Weibo Corp.’s social network.
Also present at this year’s festival: Saudi Arabia. The conservative Muslim country, which recently opened its first movie theater in decades, will show some short films and participate in meetings, according to Agence France-Presse.
Streaming in Flux
The place of streaming services like Amazon and Netflix Inc. will also be up for discussion as the digital giants become increasingly important producers of feature-length content.
Two of Netflix’s films were selected for the festival last year, sparking ire among France’s powerful cinema operators. This year, the festival is requiring that films be made available for a theatrical release in France before they go up on streaming services -- so Netflix is sitting out the competition, although it will participate in the festival’s film market.
“Our two models do not align for the moment,” said Pierre Lescure, president of the Cannes festival.
An Amazon-backed film, “Cold War,” will be in the running for Cannes’s top honors, however. Amazon’s pay-per-view option gives it more flexibility to release films in concert with cinemas than Netflix’s subscription-only model.
The Italian actress Asia Argento, 42, says Weinstein raped her in his room at Cannes’s Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc when she was 21 years old. Weinstein has apologized for workplace behaviors he recognizes “caused a lot of pain” but denies committing any act of sexual assault.
The French government has demanded a robust response from the festival to allegations of sexual abuse during its proceedings, and is putting in place a hotline for victims of sexual harassment. But questions of equal pay and opportunity will also come to the fore in the first Cannes festival since Hollywood actresses staged a “blackout” at the Oscars -- spurning colorful gowns and dressing in black to protest the film industry’s gender imbalance.
Cate Blanchett, who won Academy Awards for her roles in “Blue Jasmine” and “The Aviator” and is a founder of the Time’s Up initiative for women’s equality in the film industry, will preside over the jury at Cannes and have a key role in deciding who takes home the top honors.
Only three of the 21 films in competition at Cannes were directed by women. Films are selected on their artistic merit, the festival says, and no quotas or other “positive discrimination” will be put in place to assure representation by region and gender.
Fremaux, the festival director, said he did take steps to rebalance the selection committee so the “female gaze” would be fairly represented, and the festival is welcoming other bodies to organize discussions of gender equality.
Only 7 percent of the top 100 Hollywood films were directed by women last year, and the majority of woman directors only have the chance to direct one major film, a study by the University of Southern California found.
Kering, a sponsor of the festival, will fete “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins’s contribution to women in cinema as well as hosting a series of talks on equal pay and opportunity. The company has close ties to the industry: Chief Executive Officer Francois-Henri Pinault is married to the actress Salma Hayek, who serves on the board of Kering’s corporate foundation.
Anthony Vaccarello -- the designer of Kering’s second-biggest brand, Saint Laurent, since 2016 -- has taken cinema as a key inspiration. He’s signing actresses like Zoe Kravitz and Charlotte Gainsbourg to promote the brand and has shot ad campaigns in iconic film locations like the Villa Malaparte in Capri, the backdrop of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt.”
Red-carpet selfies are now off the table as participants climb the steps for screenings. In a press conference last month, organizers called selfies a “plague,” “disrespectful” and “ugly, 9 times out of 10.” Plus, they’ve been slowing down the way in and out of the Palais des Festivals. It’s a blow to companies that are eager to see their glitziest products featured on stars’ Instagram stories, but the festival has made clear that those who snap selfies on the red carpet will be escorted back to their limos.
“We go to Cannes to look, not to look at ourselves,” Fremaux said.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.