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Jury duty at Cannes

Updated on: 28 May,2023 08:01 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Meenakshi Shedde |

At the opening night dinner, we were seated just a table away from the ethereal Catherine Deneuve, and being in her presence alone felt like a hallowed privilege. 

Jury duty at Cannes

Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheddeWhen I received the invite to be on the Jury of the Cannes Film Festival’s 62nd Semaine de la Critique/Critics’ Week, I felt a delirious rush. The Semaine is an autonomous event within the overall Cannes Film Festival, along with the Quinzaine des Cineastes. Even lovelier: I didn’t know anyone there, not even its Artistic Director Ava Cahen, so either they had been following my work, or it was a third party recommendation, the nicest way possible. It turns out, I was recommended by the wonderful Charles Tesson, professor, mentor and my former editor when I wrote for the Cahiers du Cinema for about 10 years.

I was so honoured and delighted to be invited on the jury. It was my fourth time at Cannes, and the second time on the jury: I had earlier been on the FIPRESCI Jury at Cannes in 2001; covered the festival as a critic in 2004 and as the (now Jio Mami) Mumbai Film Festival’s International Cinema Programmer (2009), and now I was on the Semaine Jury. The jury position came with all sorts of perks. We were invited to the main Cannes Film Festival’s opening night red carpet at the Palais des Festivals, opening film Jeanne du Barry and dinner. So at the ceremony, I was in the same theatre as Michael Douglas (“Doog-lass” the French call him), Ruben Ostlund, many other distinguished jury members, filmmakers, talent and film lovers. I missed the MC’s announcement, made in charming Franglais in previous years: “Ladies and gentlemen, please join your seats.” At the opening night dinner, we were seated just a table away from the ethereal Catherine Deneuve, and being in her presence alone felt like a hallowed privilege. 

Our Semaine jury members were Audrey Diwan (Jury President, French-Lebanese director-screenwriter; her film The Happening won the Golden Lion at Venice in 2021), fantastic German actor Franz Rogowski (Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, Christian Petzold’s Undine), Kim Yutani, Sundance Film Festival’s Director of Programming, Rui Poças, Portuguese director of photography (Tabu by Miguel Gomes, Zama by Lucretia Martel) and moi. Imagine, even the Cannes Film Festival’s main competition section had 21 films, but the Semaine de la Critique’s competition has just seven films. So while the Semaine is only for first and second features and shorts, it is the distilled of the distilled. 

At the discussions, I was deeply enriched by hearing so many different viewpoints from the distinguished jury. Then on awards day, Franz Rogowski turned up in a dark purplish suedish jacket over a simple white shirt, and slightly shiny black Adidas printed pants, the sort you could buy on Linking Road, Bandra, Bombay. “Berlin style,” he called it. Already I was a huge fan; it was impossible not to have a massive crush on him also for being comfortable in his own skin, entirely un-awed by Cannes’ hysterical obsession with fashion.

Our jury screenings were in the Miramar, and jury meetings over lunches or dinners on the Croisette, or in the main Palais des Festivals, with a spectacular view of the sunset over fancy yachts in the harbour. It was a warm jury, and we didn’t really fight-fight, as the films were all so good, competing for several prizes.  The Semaine de la Critique’s Grand Prix went to Amanda Nell Eu’s Tiger Stripes; the French Touch Jury Prize for audacious filmmaking (so French, this definition!) went to Paloma Sermon Daï’s Il pleut dans la maison (It’s raining in the house); with more prizes for best actor, writer, and distribution in theatres and TV.

Gratitude to Ava Cahen and Programme Manager Thomas Rosso. The Critics’ Week, organised by the French Union of Film Critics, is just a bunch of film critics like many of us worldwide, but the way they fight for quality independent cinema has set a 24 karat gold standard. This is their 62nd edition of an autonomous section within a top festival like the Cannes Film Festival; they give several prizes; they arrange theatrical distribution via Fondation Gan and television via Canal + for the award-winning films, as well as distribution in several countries; they have a Next Step programme to help their selected short filmmakers direct their first feature… For Indian and world film critics, it shines a bright light on the path ahead.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. 
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