Screening With Heroes: A First-Time Filmmaker Shares Her Diary From Cannes
Filmmaker Pippa Bianco first attended the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 with her short film “Share,” which won the Cinefoundation section. The feature-length version of “Share” was produced by A24 and premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival before landing a special screening slot at this year’s Cannes. During this year’s festival, Bianco kept a diary of her experiences leading up to and following the screening of her film, and shared them with IndieWire.
It’s surreal to be heading to Cannes. I’ve been once before when we premiered the short version of this film a few years ago, and standing in the airport now I feel the same feeling. For me, festivals can be exciting but overwhelming — I feel much more comfortable behind a camera or at computer than I do facing an audience. With that short, I was continually reminding myself to enjoy it, that this might never happen again, that I was phenomenally lucky. There are so many brilliant, beautiful films made every year — many more than there are festival slots or distribution deals — so no matter how hard you work or how fine your finished film, I think being selected always comes down to a matter of incredibly good fortune.
And coming to a festival with a short is a really special experience. With a short, you aren’t so much a singular film: you’re shown in a program, you’re part of a continuum and a team — and being part of a team is my favorite part of making films as well as showing them.
In Cannes, I felt enormous pride in the shorts I got to play alongside: Simon Cartwright’s “Manoman,” Qiu Yang’s “Under the Sun,” Sofia Kampmark’s “Tsunami,” and many more exquisite films that have stayed with me. In the case of a few films, we got to continue to travel together from festival to festival and stay in each other’s lives in the same way where the paths of features might diverge. Qiu Yang is actually here this year with his newest film “She Runs” in Critics Week. I cannot wait to see it and him.
One of the things I love most about Cannes is that it’s international, so you play alongside the world when you play here rather than being pulled out into separate sections. You can observe your own film and the native cinematic culture and storytelling conventions you are immersed in through a fresh lens by virtue of all those bright spots of cinema from everywhere in concert around you.
For me, there is nothing more precious to a creative process than having talented peers to be in conversation with, to critique you or hold you accountable, to inspire you and buoy your spirits when you need it most (because directing and writing can be very lonely and painful sometimes I think), but also to share the moments of triumph along with the doubts and disappointments. I can’t wait to start seeing some films.
The last few days have been overwhelming and awesome. It’s a little more relaxed, because it’s not the first time the film has played like earlier this year at Sundance, and there’s still a little more time to prepare (stress) before our premiere Sunday, so it’s been more gradual: getting badges and settled in houses, beginning some press, tech checks, and orientations. That included a great one by Jean-Marc the coordinator for the Camera d’Or — the prize all first filmmakers are nominated for at the festival — where he began by listing all his favorite losers of the prize, including Competition jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu.
My first stop after picking up my badge was to use it go up to fourth floor to the Cinéfondation offices to meet the women who first brought us here when they selected our short, Dimitra Karya and Clarisse Robillard. Without them, (and SXSW’s incredible programmer Claudette Godfrey, who programmed us for the first time in the U.S.), I don’t know if we would have been able make the feature the way we did at all. So it was surreal and wonderful to see them again.
I haven’t been able to see quite as many films yet as I would love to with the requirements for ours, but the ones I have been lucky enough to see so far have been beautiful; Ladj Ly’s “Les Miserables,” Ken Loach’s “Sorry We Missed You,” Jessica Hauser’s “Little Joe,” and Kantemir Balagov’s “Beanpole.”
In considering their work, I realized something else I appreciate about the festival: Here you are in a place where your heroes play all around you — the Dardenne brothers, Almodovar, Bong Joon-ho, Terrence Malick and so many more this year. But not only do they compete, they do so alongside early or even first-time filmmakers. Someone like Ken Loach — whose films I grew up on, who has been coming to Cannes for almost 30 years with 16 different films — plays in the same section as Mati Diop or Ladj Ly (or, the last time we came here, “Son of Saul” director Laszlo Nemes) with their very first films. It’s so invigorating to me as both a film-watcher and filmmaker for an institution that’s home to so much cinema history to amplify and affirm that great films do not come from one place in one way, and to honor innovation and the insights that can only be infused by new voices on the same stage as tradition and the rigors of craft honed over decades.
The films I’ve seen so far have definitely been a celebration of all those things. Those four in particular for me are probably only unified by a concern with injustice or suffering (and joy) in their own ways, but otherwise encompass an incredible breadth of tone, style and narrative interest and structure — from playful, fable-like satire to deeply earnest “realism” and everything in-between. And that’s actually what all my favorite films do I think: help you to see and to live in whatever circumstances you find yourself in (particularly the difficult ones), in whatever manner the filmmakers are best able to reinvent.
So seeing these films gives me as much spiritual fuel as it does creative, and humbling freedom from any of my own pre-premiere fears. Excited for more.
Our premiere is tomorrow, so press days have picked up. Before today was mostly individual discussions or panels, including one with some brilliant American directors at the American Pavilion: Mike Covino, who made “The Climb,” Robert Eggers with “The Lighthouse,” Kirill Mikhanovsky with “Give Me Liberty,” and Danielle Lessovitz with “Port Authority.” It’s fun to have any excuse to talk and be with other filmmakers, but it was also fascinating to hear their answers to the same questions of process and the journeys of their films.
This discussion focused heavily on each of our failures and frustrations—the question I remember most was, “when did you have to abandon a project or a relationship, or have something fall apart?” I think that’s a beautiful thing to ask. And everyone had pretty wonderful answers that made me very excited to see the films that were a product of such grace.
The general consensus among us was that, as often as you may hear it or need to remind yourself of it, failure/loss/conflict/crisis and your tolerance for them are a continual part of any generative process in our experiences so far, even or especially with the films that brought us all here.
Which was awesome to hear from so many peers I respect. Sometimes I think stories that focus on the charmed highlights of a film or a filmmaker’s life can be alienating and discouraging. I actually think films that are themselves structured around those highlights, or in which a hero is defined as someone who “wins” (or does not lose) can be discouraging too, especially when I’m facing my own losses.
At Cannes it feels like there is a special appetite for things that are (In the best, most life-like way for me) unresolved — not in the sense of feeling unfinished or incomplete, but that are unpredictable or uncomfortable, that don’t fit neatly into genre or narrative conventions, or sort themselves into binaries of positive/negative, success/failure, happy/unhappy endings, heroes/villians etc. Those are the films I find to be most inspirational as a filmmaker and as a human being. And so many of the films that have helped me most in those ways came into the world first here — “Le Fils,” “Morvern Callar,” “Amour,” “Poetry,” “Secret Sunshine.”
The rest of our press days reflected that openness, too. Our film often invites questions about fairness and justice; whether it’s a positive film, or ending, or not (and, for the record, I do think of our ending as an optimistic, but I’ll leave out spoilers). Maybe it was because we’ve already talked about the film publicly now, or maybe because of where we were and the many different countries and perspectives represented around us in the room, or the kinds of films we were playing alongside, but one way or another those questions didn’t really come up at these round tables.
I’m nervous to see if or how tomorrow’s premiere will be different, too.
Our premiere has definitely been the most surreal part of this experience so far. I don’t think any of us thought we’d be coming back here after Sundance, and for me at least it still didn’t feel real as we waited for the walk to enter our theater in the festival car. (That is definitely not something we did with the short.)
I usually don’t sit through a screening after introducing a film because I find it mortifying, but here they seat you in the middle of the theater so you can interact with the audience afterward, so there’s really no easy escape route. But it was actually beautiful and very moving to watch it again with our loved ones and such a committed, open audience. I was overwhelmed. I think I still am. Thankfully there was lots to drink.
The next day there was a lunch hosted by festival director Thierry Fremaux with all the other filmmakers who premiered the night before or were premiering later that day. For us, that was incredible because it included some filmmakers whose films deeply inspire me — Celine Sciamma and Terrence Malick, as well as Ira Sachs and his cast, who would be premiering “Frankie” that night. Ira was one our mentors at the Sundance labs (an experience that changed my life, let alone the course of the film) and has leant generous wisdom and insight to our film at every stage of the process since, including casting Rhianne Barreto, our lead, who was there with me.
Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock
So that night, Rhianne and I went to go see “Frankie” together. It was an incredible way to celebrate because the film was gorgeous (and as someone who’s still processing some losses, also a very rare and precious meditation on the gentler sides of grief).
The next few days continued that note of community, which felt like a beautiful way to end our festival, including the Camera d’Or dinner, where we got to meet all the other first time filmmakers. There, I finally reunited with two incredible directors who were at the Sundance labs with us, Alaa Eddine Aljem with “The Unknown Saint” and Annie Silverstein with “Bull” — two films that were already humbling in their beauty then, so I can’t wait to see how they’ve blossomed since we were in workshop. It was really lovely to get to spend some time together again.
I was also lucky enough to catch two sections of this year’s Cinéfondation selection shorts and was blown away. I’m still eager to see the other two programs, but the ones I saw were gorgeous — especially Richard Van’s masterful “Hiéu,” which took my breath away. I watched it twice and was even more moved on second viewing.
I finally got to see Qiu Yang from my year of Cinéfondation at the dinner to celebrate this year’s class. His new film “She Runs” had just won the jury prize for Critic’s Week shorts, so we had lots to celebrate beyond our reunion with Dimitra, Clarisse and the new Cinéf filmmakers.
I hope we all get to meet up in that room again another year down the line. We’ll have to get to work on some new films first.
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