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Once More With Feeling - Why Aren't African Americans At Cannes?

Shadow and Act By Sergio | Shadow and Act January 28, 2013 at 8:30AM

Following up on Jeff Friday’s exclusive piece for us last week about the importance and relevance of black film festivals (HERE), and a conversation I had on this very subject about the Cannes Film Festival and black filmmaker this past weekend, with a close friend of mine, I decided to revise and expand on a piece I wrote for S & A over two years ago.
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Cannes

Following up on Jeff Friday’s exclusive piece for us last week about the importance and relevance of black film festivals (HERE), and a conversation I had on this very subject about the Cannes Film Festival and black filmmaker this past weekend, with a close friend of mine, I decided to revise and expand on a piece I wrote for S & A over two years ago.

Why aren’t we at Cannes? We, meaning African-American filmmakers.

But let me back up for a second…

Several commenters to Friday’s piece responded that the only film festivals that really matter to filmmakers are those that are also film markets such as Cannes, Toronto or Sundance. Festivals where not only films are shown, but where film projects are pitched and films are bought and sold.

O.K., fair enough. Maybe they have a valid point. Perhaps those are the festivals that really only matter. So if that’s the case, and African American filmmakers should be concentrating on being at film markets selling their films to foreiegn markets, then why aren’t they at Cannes?

True, there are always a few here and there every year, but not even remotely in the same numbers as other filmmakers. Latino filmmakers, Asian filmmakers, filmmakers from every far flung country around the globe are there in force.

And to be perfectly clear, I’m not talking about African filmmakers who, of course, are always at Cannes, even holding an annual party and major events at Cannes every year. Last year, South Africa brought over some 130 filmmakers at Cannes to screen their films, or just to represent and promote themselves and the SA film industry.

But as for African American filmmakers, a pitiful few, if that. Why is that?

AA filmmakers I’ve talked to, who have been to Cannes, have told me how AA filmmakers are pathetically under-represented at the festival. One filmmaker once told me that, the year she was there, the only other black American film she saw represented at Cannes was Hood of Horror with Snoop Dogg, which was being sold to foreign territories..

Another AA filmmaker who was there last year, when I asked if there were other AA filmmakers, just laughed and gave me an “Are you kidding?”  look.

Remember, I’m not talking about AA films being screened at the festival, either in or out of competition. That’s not the important point.

I’m talking about AA filmmakers going to Cannes to schmooze, meet people, to learn more about the business and possibly even making a deal. And to further add, it doesn’t have to be a “black” film, however you define it, for an AA filmmaker to be pitching at Cannes.

And also keep in mind that I’m not talking about staying at The Carlton, eating at expensive restaurants and going to private VIP parties. But instead, staying in a hostel or with a group of people, sharing a one bedroom hotel room, sleeping on the floor, eating once a day and trying to meet people, or setting up screenings of your film in a small rented theater in a hotel room. Which is what almost 90% of the people who attend Cannes really do. They just act like big shots.

I’m reminded of the story about Fred “The Hammer” Williamson after he self-financed, produced and directed his first film many years ago. He went to Cannes flat broke and couldn’t afford  any major advertising to do there. So he hired a couple of models for a day for a few bucks (It wasn’t hard. They’re everywhere at the festival hoping to be discovered). He had them wear tight T shirts with the title of his film on the front, and had them walk up and down the Croisette passing out flyers with information about screenings of his film, to anyone who looked even remotely important.

By the time Williamson left Cannes, not only had he made his money back selling his film to several foreign distributors, he made a huge profit as well.

And come to think of it, why hasn’t Tyler Perry been at Cannes?

He finances his own films and he can certainly afford a major promotional push for them at Cannes, and can even book a suite of rooms at the Carlton. He has said several times before that he wants to get into the overseas market, so why not try?  Isn’t that the only reason he cast Kimmy Kakes and her non-acting plastic ass in his latest film Temptation, and gave her second billing above the title in order to attract a broader audience? He may be very successful or he might not make a single foreign sale, but at least he can say that he gave it a shot.

And I know some people will say that AA films don’t “travel” and that the overseas market for them is limited. Well tell that to all those African filmmakers who come to Cannes every year. I don’t think they feel the same way. This is a global film world, and too many AA filmmakers still have a provincial mindset.

I’ve asked this question about the lack of AA filmmakers at Cannes to other AA filmmakers, and usually the response I get is a blank expression, or a shrug of the shoulder, or something along the lines of: “Well we’re not educated about it…” or ”Maybe if some programs were established to help…”  You mean someone has to lead you by the hand like a little kid? Seriously?

We’re in the 21st century now. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out how to just get a ticket, fly there, get in the mix and just see what happens.

And what I say about Cannes also goes for Toronto, Sundance, Berlin or whatever international film markets are out there.

So what do you say?


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