At the heart of the Caméra d’Or Awards ceremony at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

By Claude Garnier, AFC

par Claude Garnier La Lettre AFC n°255

[English] [français]

To be a member of the jury of the Caméra d’Or... What an honour, what a privilege ! So, for all of you who have not had that pleasure, here is my diary from my time as a member of the jury of the Caméra d’Or award.

Wednesday, May 13 : Arrival at Cannes 2015
Already the official car is waiting for us and soon we are on our way for our first walk up the red-carpeted stairs. It takes twenty minutes to travel one kilometre.
This is my first contact with the members of the jury, chaired by Sabine Azéma, and whose other members are Melvil Poupaud (actor), Delphine Gleize (director), Yann Gonzalez (director representing the SRF), Bernard Payen (representing the SFCC, the French union of cinema critics), Didier Huck (representing the Ficam), and myself, representing the AFC.

Séance photo du jury de la Caméra d’or
De gauche à droite, Bernard Payen, Claude Garnier, Yann Gonzalez, Sabine Azéma, Didier Huck, Delphine Gleize, et Melvil Poupaud (Photo FdC / Thomas Leibreich)

Our first walk up the steps goes smoothly. Sabine Azéma’s charm and experience are already working wonders within our group.
During our first formal meal at the “Palm Beach”, we have the opportunity to meet our jury’s President, who explains that it is his ambition to form a jury that takes its mission very seriously.
The next morning, we all take part in our first official meeting on the job, which is held on the terrace of the Palace… Beautiful flowers, incredible views of the harbour, and three people who follow us around every day in order to facilitate our access to screenings and other official events.
This first meeting is an opportunity to decide how we will work together as a group within the jury.

Sabine Azéma began the meeting by asking us to keep our discussions absolutely confidential, which will prove to be a very valuable rule as it will prevent us from being distracted by overly-aggressive judgments and enable us to be spontaneous. We discuss specifics, the great diversity of each member’s personal experiences are an enormous asset to our discussions. But mostly we talk about the fact that each one of us expresses his deep sensitivity to the movies that we see from the perspective of the child that we have each remained. We plan to have lunch and dinner together every day in order to be able to have long discussions about the films.
26 movies to watch seems like a lot, but we’ve all come with a big appetite.
I am so pleased to be able to express myself in the way I’ve always wanted to, and have often succeeded in doing with the directors with whom I’ve worked, taking into account the screenplay and the staging, the acting and the cinematography, both in terms of the camera work and the lighting.

Screenings began on Thursday the 14th
The first film was Canadian, and let us get our bearings. We already detected some alliances forming within the jury. The future will reveal these alliances to be fickle. I was extremely pleased to see some of my ideas about directors collapse as I saw them stand up for the form, the actors, their acting, and the emotionality of the film… These are pre-conceived ideas that don’t stand up to ten days of participating on a jury. And at each meeting it was a marvellous surprise to discover the opinions of the other members. The debate over the originality of the form of the movies was nonetheless frequent, as was the fear of a certain classicism.

This first film, Sleeping Giant, directed by Andrew Cidino, presented at the Critics’ Week (we saw eight films selected for the Critics’ Week) features three rebellious teenagers who spend their free time between debauchery and jumping off of the top of cliffs. It captured the moment of adolescence where both creative and destructive impulses begin to surface. Parents, at this moment in a young person’s life, are of little help, and may even make things worse. The theme of impotence, lack of force and coherency of adults towards children and adolescents is very present in the first films selected. The rugged landscape of the lake is an excellent setting for the three teenagers’ violent story. Still, the film does not stand the test of time. (Ten days from the beginning to the end of the festival).

Several films fell into the category of movies that our jury liked but did not keep for the “short list” of finalists

- The Wakhan Front, directed by Clement Cogitore, cinematography by Sylvain Verdet, starring Jérémie Renier and Swan Arlaud.
During the conflict in Afghanistan soldiers begin to mysteriously disappear.
A film in between war film and fantasy, using infrared and thermal technologies. A film about beliefs regarding what is seen and unseen. A film shot on the shoulder by small team that had a good mastery of technique.

- Sembene, the first documentary film by director Samba Gadjigo.
A beautiful portrait of the Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene , the "father of African cinema," a brilliant autodidact, who bore witness to a new Africa that is proud of its history. A documentary that makes you want to rush to see Sembene’s films.

- Dégradé, the first movie by Tarzan and Arab Nasser, cinematography by Eric Devin.
In Gaza, a hairdresser’s salon… Thirteen women trapped in the armed conflict taking place outside and who are attempting to lead a normal life. A lion stolen from the zoo and a (rather darkly) humorous film in which the absurdity and tragedy experienced by Gazans resonate. A style of filming that is similar to theatre. A courageous film that takes a different point of view from what we usually see from Palestinian cinema.

After seven days of screenings we held deliberations on Saint-Honorat Island, just across the bay from Cannes. We travelled on a beautiful and very large boat to the small island where the resident monks produce wine. This refreshing getaway refreshed our hearts and our minds for the final stretch. Great respect was shown for the opinions and emotions of all the members of the jury.
We laughed a lot, although we were increasingly becoming conscious of the responsibility that was ours : to award the Golden Camera prize to a one and only one film.
We passionately discussed the directing of the movies we’d seen.
Some members felt manipulated by the director of a particular film while others celebrated his or her deep honesty ; the words “necessity”, “boredom”, “lassitude”, “hidebound”, “sincere”, “enthusiasm”, and “emotion” studded our discussions.

Onwards to the final stretch
Tonight (May 19), the official dinner of the Caméra d’Or takes place at the Hotel Martinez. All of the directors, actors and actresses of the first films we’d seen are in attendance. They gingerly approach us. But our friendly yet totally impenetrable expressions rebuff their advances.

In the end, we felt enthusiastic about five of the movies we’d seen :
- Son of Saul, directed by Lazlo Nemes (Hungary), cinematography by Mátyás Ederly.
This is this director’s first movie and was selected for Cannes’ official selection. It tells the story of the lives of Sonderkommando in Nazi death camps. These deportees were selected by the SS to accompany the convoys all the way to the gas chambers and then clean up afterwards. Every four months, they were killed and replaced. The main character, Saul, tries to survive in order to accomplish something meaningful.
This film attempts the difficult challenge of not directly showing the horror while closely approaching it. The horror is therefore always blurred or off screen. The lighting around Saul also adds, by the tones chosen or by the dark or very bright areas, to the character’s isolation.
The film is shot using traditional 35mm film stock and photochemical development was done traditionally. The small format (1,33) and the use of only one 40mm lens maintains the film focused only on the main character. The choice of shooting in 35mm, actively promoted by the director and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély, proved a magnificent success that amazed the festival.
There was also a lot of work on the sound of the movie, especially on off-screen noises (The sound director Zànyi Tamas received the Vulcain Prize for his work on this film).
This ambitious project was recognized by the Grand Prize of the official selection.

- Mustang, directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (Turkey), cinematography by David Chizallet, selected for the Directors’ Fortnight.
Northern Turkey, a small village... The film begins with a wonderful scene : five sisters playing in the water with some boys. Freedom of bodies, freedom of the camerawork, freedom of the staging. Their games are seen to be scandalous and will be brutally punished.
The family home is gradually turning into a prison. The four girls nonetheless continue to transgress the limits that have been set for them. "A Turkish Virgin Suicides," says the film’s director.
Incredibly well lit and filmed, the bodies of the adolescent girls and their games celebrate their thirst for freedom and their subversive beauty. The fine work on lighting (soft and sensual) and framing by cinematographer David Chizallet is delightful in the scenes where the girls’ freedom mocks the attempts to shut them in. A hymn to both life and freedom.
Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, a graduate of La Fémis, co-wrote the screenplay with Alice Mustang Winocour.
This film was recognized by the Europa Cinema label at the Directors’ Fortnight and was named Best European Film in the parallel section by a jury of cinema owners.

- Mediterranea, directed by Jonas Carpignano, cinematography by Wyatt Garfield.
Two friends leave Burkina Faso in order to immigrate illegally to Italy. The film quickly shows their dangerous crossing using some well-chosen cinematographic shortcuts (the storm they go through with some lightning) in order to concentrate on their new life in Italy… the new people they meet, their conflicts, and the protests that they experience. Both characters are two sides of the same person, who complement one another as they face the harshness of reality. The filming was done from the shoulder and was very beautiful, and stays away from the “miserabilism” that is often characteristic of so-called “social” films.

- Eftersklav (The Here After), a Franco-Polish-Swedish film directed by Magnus von Horn, cinematography by Lukasz Zal, PSC.
A teenager returns to his father’s home after serving his prison sentence for murder. The small town’s community rejects him violently. He decides to confront his past.
An extremely strong climate of tension pervades the film. The uncompromising staging leads us into this emotionally-charged work. The cinematography skilfully creates a cold and super-bright icy atmosphere.

- La tierra y la sombra, a Colombian film directed by Cesar Acevedo, cinematography by Mateo Guzman. A house and a tree lost in the middle sugar cane fields whose intensive farming causes a continual rain of ash. An old peasant returns home seventeen years after abandoning his family in order to attempt to recreate the broken ties with his family, a family whose lives have been sacrificed by years of backbreaking labour. The screenplay contrasts the ferocious farming that reigns in the immense plantations and the little family microcosm that is like a haven of calm in the storm.
The director ably stages the lengthening of time in moments where human beings become close to one another, using few, but carefully-chosen, words.
The film, which is, in parts, reminiscent of Tarkovsky, impressed us by the beauty and boldness of its shots. The scenes with the child and his grandfather under the tree and the travelling shot that follows them, allow us to see and feel beyond the visible world straight into their hidden feelings. The horse in the bedroom that walks around in circles. The voice of the father that cries out in the hospital.
The director, for his first film, has made strong choices that are reminiscent of his own, personal story. The long takes that sometimes become stills in the beginning of the film leave little room for a moving image, which helps portray the characters in their struggles, their despair, their obstinacy, and their hopes. Very beautiful characters whose beauty is magnified by the direction.

We meet for the final debate in a little inn in a village perched above the bay of Cannes.
An isolated area, in the spirit that animated us during these 12 days.
We did not read the press, which is already announcing the awards from the Critics’ Week, the Directors’ Fortnight and Un certain regard, nor did we read the critics’ reviews in the papers.
After a fairly short deliberation, La tierra y la sombra won six votes out of the jury’s seven members.
All of us, actors, two directors, a filmmaker, a film critic, a technician, and a director of photography, were deeply moved by this film. Six days after having seen it, its formal beauty remained vividly in our memories, as did the emotions related to the story and to its characters. The spirit of resistance that resides within this family, its modesty and dignity in its silences, its hidden sensitivity, and the deep humanity of these poor farmers are all amplified by an audacious style of directing… We were won over.

Les membres du jury de la Caméra d’or s’apprêtent à monter les marches avant la cérémonie de clôture
Photo Getty Images / Pascal Le Segretain

Sunday, May 24, Sabine Azema went on stage to present the Caméra d’Or award. We are proud and happy with our choice, even though we thoroughly enjoyed many of the other films.
Cannes is festival open to the world, including to young Colombian cinema…
What emotion from the film’s crew !
The director got on stage and gave an amazing speech in which he warmly thanked his cinematographer Mateo Guzman.
The film will be released in France on September 23, distributed by Pyramide.
Charles Tesson, the managing director of the Critics’ Week, did not hide his joy to see a film from his selection recognized with this prestigious award that is of such value to the career of a young director. He is only twenty-eight years old and, in our opinion, has a great career ahead of him.

Cesar Acevedo
Photo AFP

My stay in Cannes is drawing to a close. I am happy and proud to have participated in the jury of the Caméra d’Or. This is a jury specially protected from pressures and undue influence, be they financial or from the press, a jury in which the rich collaboration between directors and cinematographers is fully recognized.
Note that during the presentation of their films, the filmmakers competing for the Caméra d’Or very often draw attention to their fruitful and indispensable collaboration with their directors of photography.
The selection of the films screened provided us with a great openness to world cinema and I return to Paris enriched as a human being and with an even stronger love for cinema.

(In the portfolio below, Claude Garnier’s humor-filled photos from her time as a member of the Caméra d’Or jury)