Cannes Film Festival may have scored a self-goal when it imposed a ban on selfies on its glamorous red carpet this year. The influential festival, which is in its 71st year, announced the decision to keep the sanctity of the steps leading to the venue, hosting premieres of the year’s finest films from around the world. “Cannes is based on the secret of elegance,” says the festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux. Not everyone, however, is in agreement with prohibiting the most popular pastime in an increasingly digitised world.
There were no selfies in the opening week of the festival, which kicked off with the screening of the competition entry, Everybody Knows, by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi on May 8. A wave of shutterbugs followed Farhadi, his cast (Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem) and the who’s who of the global film industry on the red carpet for the opening film. “I was honoured to get the opportunity to watch the opening movie with the best minds of world cinema,” says Indian producer Suraj Kumar. “But I couldn’t get a picture of me taken because of the ban on selfies,” adds Kumar, who co-produced Thinking of Him, an India-Argentina film based on Rabindranath Tagore’s relationship with Argentinian poet Victoria Ocampo.
The festival believes selfies severely restrict movement on the red carpet, leading to screening delays. “There are 2,200 people waiting to get into the theatre,” explains Fremaux. “This is why we forbid selfies.” Despite the ban, the opening ceremony started five minutes late, upsetting a long tradition for punctuality. The ban also extended to clicking of pictures by accredited journalists this year from the balcony of the media centre overlooking the red carpet. The prohibition is not sitting well with many festival participants who see Cannes as a champion of free speech and freedom of expression.
The festival has acknowledged that several French media institutions are not supportive of the restrictions. Some have the opposite view though. “This is the country of the French Revolution and where social rights were born,” says Chilean critic Ernesto Garratt, who prefers to draw a line when it comes to taking photographs. “We should have freedom of expression, but we should also take care of people who do the professional job of photographers,” adds Garrat.
The festival also wants to ensure that participants don’t suffer injuries while trying to take selfies. “Many times, people have fallen off the steps,” says Fremaux. They also feel that the image suffers from unelegant shoots on the red carpet. Unlike the Venice and Berlin festivals, where the public comes through the red carpet, it is the industry representatives who walk the red carpet in Cannes. “We stand by our decision. At Cannes, we come to see films, not to see oneself,” says Fremaux.
Cannes festival president Pierre Lescure sees the action of taking selfies on the red carpet ‘disrespectful’. “It is ugly. Many people are watching the event on television and they don’t want to see people taking selfies,” adds Lescure. Two years ago, the word ‘selfie’ entered the dictionary in France. In the French-speaking Quebec in Canada, it is called by the name of ‘egoportrait’ in reference to the lack of elegance attached to the activity, which has seen many supporters like former American president Barack Obama.
The selfie ban comes at a time when the Cannes festival is grappling with ways to handle changes brought about by technology. This year, Internet streaming service Netflix announced that it wouldn’t send its films to Cannes after the festival last year made the theatrical release of a selected film (to the competition section) mandatory in France.
While there were two Netflix films in Cannes last year (Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories), Netflix has kept its new films like Oscar-winning Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and The Other Side of the Wind, a recently completed 1970 Orson Welles film, out of Cannes this year. “Netflix didn’t want to be present at Cannes,” says Fremaux. “It is a pity because Orson Welles was the president of the jury in Cannes,” he says, adding that the festival will carry on the dialogue with Netflix to arrive at a resolution in the future.
The festival’s decision to impose restrictions on screenings for critics and journalists has also invited sharp criticism from the media. Breaking from a long festival tradition of press shows before the world premiere for the industry in the presence of the cast and crew, Cannes has written a new screenings rule. All competition films are being screened first for the industry in a red carpet premiere this year, with the critics allowed to watch the same show in a different theatre. “It is scandalous. The changes are not helpful to the press at all,” says veteran critic Derek Malcolm, who has been covering the festival for the past four decades.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer