By Robert Koehler
Barely a month after the Society of French Directors (SRF), which runs Cannes’ Directors Fortnight (aka Quinzaine des Réalisateurs), unceremoniously dropped Frederic Boyer as artistic director, film critic and festival director Edoard Waintrop has been named to replace Boyer. A fixture in the French cinema culture as longtime critic for Liberation (and currently blogging on Libe’s website with his column, “Le cinoque”), Waintrop had just departed Fribourg after a successful four-year run as artistic director, and had been named in March to run the Grutli cinemas in Geneva, which formerly housed the Voltaire Center of Animation.
The speedy replacement reflects SRF’s urgency to ensure strong leadership of the Quinzaine, which has been viewed by most Cannes observers as faltering since the departure of Olivier Père, who left the Quinzaine after an acclaimed 2009 program to take over the Locarno film festival. Boyer, who had worked with Père on the Quinzaine’s selection committee, had attempted to strike out in a somewhat different direction than Père’s eclectic sensibility, but the consensus after his second year was that the program was stuffed with too many failed, uninteresting films. Even more surprising to Cannes visitors this year was the widespread view that Critics Week (aka Semaine de la Critique), for the first time in many years, had artistically raced past the hobbling Quinzaine. Once a vital player in Cannes cinephilia with an eye for bold alternatives, Semaine has been a minor sidebar on the Croisette whose films had been routinely ignored by the vast majority of visitors. In the past two years, however, this perception has been changing, and with such vivid films as Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter landing at Semaine rather than the Quinzaine (or even Un Certain Regard), the Quinzaine’s loss has increasingly been Semaine’s gain.
For his part, Boyer protested that his dismissal had been the result of a concerted attack by French critics and film cultural figures “whose primary goal was to make heads roll.”
Waintrop enters at a critical juncture in the history of Quinzaine, founded in 1969 by SRF as a radical counter-festival to the establishment profile of the Cannes competition–and when Waintrop, now 58, was 16 years old, and swept up in the heady turbulence and revolutionary fervor of Paris ’68. (Read some of his memories of that time).
In a statement released by SRF, Waintrop describes himself as a “passeur who wants to continue discovering cinema from around the world and present it to the public, critics and other crazy people from the cinema world.” He adds, in phrasing that sounds directly out of the style of his blog, that “I’m a curious person who never gets bored.”
All of which is encouraging for lovers of the Quinzaine, which has recently been the international launching pad for many crucial young filmmakers such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lisandro Alonso, Albert Serra, Denis Cote and Pedro Costa, and has made the Quinzaine a crucial element in contemporary world cinephilia. Given the tendency of Fribourg’s programming under Waintrop to lean toward films outside of Europe and North America, it might be expected that the Quinzaine’s upcoming editions could follow this pattern. In Fribourg this year, for example, Waintrop’s competition lineup (all selected from Asia, the Middle East and Latin America) included such lesser-known films as Carlos Cesar Arbelaez’ The Colors of the Mountain and Martin Sastre’s Miss Tacuarembo. At the same time, Waintrop is an impassioned writer about classical Hollywood, a kind of updated “Hitchcocko-Hawksian” with an eye for overlooked films both from the past and the present.