Mike Auret reflects on the Cannes experience

MethGator, SuperCannes and the 19 Levels

Walking down the Cannes Marche, the poster for “MethGator”, rightfully awarded “The Best Bad Film of Cannes”, jumped out and nearly bit me. A timely reminder that some things at Cannes never change. Trying to cash in on “Cocaine Bear” – the fantastically entertaining romp that made US$90 million off U$30, the film lined up against “6 headed Sharknado” and other delightful rip-offs – some of which were clearly shot in South Africa and show that our industry can still make schlock as good as the rest of them.

Unfortunately, we were not so successful on the red and blue carpets of the Competition or Un Certain Regard in a historic year for African cinema with films from Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, Sudan and Cameroon. South Africa had to make do with celebrating past glories through the screening of Anant Singh and Darryl Roodt’s phenomenally successful “Sarafina” which got a standing ovation as part of the Cannes Classics Official Selection.

The NFVF staff did a sterling job flying the flag with Terrence Khumalo once again making sure co-production discussions with partner countries keep flowing while the Chair, Tholoana Ncheke, acting CEO Thobela Mayinje and head of industry development, Yolanda Ncokotwana, held discussions with local and international partners. Wesgro’s Monica Rorvik was the smiling and welcoming face of the SA stand and certainly our stand was well positioned to say “open for business”.

There were many laments about the absence of the South African Pavilion on the beach, and our consignment to the ground floor of the Marche, but I for one, am celebrating. Yes the Pavilion was wonderful and we had a place to relax on the beach but it was part of a culture of massive parties and dinners that advertised the fact that South Africans were great at spending money – just not on prize-winning films – or even Cannes selected films.

The amount of investment we have made in the last 20 years on Cannes event organisers, Cannes hotels and Cannes restaurants compared to the investment in the development and production of films may tell us something about why when Cannes was celebrating a “Bumper Year” for Africa, South African films were conspicuous by their absence from the carpets.

The only country in Africa which has a national grant funding institution, a rebate, a healthy plethora of broadcasters and 2 lending institutions and yet the most we can do is a film in Un Certain Regard every 3-5 years — Oliver Schmidtz’s “Life Above All” (2010), Oliver Hermanus’ “Skoonheid/ Beauty” (2011) and Etienne Kallos’ “Die Stropers/The Harvesters” (2018).

There were promising developments, however, with discussions in Cannes around unifying different producer organisations to make a more powerful, united industry voice for more investment in development and production and for investment in a National film festival and market hosted with the SAFTAs to give us a national and continental beacon that the Sithengi of yesteryear once was.

Hopefully with a new DSAC Minister and the advertisement for a new NFVF CEO (please can qualified industry people stand for CEO so we are represented), we can have the NFVF and industry working together to achieve these aims.

South African producers, with many veteran friends and colleagues, were out in full force. Our very own Chair was leading from the front with Known Associates Entertainment — Tshepiso and Joel Phiri, kicking down the doors with a slate of 5 films for sale at the Carlton, Exco member Delon Bakker looking every bit the movie exec, veteran Africa doc specialist Steven Markovitz slipping on to the carpet as an EP on one of the African films, Bridget Pickering back in full force with Elan Gamaker’s home invasion thriller, Cait Pansegrouw and Elias Ribeiro in support of their myriad of African projects, Carolyn Carew with new projects to pitch, Maynard Kraak on the hunt for investors and I even saw Ryan Haidarian dashing to a meeting.

With the Copyright Bills hanging over our heads – are we all dancing on the decks of the Titanic? Hopefully someone is going to see sense and rescue us.

Francois Verster caught up with me for a champagne on the last day and talked about the 19 levels of Cannes – how at one level the hedge funds and debt funds were out in full force while at another the Indies lamented the WGA strike and the more cataclysmic SAG strike which is already shutting down films – before the strike has even started.

Sales agents talked of shrinking theatrical, and smaller sale prices from streamers while at another level Jeff Bezos and his girlfriend sailed in on their US$500 million yacht to attend Martín Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon”. Are we seeing our return to feudal times where we all scrabble around to earn our meagre crust in films we love while the 0.01% become our new aristocracy, with us as their desperate playthings?

It brought to mind the JG Ballard book “Super-Cannes” in which the protagonist says, “The consumer society hungers for the deviant and unexpected – psychopathy is the only engine powerful enough to light our imaginations, to drive the arts, sciences and industries of the world.”

In the end, though, what shone through this Cannes, were the movies, with rave reviews for Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City”, Todd Haynes “May December”, Pedro Almodóvars’ “Strange Way of Life”, Jonathan Glazers “The Zone of Interest”, Hirokazu Koreeda’s “Monster” and Africa’s own Ramata Toulaye Sy with “Babel and Adama” — we have all been blessed once again with incredible offerings from the film gods that we can sit and enjoy over the coming year.

Here’s to South Africa coming back to the Red and Blue carpets with a bang. A Luta Continúa!