The 66th edition of the Festival de Cannes begins this Wednesday, May 15, and runs through Sunday, May 26. Independently organized side events, Directors’ Fortnight and International Critics’ Week, begin Thursday and end on Sunday and Friday, respectively. Frankly speaking, Cannes doesn’t embrace nonfiction. Out of the nearly hundred feature films presented this year, only twelve are docs, and, of those, three are retrospective works. Defenders crow about the organizers’ discerning eyes, but I refuse to believe that there are fewer than a dozen new documentaries out there that are strong and worthy of the platform that these events could provide. At the same time, doc makers know that Cannes isn’t really a place that regularly champions nonfiction the way it does fiction, so perhaps they keep the cycle going by not bothering to submit. That said, here’s a brief overview of the ones that will be screened this month:
Four are part of Cannes’ Official Selection. None are part of the Competition, but one is in Un Certain Regard: Rithy Panh’s meditation on the Khmer Rouge, L’IMAGE MANQUANTE (THE MISSING PICTURE). Another is Out of Competition: Documentary master Claude Lanzmann’s LE DERNIER DES INJUSTES (THE LAST OF THE UNJUST) (pictured), a revisitation of the director’s 1975 interviews with the last President of the Jewish Council of Elders in Czechoslovakia’s Theresienstadt ghetto, and a return to the Theresienstadt in 2012 to explore its past. The final two docs are part of the Special Screenings: James Toback’s SEDUCED AND ABANDONED, a meta-doc about veteran filmmakers and actors attending last year’s Cannes and seeking support for their next projects; and Frank Simon’s rarely-seen film from 1971, WEEKEND OF A CHAMPION, in which the film’s producer, Roman Polanski, spends a weekend with Formula 1 racing champion Jackie Stewart – who have an onscreen reunion for a forty-year-later postscript.
Another five titles are part of Cannes’ special Cannes Classics selections. Three are in the utilitarian named “Documentaries” sidebar: Diego Galán’s CON LA PATA QUEBRADA (pictured), on nine decades of women in Spanish cinema; Mark Cousins’ A STORY OF CHILDREN & FILM, an essay film about the interplay of childhood and cinema; and Treva Wurmfeld’s SHEPARD & DARK, which premiered at Toronto last year, but which was produced by Joanne Woodward, subject of this year’s festival poster. Of the fest’s twenty “Restored Prints,” two are docs: Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme’s 1963 LE JOLI MAI (THE LOVELY MONTH OF MAY), which consists of interviews with Parisians just after the end of the Algerian War; and Youri Ozerov, Milos Forman, Mai Zetterling, Claude Lelouch, Arthur Penn, Michael Pfleghar, John Schlesinger, and Kon Ichikawa’s 1973 VISIONS OF EIGHT, an omnibus portrait of the 1972 Munich Olympics, which went on to win the Golden Globe for Best Documentary in 1974.
There are only three films in the parallel events – all in Directors’ Fortnight, none in International Critics’ Week. Frank Pavich’s JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (pictured), a look at the doomed 1974 adaptation of the scifi novel by the renowned Chilean/French director; Marcel Ophuls’ UN VOYAGEUR (AIN’T MISBEHAVIN), the reflections of the director on cinema and his collaborators; and Kaveh Bakhtiari’s L’ESCALE, a personal exploration of the experiences of a group of undocumented Iranians in Athens.