Cannes, France - In addition to the filmmakers,
the deal-makers, and the glitz and glamour of the annual Cannes
Film Festival, there are also film curators whose work consists
of seeing as many films as possible. One such attendee at this
year’s fest, which ran from May 12-23, was Adrienne Mancia, curator-at-large
for BAM’s Rose Cinemas and BAMCinematek.
Born in Bushwick, Mancia came to BAM after 35 years as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. She’s been coming to Cannes since 1969, and was on the jury for the first Camera d’Or prize (award for best first feature-length film) in 1978.
But how, exactly, did she become a film curator? The job didn’t even exist a couple of generations ago. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in English Literature, Mancia traveled to Europe where she was introduced to contemporary world cinema.
Her cinematic education continued when she returned to the United States.
"Back in New York City I discovered Cinema 16, one of the original independent art cinema houses in the city," she told GO Brooklyn in an interview at a small bistro on a quiet side street in Cannes, where she grabbed a quick bite before her next screening.
She spent a lot of time at Cinema 16 as a member, seeing more European films before she went to work for a small distribution company, Contemporary Film, where she released French New Wave films, films from the National Film Board of Canada and others. She’s been putting her considerable expertise to use at BAM since August 1998; its Rose Cinemas opened three months later.
So what exactly does she do at the festival?
"I spend most of the time in the dark, watching movies," Mancia quips. When she’s not in a theater she can usually be seen, in her trademark tinted glasses and comfortable shoes, waiting on line to get into a screening.
The idea is to see as many films as possible, but also to meet with others in order to share information. Armed with both a press pass (which gets her into press screenings of films that take place before the public screenings) and a market pass (that gets her into everything else), Mancia looks at films in every section of the festival - those in competition (vying for the Palme d’Or), the Directors’ Fortnight, Critics’ Week and the curiously titled Un Certain Regard. (While it doesn’t really translate into English, it consists of films in the "official selection," but not eligible to compete for the Palme d’Or.)
Mancia sees three to four films each day with an eye towards programs she’s already working on, but also to get ideas for new programs. She also spends one morning in the festival’s market - that’s the business end of the festival - meeting with the heads of national film commissions from various countries around the world. Here she can get information on possible new programs, but also assistance with film series she already has in mind.
For example, Raymond Depardon and Wong Kar-Wai were recently honored with retrospectives at BAM and still have active film careers, both premiering new films at this year’s Cannes festival. Depardon’s documentary "The 10th Chamber," about a Parisian courthouse, was shown at a special "out of competition" screening, while Wong’s "2046," a futuristic film that curiously takes place in the past, made it to Cannes from the film lab just in the nick of time for its competition screening.
"One of the most important aspects of a film festival is the exchange of information," said Mancia. Curators and journalists can discuss the work they’ve seen after each screening, and at these informal debates one can also suggest other films for colleagues to see.
Mancia said, however, that it’s much more difficult to navigate the festival now than in the past.
"The connection with people is not as strong now," she said. Some of this has to do with the amount of films that are shown - and the amount of people who are trying to see them.
"You used to have time to meet colleagues for a drink at the Carlton Hotel terrace, or to have lunch with friends on the beach and discuss the films you’d seen. It was definitely more convivial. Now you see less films and have less time to talk, because you may have to wait on line for up to an hour in order to get into a screening."
Despite the frustrations of the current festival setup, Mancia still believes the festival is as important as ever.
"Cannes starts off the year in world cinema," she says. "You get a sense of what is happening in international cinema all over the world, and you see the new directors who are coming on the scene."
She adds that the festival basics are why she returns year after year.
"The documentation on the films is extremely valuable, the fundamental organization is great, and the film projection is top notch. All the technical aspects are marvelous."
That’s reason enough to put up with the crowds. So she’ll be back again next year, after she’s put the information she collected to work - on the screens of the BAM Rose Cinemas.
Marian Masone is the associate director of programming for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and chief curator of the New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center.