Iris Knobloch, Cannes’ First Female President, Talks Streamers, Fest Controversies: ‘Creating Debates Is One of the Festival’s Roles’
“Can you believe it took 75 years to nominate a woman as the president of the Cannes Film Festival?” Iris Knobloch asks, reflecting on her 2022 appointment as the fest’s top executive.
Known for her strong will, the chic, charismatic German is used to being a rare woman in power — she essayed various roles at the top of WarnerMedia in Europe for 25 years, where she cultivated relationships with such Hollywood players as Warner Bros. Discovery consultant and former Disney chief Alan Horn, filmmakers Christopher Nolan and Todd Phillips, Amazon Studios and MGM film head Courtenay Valenti and Amazon Studios marketing chief Sue Kroll.
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“I love to point out that each time a woman comes into light, it’s a small step for men and a big leap for the other half of humankind,” she says.
Sitting in the festival’s Paris offices, Knobloch describes her Cannes role as the “legal and moral authority of the festival — the temple’s guardian.” She wears her confidence like perfume. “Women too often question their legitimacy and tend to censor their own ambition,” she says. “So I hope this nomination can inspire women to think big and fulfill their dreams.”
It’s fitting that Knobloch’s strongest memory of the Cannes Film Festival is the 2011 world premiere of “The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius’ black-and-white love letter to Hollywood. Knobloch, who started her career as a lawyer at Warner Bros. in L.A., notes that she brought the film to Cannes as head of Warner France. It ended up winning five Oscars. “I remember sitting in the Lumiere Auditorium,” she says. “Since it was a silent movie, it was quite stressful as I could hear every noise the audience would make. I kept wondering, ’Is it a good or a bad sign?’ And then once the end credits started rolling, we had one of the longest standing ovations — almost 20 minutes. It was magical.”
Knobloch says that presiding over the festival is more than a job; it’s a commitment that comes “full circle,” allowing her to use everything she’s learned during her professional career. From her experience working at Warner Bros., she says, she gained a “profound understanding of the American and European cultures. This ability to act as a bridge between those two cultures is going to help me a lot,” she says.
Having attended Cannes as a studio executive for more than two decades is helpful, too, Knobloch says. “The first time I went to Cannes was in 1998. And for all those years, I experienced it from the other side — I participated in discussions about whether or not to bring a film to Cannes, and I know the commitment that takes, the concerns and anticipation it can trigger,” she says.
With studios and streamers recently pledging to invest in the theatrical experience, Knobloch says the momentum is ripe for her to take the helm of the festival. “The public and films are back in theaters,” she says. “The debate that pitted streaming services and movie theaters against each other is in the past. This year’s selection mirrors this new era for the festival.” Knobloch cites such streaming giants as Apple and Amazon, which are “dedicating important investments for theatrical releases.”
When Knobloch was appointed to her post last year, people suspected that, in order to placate such key streamers as Netflix, she would revamp the festival’s rule that prohibits films vying for a Palme d’Or from bypassing a theatrical launch in France. But Knobloch says she has no intention of pushing for that reform. “Of course, that’s an issue I pondered last year. But the debate has totally changed. The Cannes Film Festival can be proud of having always carried the torch in favor of cinema,” she says.
What’s her take on a giant like Netflix, which famously doesn’t screen its films theatrically in France, and thus is locked out of the Cannes competition due to the fest’s rules? “We respect their position,” she says.
Cannes is often the center of controversy, and this year could hear some grumblings over the inclusion of Maïwenn’s “Jeanne du Barry,” starring Johnny Depp (both director and star have been involved in court cases) and Catherine Corsini’s “Le Retour” (which included accusations of inappropriate behavior during production). But Knobloch says, “Creating debates is one of the festival’s roles.
“A festival is a reflection of society. I find it healthy to disagree and to discuss important topics that are raised by certain films. We’re never seeking the easy way.”
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