By Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
The Oscar-winning filmmaker spoke about being the festival’s first Mexican president in the Trump era.
Though the sun was bright and the Mediterranean sparkling on the first day of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, a political cloud loomed over Tuesday’s jury press conference. This year’s jury is headed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, making the Oscar winner the first Latin American filmmaker to do so in the festival’s 72-year history. Early on, Iñárritu was asked how he felt about the honor, especially given the divisive political climate in Donald Trump’s America—where, just last week, the Pentagon planned to re-allocate $1.5 billion for the construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Iñárritu said that the fact that he had been selected as jury president “is a statement in itself—how the real world really thinks.” Iñárritu also identified his 2017 virtual-reality art installation, Carne y Arena—which transported audiences into the body of a migrant crossing the Mexican-American border—as his most vivid response to the political climate. “For me, that work was a way to express how wrong, how cruel, how dangerous it is to be making those assessments and blaming the most fragile, the most poor . . . people in the world who are running from poverty, violence, and rape and basically in survival mode, risking their lives. People lose their lives and disappear in the sand,” said Iñárritu, who worked closely with actual migrants on the installation.
Politicians like Trump, Iñárritu said, “are basically ruling with rage and angriness . . . and are basically writing fiction and making people believe that those are facts. I am not a politician, but as an artist, I can express with an open heart what I think to be truthful [from working] with immigrants . . . The problem is ignorance. People do not know [their story], so it is very easy [for politicians] to manipulate them.” An international film festival like Cannes, Iñárritu argued, is a way for audiences to be transported into different cultures and see how others live.
“In the United States, or in Mexico—where you isolate nationalistically, people just identify with themselves, and it is a very dangerous thing,” Iñárritu said. “Because then we don’t consider the otherness.”
“I am against what is happening all around the world, and I expect that there will be something that happens that stops this dangerous thing. We know how this story ends if we keep with that rhetoric. . .We think we are evolving with technology and social media,” he continued, before alluding to the Twitter-happy U.S. president. “But it seems that every Tweet is a brick of isolation and attached ideological thinking, and it is creating a lot of isolation, and a lot of paranoia with it.”
In 2017, Iñárritu told Vanity Fair that he was inspired to create his virtual-reality project as a way to cut through the noise of politicized news reports and social-media posts.
“Before, you read something and you were touched by something. Now, you read it and and you go tick, tick,” the filmmaker said, gesturing as if scrolling on his cell phone. Virtual reality, he explained, “has an opportunity to get into your emotional intelligence, to talk to another layer of your consciousness. It’s different from the overwhelming way we are understanding the world.”
“I’m a true believer to watch is not to see a film,” the filmmaker said. “To watch is something; to see is another thing. To see is to not experience. Cinema was born to be experienced in a communal [setting].”
And though he said he has “nothing against watching [movies] on a phone, on an iPad, on a computer,” Iñárritu also said that watching a film on a smart screen is not the equivalent experience.
“Netflix is doing a great job. It’s great that they exist on TV,” he conceded. But “why not give people the choice to experience cinema?”
Iñárritu was flanked by the Cannes jury, which this year includes directors Yorgos Lanthimos, Kelly Reichardt, Robin Campillo, Paweł Pawlikowski, Enki Bilal, Maimouna N’Diaye, Alice Rohrwacher, and actress Elle Fanning.