Cannes Film Festival board elects Iris Knobloch as first female president

UPDATED: After several hours of heated debate, Iris Knoblockthe former head of WarnerMedia France and Germany, has been elected by the board of directors of the cannes film festival become its first female president, Variety has learned. Starting July 1 for a three-year term, Knobloch will succeed Pierre Lescure, who was re-elected for the third time in June 2020 and plans to step down after the next edition.

The German-born, Paris-based executive was chosen by the board of directors of the Association Française du Festival International du Film, which brings together public authorities and film industry professionals, amid much controversy in France. The festival confirmed the news Wednesday night through a press release, saying the election was held by secret ballot, as usual.

Knobloch resigned from WarnerMedia in June 2021 after a 25-year tenure in various leadership roles. Before leaving the company, he oversaw the strategy and marketing activities of WarnerMedia France, Benelux, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Shortly after, he launched a $300 million European special-purpose acquisition company with powerful backers, including French billionaire businessman Francois-Henri Pinault, who runs the luxury brand Kering, an official sponsor of the Cannes Film Festival.

During his tenure at WarnerMedia, Knobloch played a crucial role in getting Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist” into competition at Cannes in 2011 before it went on to win five Oscars. She was one of the committee members for this year’s Oscars in France, along with the director of the Cannes Film Festival. Thierry Fremaux.

“As a sincere European, I have always championed cinema throughout my career, both in France and internationally, and I am delighted to be able to give everything to keep this global event influential,” said Knobloch, who described Cannes as “a great event that is key to keeping alive the cultural life of a world that, more than ever, desperately needs it”.

Although Knobloch may be open to platforms returning to the festival under certain conditions, she remains a strong advocate for the theatrical experience. “A feature film seen in a theater remains a key artistic expression and the Cannes Film Festival, with its unique selection, shows the way every year,” she said.

“I am looking forward to starting a collective discussion with the Board of Directors, General Delegate Thierry Frémaux and all the actors in the film industry to build on what has been achieved and chart future history in light of new challenges. is coming,” Knobloch added.

Commenting on the election result, Fremaux said Knobloch’s arrival “will help strengthen the festival’s resolve to stay as close to its beliefs as possible.”

“We have many challenges ahead and we will do everything we can to ensure that cinema, and the festival that embodies it, takes the position it deserves while firmly asserting its artistic and political necessity,” said Fremaux.

While he will continue to spearhead all creative decisions and discussions with international actors and filmmakers, having a former American studio executive like Knobloch as president of Cannes could help attract more Americans to premiere their films on the Croisette.

Ahead of the election, a segment of French industry, including members of the Cannes board, signaled a potential conflict of interest due to the acquisition of Knobloch’s company, which he launched last year and is set to invest in the industries. of entertainment and leisure. While presiding over Cannes, Knobloch will continue to spearhead the banner but has pledged not to invest in any film-related assets that may have a connection to Cannes, according to an industry source.

Others have expressed concern that Cannes should be chaired by a French citizen. Lastly, some people have pointed out that Knobloch had been pushed by high-profile figures linked to the French government, notably Dominique Boutonnat, the president of the National Film Board who is still under formal investigation for an alleged sexual assault.

However, it is not the first time that a French executive has obtained a position of high power with the support of the highest political circle in the country. Lescure, a resourceful journalist and high-profile media executive who co-founded the Canal Plus pay-TV group in 1984, was close to then-president Francois Hollande when he took the reins of the festival in 2014. The festival was previously chaired by Gilles Jacob during 13 years.

The Cannes Film Festival will announce the Official Selection for its 75th edition on April 14.

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