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The Cannes award winners are soon to be announced, but what really happens in the jury room?

Hannah McGill provides an insight into the inner workings of film festival juries

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The Cannes award winners are soon to be announced, but what really happens in the jury room?

As Cannes wraps up and Steven Spielberg's jury confer on who shall win the Palme D'Or, Hannah McGill gives an insight into the inner workings of film festival juries.

Film festival juries are variable beasts: some rigorously regulated, some sloppy; some amicable and some fiery as all hell. A few of my own experiences on juries around the world follow...

1. Festival 1. A fellow juror is a very elderly behind-the-scenes movie craftsman, with some classic films under his belt. At the start of the process he cheerily tells the rest of us that he hasn’t watched a new film in thirty years. The truth of this becomes apparent when he proves to be ABSOLUTELY HORRIFIED by digital cinematography and – most of all – by cameras that wobble and move around. After almost every screening, he is apoplectic. He gives us long lectures about the language of classical cinema, listing films that he thinks are better than the ones we are seeing. I plead with him to accept that the style he so despises is an accepted part of movie grammar now, and that we are simply not there to talk about films made in the 1940s. At the end of our process he produces a letter to the festival organisers expressing his horror at their willingness to encourage the use of modern cameras, and prevails upon his fellow jurors to sign it. None of us do.

2. Festival 2 initially seems very keen on protocol and preamble – so much so that the opening night ceremony starts at 7.30, but the film doesn’t start until half past midnight. Still, once our jury service begins, it is apparent that the festival organisers care little whether we see the films we are judging. No screenings or tickets have been organised for us. With some effort, and with the top brass rather baffled by our agitation, we secure screeners to watch in our rooms; but deliberation is hampered by the fact that we speak four different languages and no translator has been provided.

3. A fellow juror at Festival 3 is from an orthodox religion. I have an interesting discussion with him about sexual morality and women’s rights, in the course of which he tells me that he expects his wife to be veiled, that it was important that she was a virgin when they married, and that my own unwed and unveiled lifestyle makes me “a sinner”. Imagine my surprise when, at the closing night party, his hand finds its way on to my bottom.

4. Festival 4. I share jury duties with a fantastically highly-strung individual who can’t make up her mind about anything. After our decision has been made and filed with the organisers, she calls the rest of the jury one by one, in tears, claiming that we have made the wrong choice and have to reconsider EVERYTHING. (We talk her down.)

5. A very important intellectual is on the jury with me at Festival 5. He dislikes frivolity: he does not drink, or eat meat, and nor does he smile, not even once. When we deliberate, instead of participating in the discussion, he brings out slips of paper bearing incredibly neat handwritten notes and reads them aloud. He is terrifying and to this day I shudder when I see his name.

6. I am on the other side of the equation, as an organiser. At lunch, I’m introduced to an eminent member of the jury. With no pleasantries of the “hello” or “thanks for having me” kind, he names a low-budget, first-time feature the jury has watched. Why, he enquires, is such a “piece of s**t” in the competition? I explain that we obviously don’t think it’s a piece of s**t, but that we do privilege work that’s independently made, and thus can have low production values. This, I remind him, is how people get started. (I don’t add “before they enter your lovely slick world of big budgets and Hollywood stars”.) “It was a waste of my time,” he says. Then he turns away from me, to talk to the person at his other side. What a guy. Did his last film flop horribly? Goodness, I couldn’t possibly comment on that.

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