French Industry Relieved By Cesar Board Resignation: ‘We Want More Democracy’

Elsa Keslassy

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The bombshell news about the resignation of the governing board of the Cesar Academy, which distributes France’s equivalent of the Oscars, was greeted with relief within the French film world on Friday.

On the heels of an industry-wide backlash, the 21-member board of the Association for the Promotion of Cinema – the organization overseeing the Cesar Academy – revealed on Thursday evening that it will resign following the Cesar Awards ceremony on Feb. 28.

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Among those resigning is Alain Terzian, a French producer who presides over both the Cesar Academy and the Association for the Promotion of Cinema, as well as former Cannes president Gilles Jacob.

“Their resignation is going to give us the opportunity to rewrite the status of the Cesar’s, which appear to be completely outdated,” “Polisse” actor Marina Fois told the French radio France Info on Friday. Fois is one of 400 film figures who signed a petition calling for a complete shake-up of the Cesar Academy earlier this week.

“What we want is more democracy, more transparency, diversity and parity…these demands are overdue,” she said.

The petition – which was also signed by actors Omar Sy and Lea Seydoux, “Elle” producer Said Ben Said and directors Michel Hazanavicius, Eric Toledano, Jacques Audiard, Arnaud Desplechin and Olivier Nakache – argued the Cesar’s needed to align itself on other major film ceremonies such as the BAFTAs and the European Film Awards which are more “democratic” because members can elect the board members of their Academy, and are being consulted on key decisions.

The National Film Board (CNC) and France’s culture minister Franck Riester also reacted favourably to the Cesar board’s decision to resign.

The CNC said it has already started talks with potential new board members, and will soon be ready to take the first steps to reform the operating model and governance of the awards. A meeting is set for the end of March to vote on a new status that will aim to expand the membership, recruit a greater diversity of members and achieve gender parity within the board of the Academy, among other measures.

Although the backlash has been linked to the 12 Cesar nominations earned by Roman Polanski’s “An Officer and a Spy,” it appears a conflict was already boiling over for several years with prominent members of the Cesar Academy who blamed Terzian for cultivating a system deemed closed-off, as well as lacking inclusiveness and transparency, according to several sources.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve come to this point, that it took the entire profession to stand up in order to square this opacity which should have been a given,” says Caroline Benjo, the founder of the production and distribution banner Haut et Court.

Jean Labadi, founder of distribution company Le Pacte, says the blame must fall on the leadership of the Cesar board, rather than the Cesar voting system that allowed Polanski to garner so many nominations.

The tipping point around this week’s turmoil came during the Revelations dinner, a gala event hosted by the Cesar Academy on Jan. 13 to promote emerging talent, during which director Claire Denis and writer Virginie Despentes were shut out, even though they had been chosen as mentors by two actors. According to the event’s rules, those chosen as mentors are invited to attend and make a speech.

Several actors and directors, including Fois and “The Artist” helmer Hazanavicius, Cedric Klapisch, Robin Campillo and Louis Garrel, voiced their discontent during the dinner.

Ahead of the event, the French directors guild had sent a long statement addressed to Terzian claiming that the incident was symptomatic of the opacity and discriminatory actions perpetrated by the Cesar Academy.

Terzian sent an apology the same night, but it wasn’t enough to appease the situation. It has emerged, as well, that Terzian is also at the centre of several media investigations in France. Contacted by Variety, Terzian’s spokesperson declined to comment.

The Cesar Academy was approached last year by the advocacy group 50/50 for 2020 to sign a pledge similar to the one signed by all major international film festivals, starting with Cannes in 2018. However, those discussions fell flat, according to an industry source.

Back then, the country had not yet embraced the global cultural shift that has stemmed from the #MeToo movement.

Sandrine Bauer, a leading member of 50/50 for 2020, tells Variety it’s no surprise the downfall of the Cesar Academy and its opaque system comes less than three months after actor Adele Haenel came forward to accuse the now-indicted director Christophe Ruggia of having sexually harassed her when she was a child.

“The tide has changed ever since (Haenel) spoke out,” says Bauer. Beyond accusing Ruggia, Haenel also denounced the mechanism of impunity and omertà that are so prevalent in our society and especially in the film industry.

Questioned about the nominations for Polanski’s film, Bauer says the organization didn’t blame the Cesar Academy, but admitted that they did raise questions about who votes and how.

“It reflects an old world…a biased perspective leading to inequalities and encouraging the silence,” reads a statement from the organization sent to Variety. “There is a new world that is unafraid to open up to youth, to women, to diversity.”

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