Former Connecticut senator Christopher Dodd has chaired the Motion Picture Association of America for barely over a year, but has already made his mark on the Cannes Film Festival, throwing a reception Sunday afternoon that marked the MPAA’s first such soiree in twenty years.
That was after spending a windy, rainy afternoon meeting with independent producers and distributors -- none of whom are members of the MPAA, which is the chief lobbying arm for the Big Six movie studios.
“Obviously I have a responsibility to the six studios, but I think my portfolio has to be a lot larger than that if I’m actually going to help the studios,” Dodd explained during a conversation in his suite at the buzzing Majestic Hotel. The industry thrives, he continued, “if independent films are doing well, if the guilds are doing well, if we all understand what are the common themes and the common points of interest that we all have to be working on, on behalf not only of the people working in this business, but on behalf of something that’s very important to the country.”
Independent studios also figure into one of Dodd’s biggest challenges during his tenure: getting a grip on piracy. “Thieves don’t discriminate,” he said, “and the independents are the first victims.” Closely related is the issue of emerging technology, a sector that the film industry butted heads with last winter when anti-piracy bills in the House and Senate were stalled after heavy petitioning from corporations like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Dodd insists that film and technology aren’t natural enemies.
“A person with five or six gadgets – iPads, iPods, BlackBerries, iPhones – goes to a theatrical movie on an average of 13 times a year,” he said, citing a Nielsen study. “The average U.S. citizen goes four. And it makes all the sense in the world if you think about it. … You don’t have gadgets for the sake of having a gadget, it’s your access to content. Content may be a map, a game or entertainment on film. So the theatrical experience is a gadget in some ways. It’s the surround-sound, 3-D, IMAX experience, [and] it’s a communal one. … The arrival of new platforms on an hourly basis, I think, creates incredible opportunities for content makers. Because you’re going to need that content. The Chinese can’t build theaters and not take content. You can’t make gadgets and not have access to content.”
Dodd arrived in Cannes fresh from brokering the agreement between distributor Harvey Weinstein and the MPAA’s ratings board regarding the documentary “Bully,” which initially received an “R” rating and, after Dodd’s intercession and editing of a few f-bombs, went into theaters with a PG-13. He’d only had time to take in one movie at the festival – the premiere of “Madagascar 3 – but he fondly remembered his very first Cannes movie experience. He’d just arrived last year – jet-lagged and brand new to navigating the hundreds of screenings, parties and panels – when someone told him about a movie he had to see. “I thought great, I come to Cannes and the first movie they send me to is a black and white silent movie,” he said, laughing. Of course, that movie was “The Artist,” “and I fell in love with it.”
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