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Gilles the tireless

By ALI NADERZAD - April 12, 2010 (Paris)

As dean of the Cannes Festival Gilles Jacob would be expected to handle stars like we handle a road well traveled. Sharp turns are cleared without effort and intersections negotiated with eyes closed. Casualness should be a given for the president of the festival since every night for almost two weeks in May he stands at the top of the Lumière theatre steps to greet the casts and directors of the Selection films. “Ah, there’s Brad and Angelina, here comes Hou Hsiao Hsien chain-smoking again, and following behind him is Danny Boon. Beau travail, Danny!” But as a matter of fact, Jacob still has the enthusiasm of a first day on the job. And like any star-struck fan, he carries a point-and-shoot digital camera to take pictures. The result is "Livre D'Or," just off the press in France (Editions Du Seuil, Paris).

Here’s what Jacob told me when I asked him whether his photographs helped to continue the myth of the star or not. “My photographs have always celebrated the star as myth; I’ve worshipped stars for as long as I can remember. At the same time, I try to get them to smile in order to reconnect the myth with the intense humanity that lies beneath it. And it hasn’t been difficult to do so. I wait on the red-carpeted steps for them to move forward, to come closer, playing with the photographers, minding the stairs, and, just as they look up, attentive to the fact that I will be there to welcome them, I take out my little digital camera and, at least the first time around, they burst out laughing in surprise (like for example Sharon Stone, who’s known me well ever since I showed “Basic Instinct” as the opening film of the 1992 festival; pictured in sidebar)”.

Even though digital photography can be forgiving, timing is everything.”Where movement is concerned,” Jacob adds, “one moment before or one moment after the action, it’s an image: right at the magical moment, it’s a photograph.”

Jacob, whose favorite photographer is Henri Cartier-Bresson, has flirted with the idea of being a photographer most of his life but as he says in his own words once digital point-and-shoot cameras arrived, he was hooked. About half of ‘Le Livre d’Or’ includes photos from the Cannes Film Festival, which Jacob has presided over since 1977. The rest of the book includes a heterogeneous mix of Parisian street life, portraits of passers-by and rural scenes. In his photographs of Paris, displayed here in all its splendor, bridges often star, and for good reason. They both anchor and enhance the city of light.

I asked him whether behind the camera he considered himself an artist, a journalist or a documentarist. “I am most definitely a journalist, perhaps a documentarist and maybe one day an artist,” was his answer. “I try to capture life or, rather, moments in life, by ‘stealing’ images at random as I make my way down the street, framing, lighting, vision, have to adjust instinctively.”

“Le Livre d’Or” is also an experiment in democracy, as Jacob has shown solidarity with the people he helps to celebrate every year during the festival. David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Atom Egoyan and Fanny Ardant, among others, were asked for a reaction to the images Jacob snapped and their responses, at times lyrical and surprising, were inserted below each published photograph. Even "Book of Illusions" author Paul Auster weighs in.

Juliette Binoche and Abbas Kiarostami, two of the most iconic representatives of the current cinema, respectively wrote the foreword and preface to the book. The two recently teamed up for a new movie called ‘Copie Conforme’ which Screen Comment is guessing will be included in the Selection this year. Kiarostami won the Palme D’Or in 1997 for ‘Taste of Cherry.’

When asked whether the book will be available in the U.S., Jacob told me, “the rights haven’t been sold yet for publication in the States, but after this interview, I’m more hopeful that they will.”(additional image in sidebar gallery courtesy of Gilles Jacob. Although it isn't yet clear when "Le Livre D'Or" will be sold in the U.S. Jacob's other book "Citizen Cannes" is available from booksellers and retail websites from publisher Robert Laffont)

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