Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Diary #2 - Dusty Oinks a Contract

by Harlan Jacobson

May 12, 1996

It was a vintage Dustin Hoffman performance: high-minded and a little lecherous all in one long breath.

Hoffman came to Cannes Friday, to announce a partnership with an Aussie outfit (Village Roadshow Productions) to permit Hoffman to produce six films each costing under $10 million. Hoffman took dead aim at Hollywood, saying "The films I've liked in the last few years have all been these independent, worldwide films."

In trying to greenlight "a shelf full of projects" that had been sent to his Punch Production company, he got frustrated with the Big Boys. "You take a small budget film to the agents and they all say 'A slam dunk,' and then you can't get the studios to do 'em because they say 'The project is uncommercial.'"

"Well," said the tan, fit Hoffman (a condition one British writer was at pains to compliment) "I challenge that assumption."

Asked by one female broadcast reporter if he was following Robert Redford's Sundance lead, Hoffman replied, " I'm not Redford. I don't have his business sense." Pause. "When you were out at Sundance," Hoffman winked, "did you have a date with him?"

Hoffman said he wanted to make films like "Il Postino" or those made by Chinese director Zhang Yimou ("Shanghai Triad", "To Live", "Judou"), whom he described as one of the two or three great directors in the world." Hoffman blamed the media in general and TV in particular for changing the film landscape: "Whenever it happened that boxoffice became more important than the film itself, and the media reportage combined with the public's ability to rent a video three months after a film came out and didn't do well," according to Hoffman, sealed the fate of serious film. "Perception of a film's worth is tied to how much it makes in the first weekend," he said, noting that the legendary "Jules and Jim" only made $200,000 when it came out 30 years ago.

While Hoffman denied that it was star salaries that caused the cost problem, he also let Hollywood off the hook, saying it was as disenchanted with the problem as he was. The trashing of the culture is a media problem also affecting "the nation's best newspapers, Hoffman said, responding to a question from the female reporter for the Washington Post, whom he called on using a bit of dialogue business from "All the President's Men" about "getting the job over 500 applicants." "Where'dja go, to Brown," he flirted. Back to the business of being a man who cares, Hoffman continued, "The Washington Post and New York Times are hanging on by their fingernails," and only barely resisting the slide toward "TV tabloid journalism."

Fed a question about literal-minded film critic Michael Medved's campaign to clean up Hollywood, Hoffman dismissed Medved as irrelevant and went on to excoriate the media's emphasis on violence, saying it affected "the worldwide global village from Scotland to Tasmania," recalling the recent massacres there. "It's commerce mixed with violence," said Hoffman, in a way he thought he'd never see. Tears positively welled up in the actor's eyes at this (Think "Small dog yanks baby from burning building, dies").

Cannes has changed since his first experience here for "Lenny" in 1974, Hoffman recalled. "I came and saw a porn producer who'd made a movie in which a woman has sex with a pig, and the producer was walking around Cannes - with the pig, and the pig was wearing a ribbon." (Not Babe's mother). Things have gotten worse, Hoffman continued. The man who drives Hoffman (no ribbon) around the city told him, "Twenty years ago you used to see Gary Cooper walking around Cannes, which was a little village with a film festival, but no more." Hoffman blamed TV for transforming Cannes into a marketplace.

Aside from Coop being dead 20 years ago, which probably caused a minor stir when he took his stroll on the lamented human-scale Croisette, Hoffman always has time for charm. He complimented another female reporter, "I really like your hair," and yet another "Hey, nice outfit!. I mean that."

Hoffman also plugged the afternoon screening of David Mamet's "American Buffalo," in which he stars. Not included in the official festival, the film screened in the market only for people in the business. The press was turned away.

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