Charles Rivkin Remarks at Cannes Film Festival 2024 for Social Impact Panel Event

May 17, 2024

The Power of Film – Creating Social Impact through Storytelling”

Remarks as Delivered by MPA Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Stan, for that generous introduction.

Mesdames et Messieurs, chers Dirigeants et Représentants de l’industrie audiovisuelle internationale, chers amis, bon après-midi. C’est toujours un réel plaisir pour moi de revenir à Cannes et je suis particulièrement honoré de m’adresser à vous aujourd’hui.

Depuis 77 ans, Cannes est un des festivals du cinéma les plus emblématiques du monde. Un festival où nous voyons de nouveaux talents, des réalisateurs établis et où nous avons l’occasion d’avoir des échanges sur des sujets importants et des défis cruciaux auxquels notre industrie est confrontée.

Je me joins à mon collègue Stan pour remercier nos amis de la FIAPF et de l’IFTA d’avoir co-organisé cette importante table ronde.

Ladies and gentlemen: what an honor to be back at the Cannes Film Festival – one of the world’s greatest celebrations of film and its capacity to inspire. Of creators and their ability to move. Of audiovisual mastery and its power to enrich our culture, strengthen our economies, and lift up our lives.

Every time I return to Cannes, I feel energized. Because I get to see the unending promise, the breathtaking innovation, the stunning ideas, and the remarkable people fueling our industry every day.

Because I get a chance to appreciate, all over again, why our work at the Motion Picture Association matters; what movies and shows mean to those who make them and those who watch them; what we can do, in this sector, to effect change through our creativity – to advance fairness, civility, justice through the magic of filmmaking.

That’s the focus of our panel today.

And it’s a cause that’s played a central role in my own life, going back to my mentor and the legendary creator of the Muppets, the late Jim Henson.

Now, sadly Jim Henson passed away 34 years ago this very day, and in fact, there’s a Ron Howard film on his life coming out, premiering here at Cannes this Saturday.

But Jim used to often say – and it always stuck with me – he said, “media, if used properly, could be an enormous source of good in the world.”

An enormous source of good in the world.

It sounds like such a simple concept, in a lot of ways. But it’s packed with far more meaning and purpose beneath the surface.

It’s a challenge.

It’s a call to action.

A reminder to consider how films can, and should, push the boundaries of storytelling and hold up a mirror to our society, bad and good, unfair and fair.

A summons to measure the success of film, television, and streaming in more than dollar figures or ratings or viewership numbers or ticket sales. But by less tangible factors: by the way a production sticks with us long after we leave the theater or turn off our television screen.

Are we still talking about it or even thinking about it – a movie or series – days later?

Did it both entertain and educate? Cause us to laugh and force us to think?

Did it leave us questioning our preconceived notions of right and wrong, just and unjust? Willing to confront the uncomfortable and contend with the unconscionable?

Are we mobilized to take what we saw about some period of history, some injustice in the present, some issue shaping our future – and act to correct or address it?

Are we angry? Are we shaken? Are we motivated? Are we moved?

And if we are any of those things, how can we channel that into progress, into a sense of purpose, into solutions across our society?

That focus – on translating storytelling into social impact – is infused throughout Cannes.

Just consider last year’s lineup: with Killers of the Flower Moon sharing the brutal truth about the treatment of the Osage Nation and Zone of Interest shining a bright light on the banality of evil.

And consider what’s on display this year:

Amazing titles like BirdDeed, and Polite Society.

A jury led by the extraordinary Greta Gerwig and Lily Gladstone and a diverse mix of voices from every corner of the cinematic world.

Showcases like Un Certain Regard, which brings us films with something to say, featuring 20 works with unusual styles and non-traditional stories, including eight first-time directors.

Examples abound. But the message is pretty clear:

Challenging audiences, shedding light on painful issues or powerful journeys, informing social change – this isn’t an exception here at Cannes. It’s a feature of the festival.

Yet it is not limited to what fills the screens during this week in France. Our entire industry has answered this bell repeatedly in this space – in Europe, in America, and around the world.

We’ve been moved by the miniseries Sam – A Saxon sharing the real-life story of East Germany’s first Black police officer.

We’ve been mesmerized by The Swimmers bringing us a compelling drama about Syrian refugees making their way to Europe.

We’ve had our eyes opened by Naked. Loud. Proud, focusing on the Polish drag queen and burlesque communities.

We’ve been challenged by the life-and-death questions of nuclear war posed by Oppenheimer; by the difficult legacies of history films like Napoleon; and if we’re going back a few years, by the searing realities of the climate crisis in the landmark work, and ultimately prescient work, An Inconvenient Truth.

All of this just scratches the surface of the ways our studios and our creative community share stories that are meant to make us wonder and want to do more.

On top of that, this isn’t a momentary trend for us. This is part of a long-term commitment to giving back. To growing a sector that reaches across cultural and political divides and serves as a source of identity and expression. To raising up the next generation of dynamic artists, students, educators, workers, and beyond.

Across leaders in this field, there are programs and coalitions – too many, quite frankly, to list right now on stage – investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the talent pool in the industry; give meaning to promises of diversity, equity, and inclusion; improve gender parity; grow training efforts; and much more.

And let’s remember: doing all of this isn’t just a way of making us feel better about ourselves. It’s about how we can strengthen economies, communities, workforces, and businesses.

Whenever we bring productions to Europe, the Motion Picture Association members spend an average of 29 million Euros per film, and that includes 11 million Euros in local wages and over 1,100 jobs for local workers.

When we make a major motion picture anywhere in Europe, that film injects 1.3 million Euros into the local economy. And the people that get that 1.3 million are not just the stars and famous people that walk the red carpet.

We’re talking about ouvrier. We’re talking about construction workers and electricians. We’re talking about caterers and hairdressers. It impacts communities large and small.

Whenever we, at the MPA, meet with government leaders on this continent and elsewhere to advocate on behalf of our industry, we’re working to open more doors for filmmakers of every stripe, to bring meaningful stories onto screens large and small.

Whenever we do our jobs right in this industry, whenever we use media properly, as Jim Henson said, the results see film and television achieve what they do at their finest:

Fire our imaginations.

Connect us across borders, communities, and cultures.

Transform into that enormous source of good in the world.

That’s the power of film.

That’s what it means to create social impact through storytelling.