CANNES, France – Short films made with TikTok have yet to be seen on the big screen at the Grand Théâtre Lumière, but last week the video app was still accused of a Cannes faux pas: trying to influence a jury’s decisions.
In March, TikTok announced that it would be an official partner of the Cannes Film Festival this year. Thierry Frémaux, the festival’s artistic director, was quoted as saying the collaboration was “part of a desire to diversify the festival’s audience”. Billboards reading “Ceci n’est pas un film, c’est un vidéo TikTok” tower above the awnings opposite one of the main cinemas here.
TikTok also announced a competition for short films made using its app. Although not an official festival event, the competition had a jury led by Cambodian-born filmmaker Rithy Panh, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime and a Cannes regular with films such as The Missing Picture and Exile was present.
But Panh quit as jury president on Wednesday, he said, two days before the awards show, only to return to his role on Friday morning, hours before the awards show. Panh said via email that he resigned because TikTok “appeared to want to influence our decision on the awardees,” and that he returned to his post when the company agreed to respect the jury’s verdict.
“Your world, it’s not the art world,” Panh said in an interview later Friday afternoon while sitting on a couch on the terrace of the beachfront restaurant where he and his four fellow judges had just presented the awards.
Though Panh declined to name names, he said some TikTok employees wanted to pick other winners from the judges’ shortlist. It was “several people from TikTok,” he said. “One or two were very aggressive, very stubborn, very closed off.”
TikTok issued a statement that seemingly traced all problems to common disagreements in picking winners. “As with any creative competition where the selection of a winner is subject to subjective interpretation, there may be artistic disagreements by the independent jury,” the statement said.
Even after receiving a guarantee that the jury’s decisions would be respected, Panh said his first instinct was not to return to the jury. But he said he ultimately came back for the filmmakers. Some, he added, have even traveled to Cannes from Japan or New Zealand. “You just can’t break her dream, you know?”
Friday’s ceremony was moderated by social media personality Terry LTAM, who asked the judges about their experiences watching the shorts. Sudanese filmmaker Basma Khalifa said the judging process changed her perspective on the platform. “I don’t think I gave TikTok enough credit for how much you can do with it,” she said.
Filmmakers from 44 countries submitted films to the competition, all between 30 seconds and three minutes long. Two directors shared the top prize: Mabuta Motoki from Japan, whose film featured a man meticulously building a wooden tub, and Matej Rimanic, a 21-year-old Slovenian director, who submitted a comedic black-and-white short film starring two people you can see flirting with a paper plane. Rimanic said that working on social media platforms sparked his desire to make films.
“I started posting videos on Vine, then I went to Instagram and then came TikTok, so I started posting on TikTok,” he said in an interview shortly after receiving his award, a gold-colored statuette in Shape of TikTok logo. “During this transition of posting videos to social media, I discovered my love for filmmaking.”
It was his first time in Cannes, either to attend the festival or to visit the city. “I hope that one day I can come here with my feature film,” he said. “I only do comedy because the world needs more laughter.”