Conflict of Interest Taints 2019 Cannes Palme d’Or Award for The Distance Between Us and the Sky by Vasilis Kekatos

Categorized as Alleged Conflict of Interest, Community Posts Tagged , , ,

Key Figures Connected in Award-Winning Greek Film


NOTE: The claims made on this page are based on public production credits and information, with sources and screenshots provided at the bottom of this page.

Article summary:

1) A multi year relationship between Vasilis Kekatos and Wim Vanacker, a selection committee member in Cannes. This relationship goes back to 2018 and includes exchanges of favors in both directions as detailed below.

2) The fact that Eleni Kossyfidou, the producer of ‘The Distance Between Us and the Sky’, is also the producer of Panos H. Koutras, a jury member in the committee awarding the Palme d’Or.

3) Kossyfidou was not introduced in Cannes to the other filmmakers as the producer of the film. Her credit as a producer was not added to the film’s Wikipedia page until 2021, two years after the festival concluded. This may indicate an effort to conceal her involvement.

4) In a screening in Paris after the festival Koutras had told several directors that during jury deliberation he had “pushed their films out of consideration.” (Film Industry Watch obtained a sworn statement.)

5) From the same event in Paris, there is a voice recording of a director telling Koutras the following: “I told you that I don’t have my wallet on me, because I was wearing a dress.” This was a reply to Koutras saying that during the festival he had told the other directors that “he could be bribed.” The voice recordings are below.

In the same recording Koutras is heard saying that he “very much opposed several films” and that he was alone in those views.

In other words, the way in which Koutras had, allegedly, engineered the win was not only by supporting Kekatos’ film, but objecting the other films, removing them from consideration, ensuring the win of his producers film by the elimination of the other films. This is backed by a voice recording of Koutras, admitting this in his own voice.

6) The fact that in 2018, out of 7000+ entries, a short film (‘Gabriel’) produced by a selection committee member was selected to the competition. The selection in 2019 of another short film (‘Parparim‘) in which a credited Producer is also an employee of the Cannes film festival. These create a pattern of lack of transparency and fairness spanning multiple years and multiple projects

7) Finally, another issue involving  Wim Vanacker which we reported on, also creating a pattern spanning multiple years, in the context of fairness and transparency, involving the same individuals, and in relation to multiple other issues and organizations.

The French producer of the film was Guillaume Dreyfus.
Article summary

Recording 1:

“I’m very sorry you didn’t wear it anymore.”

“I didn’t have my wallet, my phone… for the next time I know.”

This was said in relation to Koutras saying, “as a joke”, that he could be bribed.

Recording 2:

In reference to Claire Denis, head of the Jury, and other films:

Koutras: “In the end, she didn’t oppose, she listens to everything. But in the end…. I’m not going into details, because I was very against some films…. that… got there… very opposed, but I was alone [in these views]”

For clarity – there are two ways to influence the results of such event: A) promote the film that you would like to win or B) oppose the other possible contenders, leaving the film that you would like to win the only one in consideration.

In other words, Koutras, in his own words, admits to manipulating the result of the competition in favour of the film produced by his own producer, by being “very opposed” to other films. It would be very difficult to other jury members to insist on awarding a film that a fellow jury “very opposed” to, and by way of elimination, ensuring the win of The Distance Between Us and the Sky.

The article in detail:

Evidence suggests a conflict of interest marred the 2019 Cannes Film Festival’s Official Selection for Short Films, and the award itself. The Palme d’Or went to the Greek short film ‘The Distance Between Us and the Sky,’ directed by Vasilis Kekatos, produced by Eleni Kossyfidou.

Panos H. Koutras, a member of the festival’s short film jury, has had a professional relationship with Kossyfidou dating back to at least 2004 – she had produced all his film. In other words, the long time producer of the jury member, and of the winning film, is the same person.

Eleni Kossyfidou and Panos H. Koutras had previously been in Cannes with his feature film “Xenia” (2014), and later with “Dodo” (2022). Both are household names in the festival. In other words, it is unlikely that the festival did not know about this connection, and it is only logical to assume that Koutras, allegedly, was invited as a jury member to ensure that the award will be go to Kekatos. In an industry where nepotism is normalized, assuming otherwise could be considered as extremally naive.

In addition, In a post-festival screening event in Paris, Koutras told several other directors that he had “thrown their film out of consideration”, so they did not have any chance to be considered by the other jury members. Positioning Koutras as a jury member, rather than Head of the Jury, maintains plausible deniability.

In details – Conflict of Interest Exposed

The newly-uncovered conflict centers on Eleni Kossyfidou, producer of the award-winning film.

Kossyfidou has had a long-standing professional relationship with Panos Koutras, a Greek filmmaker who served on the Jury for the ‘Short Films’ section in 2019. Their collaboration dates back to 2004, with Kossyfidou having produced all of Koutras’ recent feature films, including “Dodo” (2022), “Xenia” (2014), and “Strella” (2009). Kossyfidou initially served as a Production Manager for Koutras’ 2004 film “Real Life.”

Notably, Kossyfidou produced Kekatos’ both films, the 2018 short film “The Silence of the Dying Fish,” in addition to the Palme d’Or-winning “The Distance Between Us and the Sky”

It is obvious that there was a clear financial incentive for Koutras to award the prize to a film that his own producer had produced, as it will attract funding for future projects.

Concealed Connections

The relationship between Kossyfidou, Koutras, and Kekatos was not disclosed during the festival and only recently came to light. Furthermore, it appears that deliberate attempts were made to conceal this conflict; Kossyfidou’s name was only added to the film’s Wikipedia page on July 8, 2021 – over two years after the festival concluded – despite Kossyfidou being the main producer of the film, in an obvious act of concealment. However, as mentioned above, it is reasonable to assume that the connection was known to the festival insiders.

During the event, sources report that Koutras ‘jokingly’ told the other directors who were up for the award that he “could be bribed” – a comment that now appears deeply ironic in the wake of these revelations.

Post-Festival Controversy

In a post-festival screening event in Paris, Koutras purportedly told several other directors that he had “thrown [their] film out of consideration.”  The decision to award “The Distance Between Us and the Sky” with the Palme d’Or surprised attendees and filmmakers alike, as the film was widely considered one of the weaker entries in the selection.

During the meeting Koutras had told the other directors that he “very opposed some of the things [films] and that he was alone in his opposing.” This was recorded and transcribed below:

This was said in reference to Claire Denis, head of the Jury, and other films: “In the end, she didn’t oppose, she listens to everything. But in the end…. I’m not going into details, because I was very against some …. films…. that… got there… very oppose.”

It would be very difficult to other jury members to insist on awarding a film that a fellow jury “very opposed” to, and by way of elimination, ensuring the win of The Distance Between Us and the Sky.

In addition, in the recording a director is heard saying that he “did not have his wallet on him, or his phone” which was said in relation to being told by Koutras, “as a joke”, that he “could be bribed”:

“I’m very sorry you didn’t wear it anymore.”

“I didn’t have my wallet, my phone… for the next time I know”

For context, it is worth noting that a staggering 98% of Greek citizens think corruption is “widespread” in their country, according to the latest European Union survey on the subject.

UPDATE:

Thanks to readers contribution, it has been revealed that the relationship between Cannes’ Selection Committee Wim Vanacker, the 2019 Palme d’Or winner Vassilis Kekatos, and the film’s producer, Eleni Kossyfidou, who is also the Producer of Cannes’ Jury member Panos H. Koutras, dates back to 2018, when Kekatos had invited Vanacker to serve as a Jury member in his self organized SeaNema Open Air Film Festival, along with Kossyfidou.

As detailed in Wim Vanacker, Ben Vandendaele – NISI MASA conflicts of interests, Kekatos had participated in NISI MASA with his 2018 short film “The Silence of the Dying Fish”, which was produced by Kossyfidou as well, when Vanacker served as Artistic Director of the organization. According to the 2018 news article linked below, Kekatos had invited Vanacker to serve as Jury member in a festival that he had organized and lead on Kefalonia Island, a festival which had been held for four years, but did not take place since Kekatos’ win in 2019.

Jury members for festivals typically receive payment for their service. At the very least, they are invited to the festival with personal expenses paid, with all travel and accommodation costs covered by the organizers. In other words, Kekatos allegedly compensated Vanacker, a member of the Cannes Film Festival selection committee, a full year before Kekatos’s film ‘The Distance Between Us and The Sky’ was chosen for the Cannes Official Selection, to then win the Palme d’Or under controversial circumstances, as the film’s producer had a longstanding professional relationship with one of the Jury members.

Implications for the Industry and Festival’s Integrity

This undisclosed conflict raises serious ethical questions about the Cannes Film Festival’s film selection and award process. In a high-profile event where hundreds of filmmakers compete for prestigious accolades, the necessity for unbiased judgment is paramount.

We remind our readers the case of Mélissa Malinbaum – a Cannes selection committee member who had produced a short film selected to the festival, and Dominique Welinski who holds multiple roles as well, as a producer and decision maker, in what seems like a conflict of interest at the festival and the industry at large.

The French producer of the film was Guillaume Dreyfus.

SOURCES:

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Sources:

Wikipedia article history (Difference between revisions) showing how the names of the producers were added only in 2021:

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Distance_Between_Us_and_the_Sky&diff=1032591270&oldid=904440713

All screenshots takes from public resources:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10214916/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8791506/

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3187519/

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3267450/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Distance_Between_Us_and_the_Sky

https://greekreporter.com/2022/07/20/greeks-believe-corruption-widespread/

4 comments

    1. These people are the worst of the film industry… and humanity really. Keep doing the good work and exposing these charlatans.

  1. This is peanuts. Tarantino awards Palm d’or for Michael Moore. Who produced? The Weinstein Company. The selection process is always arbitrarian and nepotistic.

  2. Talking about cinema and Greece is a joke…was always a joke..and I ve been working in the industry since 2001..not anymore thank you! I m out of the gang

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