Two acclaimed film festivals—San Sebastian and Karlovy Vary—are doubling down after being criticized for their support of beleaguered star Johnny Depp. San Sebastian announced its decision to give Depp a lifetime achievement honor, prompting an immediate backlash.
Spain’s Association of Female Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media issued a statement saying it was “very surprised” such a prestigious event would honor a man accused by his ex-wife Amber Heard of emotional and physical abuse.
In the U.S., Depp was swiftly ousted from Fantastic Beasts after losing a libel case against The Sun, in which he used them for referring to him as a “wife beater.” The court sided with the paper, citing substantial evidence. MGM also decided to not release Minamata in theaters following the ruling.
San Sebastian is doubling down. “The role of a film festival is not to judge the conduct of members of the film industry. The role of a film festival is to select the most relevant and interesting films of the year and to extend recognition to those who have made an extraordinary contribution to the art of film,” San Sebastian’s festival director José Luis Rebordinos tells The Hollywood Reporter.
He adds: “The San Sebastian Festival has been accused of failing to display ethical behavior in regard to violence against women. In the first place, as the director of and person holding the highest responsibility for the Festival, I would like to repeat our commitment to fighting inequality, the abuse of power, and violence against women. As well as meeting the commitments acquired in the Charter for Parity and the Inclusion of Women in Cinema, the festival has consciously promoted the presence of female professionals at the head of its departments. By means of its September program and throughout the year it participates in the questioning of society from a critical and feminist point of view. We have also endeavored to create safe atmospheres for women in the festival places of work and sites and, in the event of inappropriate behavior, which has occurred, we have taken tough and rapid action.”
In the current climate, where, he notes, “lynching on social media is rife” the San Sebastian Film Festival will “always defend two basic principles which form part of our culture and of our body of laws: that of the presumption of innocence and that of the right to reintegration.”
The Czech Republic’s Karlovy is also celebrating Depp and his “lasting legacy on the film industry globally.”
Observers wonder if this attempt to refurbish Depp’s legacy will work. Eric Schiffer, chairman of Los Angeles-based Reputation Management Consultants, a company that specializes in restoring or refurbishing the public reputation of prominent Hollywood and sports figures, tells THR: “The PR strategy of using high-level awards like this is to allow the talent’s brand to bask in a perception that he continues to remain relevant, that he was a top practitioner of his art and one worthy of esteem. The idea is to begin to create a different set of images in the minds of some who may have been affected by events with his former wife. It’s an effective strategy, it’s what I’d be advising him to do if he were my client.”
“The economics of his brand, the core foundation, his devoted army of loyal fans, is unlike almost any other brand out there today,” argues Schiffer. “That’s a power studio executives, behind the scenes, can’t and won’t disagree with. The festival awards give those executives some political cover and might help those who are on the cusp of deciding whether this is someone who is permanently canceled or someone who has put his crises behind him and is moving forward.”