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Opinion: Locked in a Room for 43 Hours with Strangers and I Loved It

Fresh from her stint as a judge in this year’s Cannes Lions Film Craft Jury, Jess Derby of BBDO Dublin, says she has a renewed respect and appreciation for the power of craft and creativity.

In March I was asked to join the Film Craft jury at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festivity of Creativity and with that comes huge responsibility.

Film craft is the stage of the creative process where some of the most magical moments in storytelling can happen, and judging it means looking for the onscreen artistic detail that elevates an idea into its final form.

As a producer, bringing the various elements of direction, cinematography, editing, vfx, music and sound design together to breathe life into an idea once scribbled on a page in a flash of inspiration, is what motivates and excites me every day.

That three-day experience alongside my fellow jurors—directors, producers and visual effects experts from America, Peru, Japan, Australia, Singapore, The Netherlands and Germany—was one of the most unforgettable, inspiring and humbling of my career to date.

The jury was led by Kim Gehrig, one of the most prolific directors of our time, and her phenomenal experience and passion for craft—along with her ability to guide and motivate us through some long days—made her the perfect Jury President.

From the get-go, she laid out the standards to which we would hold the work:

Bronze had to be faultless.

Silver, inspiring.

Gold, trailblazing.

Grand Prix, transcendent.

Unsurprisingly, the standard of work was nothing short of mind-blowing and that’s why it took us 43 hours to award 30 bronze Lions, 17 silver, 8 gold and finally, the Grand Prix.

Trends and insights were a plenty but four themes in particular stood out.

Firstly, longer-form entries dominated—some films ran well over 10 minutes—and in these cases, the importance of brilliant storytelling, engaging and rewarding the viewer was crucial. On occasion, myself and my fellow jurors needed a breather after such films, the storytelling so expertly crafted it left us utterly immersed.

Secondly, despite a wealth of data that proves the power of humour, we saw fewer comedic  pieces than we expected; a trend that was called out in a number of talks over the week on stage in the Palais, including one by BBDO’s Worldwide President and CEO, Andrew Robertson called, “But Seriously Though – Why We Need To Make People Laugh”.

Thirdly, films focussed on activism and social-purpose from all over the world were prevalent, with themes such as homophobia, gun violence, migration, the energy crisis and HIV awareness on show. Our diverse jury shared local knowledge and added cultural context to many of the themes explored which opened up some really interesting conversations over the few days of judging.

The final theme was that of blurred lines: there were times over the three days when I questioned what I was looking at; a commercial, a music video, a short film or poem.  I was quick to remind myself the medium didn’t matter but rather the message and however best way that was delivered is where true craft lies.

These themes led us to award our Grand Prix to PGLANG/ Kendrick Lamar’s, “We Cry Together”, a 5min 42sec single-take piece that, to Kim’s guidance on standards, transcended every other entry and brought together stunning cinematography, performances, direction and had us thinking hard about the craft, and future, of film-making.

Attending Cannes Lions is exciting, invigorating and inspiring.  Judging is all that and an honour.  The many months of remote judging culminating in three days with my extraordinary fellow judges has filled me up with a renewed respect and appreciation for the power of craft and creativity.

In an industry where people must come first, I take everything I’ve learned back home to share with my colleagues and clients to shape our work for 2024, because it’s in the detail, the magic happens.

Jess Derby is Head of Content & Production with BBDO Dublin


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