Last week’s New Directors’ Showcase in Cannes was an epic cosmic celebration - 16 illuminated flying robot “quadrotors” danced in unison to ethereal electronic music from Oneohtrix Point Never, all set against a glowing, pulsating pink pyramid, as part of this year’s theme, “Meet Your Creator”.
The annual Saatchi & Saatchi event at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity used to just be about unearthing the best new filmmaking talent (Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry were featured early in their careers), but over the last two years, senior Saatchi creatives Jonathan Santana and Xander Smith have taken over the showcase and transformed the event itself into a definitive cultural landmark.
Dazed went to Cannes to meet the team behind the NDS, capturing the excitement, technical geekery and week of sleep deprivation that went into making this year’s mind-blowing show.
Dazed Digital: What are the ideas behind this year’s “Meet Your Creator” theme?
Xander Smith: From the beginning, the theme was the miracle of creation, almost like a church of likeminded spirits coming together.
Jonathan Santana: It’s this idea that everything is created from a single source, down to energy and enthusiasm, especially in creating things that seemingly aren’t possible, which also translates into our show. None of which would have been possible without Marshmallow Laser Feast.
Xander Smith: That’s why we also wanted to work with Oneohtrix Point Never, because there’s this grandeur to his music, but it’s always counterbalanced by moments of irony and lightness.
DD: Were there any cultural references that came into play?
Xander Smith: There’s a lot of stuff coming from L.A. and Brooklyn, like the bands with Not Not Fun. We’re really into that American scene, there’s some interesting stuff coming out there. I suppose we naturally incorporated that into what we wanted to do.
Jonathan Santana: There’s a beautiful simplicity to the whole arrangement and the sound. And everything in the entire project has been carried through in that way. Although the other side of it is complicated.
Xander Smith: Extremely complicated!
Jonathan Santana: But in essence, what you see is a pureness and a simplicity.
Xander Smith: And that’s reflected in the logo that Mark Farrow designed as well. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the show - the light, the vision and the esoteric angle.
DD: Did you have to deal with any challenges leading up to the event?
Xander Smith: The interesting thing is that we thought that it was going to be this super perfect presentation, but we found there had to be flaws in the show. It’s actually more endearing. It’s almost like parents watching their children on a school stage performing in a play and they’re making mistakes and you just want them actually to achieve their goal. The surprising thing is that you engage with these inanimate objects, these cold beings.
Jonathan Santana: I think another challenge is that when you’re dealing with technology on such a level, the boundaries aren’t ascertained yet so you don’t know how far you can push things. You’re taking such a massive risk and thinking, ‘oh please work’.
DD: Was there a moment when everything came together for you?
Jonathan Santana: For me, it was seeing that thing flying. Fuck the lights, fuck the music and everything else. That’s going to blow people away, just the sheer number of them. And yes, of course, the lights and everything else. But it’s that first connection that gave me such a great feeling. That’s insane.
Xander Smith: Mine was the moment when Oneohtrix’s music was just perfectly married to what you were seeing in front of you, so it was like the music was specifically created for these flying beings.
DD: Do you think that quadrotors will be everywhere in the future?
Xander Smith: Definitely. They’ll be flying around our kitchen serving us soup.
Jonathan Santana: They’ll be making themselves and getting ready to take over.
Xander Smith: We were saying that one day, this is going to be seen in retrospect by our species, as the moment when we all naively stumbled in the wrong direction, we gave them the stage…
Jonathan Santana: They’ll be unearthing your videotapes to piece together the past, of why the future got so fucked up!
Xander Smith: Exactly. This will always be the moment, the wrong turn (laughs).
Log onto Dazed Digital next week for more updates from the New Directors’ Showcase