I first met Pierre Rissient in 1969 when we were both attending the San Francisco Film Festival. We formed an instant friendship based on our love of cinema.
Over the years, Pierre introduced me to many of his friends in the film industry. Through Pierre I met Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh, Clint Eastwood, Bertrand Tavernier, Jerry Schatzberg, King Hu, John Boorman, Lino Brocka, Joseph Losey, Lester James Peries and many others.
Whenever I was in Paris I would enjoy a dinner or two with Pierre, often in the company of a visiting film director.
I invited him to attend the 1974 Sydney Film Festival, which is where he met Peter Weir and other local filmmakers. After the festival, we drove in my very unreliable car to Melbourne (we broke down near Yass) and then back to Canberra, where he was eager to see Clarence Badger’s RANGLE RIVER, made in Australia in 1936, in the National Library Film Archive.
It was this visit to the Archive, where Pierre also discovered Raymond Longford’s films, that I got the idea of the retrospective of Australian films – the first of its kind – which was held during the 1975 Sydney Film Festival.
During the period I was a Commissioner of the AFC (1983-6) I suggested that we use Pierre’s contacts and his status as advisor to Cannes to help with getting Australian films into European festivals. Subsequently Pierre was, for several years, invited back to Australia each year by the AFC, and his advice and help was of the greatest value.
He saw Jane Campion’s short films, and made sure her first features, 2 FRIENDS and SWEETIE screened in Cannes; I was also with him when he saw ANGEL AT MY TABLE.
When working for the French production company CIBY 2000, Pierre was responsible for backing THE PIANO and also for getting it into Cannes, where it shared the Palme d’Or.
Campion was just one of our filmmakers to be supported and promoted on the international scene by Pierre. He was also a great help to Rolf de Heer, Bill Bennett, Ray Lawrence and many others.
Pierre was generous in his praise but also withering in his putdowns. If he didn’t like a film he’d say so, with no modifications.
When Todd McCarthy made his documentary about Pierre, MAN OF CINEMA, he interviewed me – together with Australian producer Al Clark – and also a gallery of international filmmakers supported by Pierre over the years, among them Clint Eastwood and Quentin Tarantino.
The last time I saw him was in Cannes last year where it was announced that the second film he directed, CINQ ET LA PEAU, would be restored; this restored version is scheduled to screen in a few days in Cannes Classics, but sadly Pierre won’t be there to see it.