How can I describe this event to the uninitiated?? The first thing to say is that there are various strands of the festival, films in competition, films out of competition and films showing at the buyers market. The focus is the ‘buyers’ and ‘distributors’ who buy the rights to distribute the films in territories, different countries.
Most of the films shown at Cannes have no distribution when initially screened, so a film, such as Tree of Life, when it was shown In Competition did not have a UK distributor. After the screening it would be hoped that a positive reaction will ensure a buyer would pick up the film for a UK release. Some films at the festival may never be seen outside of the festival circuit or will not to be purchased for all the ‘territories’ if they are considered too niche or too specific to the country of origin. So they will make no money and everyone that invested in the film will make no return.
Sometimes, the directors and producers even wave their fee, just so there is enough money to finish the film, because they are artists and passionate about their project.
The best way I can think to describe what I saw at Cannes is that there is a hierarchy.
At the top of the chain –are the security, looking very smart.
They run the place. If you do not have the correct badge, you are not getting in.
Next are the buyers – the purse string holders. A buyer representative goes to lots of films – 6 a day perhaps, and talks to lots of producers; who have films or ideas for films; who need financing or distribution help. This is the business side of the Festival, and ultimately what it is all about. These people have all access passes and get invited to all the parties.
Then there are the stars – actors and directors that we’ve all heard of and that helicopter in from their yacht. They all seemed friendly and good natured, although Robert deNiro (the head of the Cannes Jury at the moment) is not known for being too gushy – which is fine by me.
And Sean Penn seems the same. Sean missed the press conference for Tree of Life because he was flying in from Haiti, after doing some humanitarian work. Uma Thurman looked ravishing, in long jade earrings, a understated dress and a big smile. Antonio Banderas was the most entertaining on the red carpet.
I briefly saw Jonathon Ross run up the steps, in his shades. Looking like he’d dropped out of society (I hear he is very happy fulfilling his childhood dream of writing comic books). I also saw Jude Law, Faye Dunaway was there, Jane Fonda, Woody Allen, Michael Sheen and Owen Wilson.
I questioned going and starring at people walking up the red carpet, because everyone we were hanging out with were industry types and it would be deemed as quite uncool. Then I remembered, that you only get one opportunity like this and it was really fun. I chatted to lots of interesting people whilst standing about for a couple of hours and it was a real spectacle. And I loved seeing all the dresses.
The next tier down are the Directors, Producers and Actors of all the films that are ‘out of competition’. They are here for the buyers market and the ‘Directors Fortnight’ – Quinzaine des Relisateurs. It is work for them, but at the same time, there are lots of egos and (necessary it seems) self promotion. I went to a film party on the beach, and there were a lot of people who were there ‘to be seen’.
Then there are the worker bees. Publicists, who work extremely hard, look after the artists, organise the press junkets, Q&A’s and goodness knows what else. I met people who run film festivals – here looking to get films on their programme and lots and lots of self employed people. For instance, a guy who writes music for films – Goldfish, was his latest short. He has a place in LA and says ‘you have to have a presence there to get anywhere in this industry’.
There are also lots of people working at Cannes, who come from the support side of the industry, like the British Film Institute – (BFI) and MicroWave who were represented at the British Film Council. The UK Film Council have been merged into the BFI and are no longer. Both companies had worked on putting together the British Pavillion programme.
There is a Pavillion for each country and this is where business workshops, meetings and networking takes place.
The job title ‘Producer’ seems to very loosely used and this is the next tier. There is a official role of Producer and Executive producer, but it seems you call yourself a Producer if you have a script, an idea for a script, a desire to direct or even just an interest in being a part of making a film. These people are at Cannes to network, looking for finance, advice.
And then the film crews and all the reporters. Walking around backwards with their microphones and filming Cannes moments
This is my favourite photo from Cannes:
Finally, the last tiers:
The official press.
When they are taking photos on the red carpet, they have to wear black ties. Which I thought was great.
You can hear them shouting ‘Robert, Robert’ to get the stars (called Robert) to turn their way. It is quite a cacophony and like a flock of birds after bugs in the sky.
The freelance photographers. I saw a few of these guys (not many women) behaving extremely badly.
Pushing people out of the way to get to the front of a crowd. I also met a very nice young freelancer, whilst in the ‘fan pen’ next to the Red Carpet. He tends to use long lenses and stay out of the mele.
Tourist photographers. This was bonkers. There are a lot of guys and girls walking up and down The Croissette – the main road in Cannes along the front, where all the different cinemas and ‘famous’ hotels are. Anyone who is dressed up, a bit prettier than the rest, or plainly loves themselves, these photographers snap photos, ask for poses, talk to them like the Paparazzi talk to famous people ‘over here’ ‘just one more’. A lot of people completely sign up for it and pose and love it. Then they get handed a business card and if they want of copy of their photos, they have to go to a shop and buy them - like at the end of a ride at Alton Towers. I’m sad I didn’t get a photo of this happening, because I’m not sure how good my description is, but there were one couple in their ball dress and black tie, there were about six photographers flitting around them or down on one knee, creating a scene, telling them to turn this way or that. This is a little of what I saw:
There were beautiful boats, lots of well dressed policeman, an open air cinema on the beach, and more people in black ties than you'll find at the Oscars...
Then there are the Fans:
I thought all the step ladders by the Red Carpet were for the freelance photographers, but they are for fans.
They sit there, nearly all day, to glimpse a star and hopefully get an autograph or a hand shake. They stand outside hotels, not knowing who is staying there, but hoping to catch a glimpse of someone famous.
Finally, the tourists. People who happened across Cannes by accident; were traveling through and didn’t realise it was on; or were on a cruise ship and dumped on land for a couple of hours. Wandering around, looking slightly bemused and not quite understanding what was going on.
I’m not sure where I fit in. I was lucky enough to have generous friends of Alan, who get me into things, so I wasn’t just a tourist. I dipped in and out of standing with the fans, and just starring, but not for long. I got a slight insight into the industry, and went to a ‘dos and don’ts of making your first feature’ so I understand what Alan might have to deal with. I just watched and went to a few parties, and it was all very nice.
What about the Films?
Well, Alan had access to more than me, so I would cycle in from our campsite, about 3km’s down the coast, in my own time.
It was a wonderful cycle ride, and I would sing away to myself and prepare for the craziness of Cannes. I bought tickets for the Directors Fortnight films. I had six tickets and had chosen some films that looked interesting out of about 25.
I am not a critic. There are enough of those around. I don’t notice the nuances of the cinematography or weak scripts. I can only say how the film made me feel and what it made me think and how affecting it was. I said to someone at a party that I was ‘representing the normal audience member’ at Cannes – the ones paying to go and see films.
A taster of what I saw:
Code Blue – horrific story, I needed a drink after. Quite disturbing and I should have left and saved myself the trauma. But some beautiful, interesting moments.
En Ville – coming of age story. I was bored. Not really very engaging characters for me. I missed the message.
Apres le Sud – My favourite of the all the Quinzieme films I saw. Personal stories, enterwining.
The Island – a couple coming to terms with the complex nature of being human story. Disliked by those in the industry. For me it had some interesting messages, but was strangely split into two halves. An ‘on the island’ half and an ‘in Big Brother’ – odd half. The reaction from the audience on leaving seemed to be slight bemusement.
I was also very lucky in that Alan’s pass meant he could get two tickets for the in competition films.
I saw Tree of Life – Terrance Malik, Meloncholia – Lars von Triers and The Skin I live in – Almodovor. All three Directors are well established with a very definite style. All three films were very enjoyable. The first two were epic, end of the world stuff, classical music, moments of otherworldliness. The Almodovor a good engaging story with really interesting characters. I thought Kirsten Dunst was great in Meloncholia and everyone talked about the first ten minutes being extraordinary, which I agree with. I thought the performances by Brad Pitt and his wife, played by Jessica Chastain was very good, and I think I need to see this film a second time to really appreciate it. The Guardian critic – Peter Bradshaw, eloquently wrote the things that, on reflection, I believe are true, but don’t think I got from one viewing. (but I am just a lowly cinema goer…)
Alan and I happy in the Palais Cinema.
The coup is seeing these films before they are on general release and for two of them, being one of the first in the world to see them on the big screen. I know that this is a big thing for some people, as I know of at least one friend who was very jealous. Also, underlining how lucky I was, were the people outside with little signs up (one on his iPad) saying ‘ticket please’. Once through security, people were running up the steps to get good seats, but depending on your pass, you were ushered into certain areas anyway. I took a moment to savour my red carpet moment. Not in a pretty dress on the arm of Alan looking lovely in his black tie, as I’d hoped, but a one off nevertheless.
So, the film festival from a Cannes Virgin’s, non industry type’s point of view. A people watchers dream!