Five things you probably didn’t know about Cannes
On Wednesday 16th May, the 65th Cannes Film Festival kicks off in the South of France. For 12 movie-packed days and glamorous evenings, le Festival de Cannes (as it’s known by the cognoscenti) sees filmmakers, casts and crews from around the world descend upon a small seaside town to watch one another’s work.
There are films “in competition”, vying for awards such as the Palme d’Or (given to the director of the voted Best Film) and Le Prix Un Certain Regard (for best newcomer). The names Loach, Haneke, Cronenberg may be familiar; Mungiu, Nichols and Garrone less so (though Take Shelter and Gomorrah were lapped up by Kiwi audiences, which bodes well for their latest offerings). There is a programme of short films which showcases young talent (including New Zealand filmmaker Zia Mandviwalla’s Night Shift), special screenings of classics and Master Classes given by legendary director Philip Kaufman and film composer Alexandre Desplat. The Festival is a veritable cornucopia of cinematic treats.
But aside from pictures of Brad in black tie on the red carpet, and news stories about Danish directors being banned for unsavoury comments made at press conferences, there are a few things behind the scenes at this world famous bun-fight that may surprise.
Cannes is an invitation-only festival for filmmakers and foreign press, and it is undisputedly a privilege to attend. But just because your name’s on the pass, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting in. Members of the press are accredited under different categories, where regulars from Sight & Sound and the New York Times will get precedence over a first-timer from the SST. With a busy timetable of movies to preview, journalists must queue, often for an hour or more, from early in the morning (we’re talking 8.30am-early for some films) before fighting their way to a seat. No room for lateness here; no traipsing in during the trailers and staring into the gloom as you slurp your jumbo size Coke and try to find a centre-middle-seat for two. It doesn’t pay to come with mates or a plus-one. At Cannes, it’s every writer for herself.
No such thing as a free chat
Despite the fact that you could say the press are there to help – to spread the word, start the buzz, fuel the fire of excitement that a film sometimes requires in order to be a worldwide hit – let’s face it honey – it’s called the Film Business for a reason. Securing interviews with filmmakers and cast requires nomination by a distributor and often payment, usually at the distributor’s expense (in whose interests it is, obviously, that the film gets seen when it’s brought back home), sometimes to the tune of 2000 euros to join a table with other foreign journalists, all vying for their sound-bite. One-on-one interview opportunities are like hen’s teeth. Less-funded press will have to resort to collaring their prey at the local patisserie, dictaphone at the ready. If they can get past the entourage.
To frock or not to frock
Again, because of the red carpet photos, one might assume Cannes is just one big catwalk. By comparison, the press previews that a jobbing reviewer attends in New Zealand are an entirely casual affair – hoodies and jandals mingle with cargo pants and parkas. So Cannes is a shock to the system for someone who seldom has high heels in her wardrobe, let alone her suitcase. Because, don’t forget – we’re also in France, land of the chic and home of the vogue, so even during the day one has to hit the “smart casual” button like a European. And just in case one has the good fortune to be invited to the Dutch Ambassador’s party to launch a new cine-environmental initiative, or to be shown the nightlife by pals from the British Film Pavillion, one has to be prepared. So it’s frocks and heels at the ready, because, really, as much as people say “if you need something, you can just buy it!” we are still playing with Euros.
Buy buy, sell sell
For the filmmakers, Cannes is where they first show off the latest from their oeuvre and gain the critical acclaim of their peers and the world. Directors are often working right up until the eleventh hour in post-production to get the film ready for submission, and a category win can launch a new director’s career into the stratosphere. Following in Scorsese’s footsteps with Taxi Driver, Tarantino scored with Pulp Fiction; Campion won for The Piano. With far more critical kudos than an Oscar, the Palme d’Or has seen some brave and exciting work rewarded over the last six decades. But Cannes is also the market for distributors to buy and sell, hawking their wares to foreign programmers hoping to acquire the latest Prophet and White Ribbon to take home to their own festival audiences, who wait eagerly as if for a mail-order bride. Le Marche du Film (literally the Film Market) was set up in 1959 to run in conjunction with the Festival as a forum for producers, sales agents and festival programmers to get the movies out into worldwide audiences. Only the lucky press get into the Marche screenings; the rest of us will have to wait like the rest of the world.
First to see the new day
Films cannot have been shown at any other festival prior to their debut at Cannes, which means that once acquired by a programmer, the race is then on for international festivals to show off the latest winners. New Zealand’s annual international film festival tours the country in July/August, which puts us in the agreeable position of sometimes being able to show a Cannes movie before London, Berlin and Toronto. Our festival programmers work tirelessly at the key markets around the world to secure morsels for our viewing pleasure.
It certainly saves us the airfare and the cost of outfits.