I take off for Cannes with the blessing of the film group, my Cannes predecessor and mentor, Mary Wienke, Josef Wutz (head of the Filmfest Hamburg 1995-2002) who says, “Wer kann’s: Cannes” (Cannes if you can) and Dieter Pille (head of Filmpressebüro) who says, “You’ll come back broke.”
I arrive late due to having relinquished my original Hamburg-Nice direct flight for a Euro 350-Lufthansa voucher. Due to my late arrival, I barely catch the last free-of-charge shuttle bus to Cannes compliments of the festival; once in Cannes I surely get the only taxi available at 9:30 p.m. to Mandelieu. Once there, I check in only 10 minutes under the wire before Rafael Martinez shuts down the desk for the night. Only in retrospect do I realize how near I was to sleeping on the veranda until 6 a.m. My cell phone died the moment it crossed into France.
The terrifically sunny, mild weather (23°C) takes 20 years and 10 pounds off of me and with a sprightly step, I set off from the hotel to explore Mandelieu. Just 35-minutes later I find the bus stop, buy a set of ten tickets for Euro 19,90, and ride 40 minutes to Cannes. Striding down the hill to the Croisette, I know this is the film world. People breakfasting at sidewalk cafes say, “The casting was all wrong.” “ARTE will view my film at 10.” “I knew the Di VinciCode would be that bad.” I pick up my festival ID and information packet and buy a sim card for France from Cellhire. The British sales lady says, “Oh, we went to that Chinese Summer Palace film and wanted to leave after 10 minutes, but were afraid, so we sat through the whole two and a half hours.
Relatively quickly, I figure out the procedures, since they are similar to the Berlinale, i.e., there are information offices, schedules of films, press packet, and journalists making important calls even if only to their mothers. My press pass is jaune (yellow) which makes me equal to those holding bleu passes and both of us second in a hierarchy behind the lordly blanc pass holders.
I barge into the first available film, Comeback Season with Ray Liotta. The theater holds only 20 viewers and there is a debate about my credentials. Later I realize that this is a marketing film for sale to international consumers. I feel sorry for viewers in Asia or South America who might have to watch this fare on TV. It’s very right-wing, American about a wife and two grown daughters who take revenge on a husband/father for his typical midlife-crisis affair with his office help. They teach him a lesson and he returns repentant and thankful to have his old TV chair back. The neighborhood teenage boy also learns his lesson. The impression is that American men must be the most cowed wimps in the world.
Coming out of that film, I see Spanish director Pedro Almovedar on multiple TV screens. It is a press conference and he is discussing Volver, which the critics for the daily Screen magazine put at number one.
At Ten Canoes Mathias Elwardt, head of Hamburg’s Abaton cinema, is sitting one row ahead of me. He says later, “Too much running commentary, maybe not for Abaton.” The cinema fills up quickly for Taxidermia. All actors are introduced and all commentary is in French or Hungarian translated to French. The translator has a total black-out for a certain word and all discussion stops while she peers into the audience for help which does not come. Even professional translators have bad moments. I sit beside a German man who says that for many years he was responsible for the internationals forum des jungen films at the Berlinale. He must be Ulrich Gregor, accompanied by his wife Erika. Taxidermia is too bloody for her and she leaves half way through.
Help! The last bus back to Mandelieu left at 20:00. I stand with other stranded festival goers waiting for the rare taxi. Some Americans discuss the taxi situation, “The French and the Russians are the worst. The Dutch are as good as the Germans. In my next life, I’ll come back as a taxi driver in Cannes and get rich.”
Yippee! I go up the red carpet into the Grand Théâtre Lumière to see Red Road. Press people are sent to the tippy-top of this huge cinema to the high balcony; a nightmare for suffers of acrophobia. Reading French subtitles is a good way to practice French.
My first press conference is with former U.S. VP Al Gore. Henri Béhar conducts the discussion. He is a flamboyant figure about 60 years old, who wears lots of jewelry and colourful shirts. Bruce Kirkland from the Toronto Sun says, “Oh, yes, Henri is a permanent feature in Cannes. He is Egyptian, grew up in France, and lived in New York City. He translates subtitles and writes books.”
Mr. Kirkland is an old hand at film festivals himself, having started at the Toronto film festival at the ground floor when it began in 1975. His philosophy for festivals is, “No matter what choice you make, you are choosing not to view something else. You set your own agenda.”
Security is becoming more lax although men still search my bag when I enter the building. The press room with free coffee is on the second floor. There is a wide balcony overlooking the main drag, the Croissette and the Grand Théâtre Lumiére with its photographers in tuxedos and stars sauntering up the red carpet. I feel very VIP just standing on the balcony, coffee in hand, surveying the unlucky souls below who aren’t allowed into my area. On the other side is the cinema for En Certain Regard films. An Indonesian boy group dressed in native garb stands on the steps to the cinema and sings. They repeat their song on the cinema stage to set the mood for the documentary Serambi.
I lug my new lap top computer on the bus to the fancy Wifi (Wireless Fidelity) office which is relatively quiet at on a Sunday morning. Celia helps me connect. Most of the internet expert helpers are girls. Three cheers for girl power. All of them wear white slacks and tops, looking like they should be working in a fitness studio. Actually, all the employees are very chic. Men wear black pants with blue jackets, and the women wear white dresses with black polka dots or yellow, white and black dresses with yellow belts and scarves, or turquoise striped tops, depending on their particular cinema. All women wear high heels and stockings.
It’s easy to communicate on the streets of Cannes. Perhaps the inhabitants are used to international guests. My theory is: make an effort to speak French. You’ll have to admit that Bonjour is chirpier than good morning or guten Morgen. Pardon is more elegant than excuuuz miii. After the first Bonjour, my French gradually breaks down into something unrecognizable and the good people of Cannes save me by speaking English. It works every time.
All films in competition are available to the press at 8:30 every morning, but still impossible for me to make on a bus that takes 40-50 minutes into the city. I do find a more convenient bus stop – only 15 minutes away but it’s difficult to leave my cozy little terrace in Mandelieu, where I sit among the honeysuckle, drinking coffee like Ferdinand under his cork tree, just wanting to sit and smell the flowers.
Big tents or pavilions are set up along the beach, one for each country. These provide the venue for like-minded people to meet, become acquainted and discuss business and also for movie people to give lectures and hold discussions. For example, John Cameron Mitchell (Donnie Darko) and cast discuss their new film Shortbus and marketing expert Laura Kim discusses “I Wake up Screening: What to do once you’ve made that Movie.” The German and British tents are free of charge. The U.S. tent requires a Euro 45 “membership fee.”
Outside the German tent I run into Albert Wiederspiel, head of the Filmfest Hamburg. He doesn’t fall into my arms like he does with Adele at Hamburg’s Grindel cinema. But his second-in-command, Katrin Kohlstedde, recognizes me and I gush like Miss Kirksville-Missouri in Hollywood and she pretends not to be embarrassed.
The French have printed the title of Over the Hedge as Over the Edge. That sounds more appropriate for a film featuring Bruce Willis, but might also result from the French tendency to drop the “h” in their own language. Willis is very popular in France. “Save the world, Bruce,” screams a reporter. “I’ve saved the world seven times, but never got a thank you card,” is the reply. I see a sign in the crowd: “Wanted: Tickets to X-men or Halle Berry’s phone number.”
There is no fast food in France; even so-called fast food takes an hour of your precious time, so that often it’s either food or film. After waiting an hour for a bus, Claudia Eusse from Florida says, “No partying for me tonight – just eat and sleep.” A British girl sums it up, “Well, now I’m at the point where I just want to go home and curl up in a cozy place.”
I walk out onto the boardwalk and count the yachts moored in the Bay of Cannes next to the festival. These yachts have mostly been leased for the duration of the festival. Here business deals are discussed over breakfast, lunch and dinner and party time into the night. I ride the tourist choo-choo train and listen to commentary in eight languages. I see the old grand hotels built in mid 1800s, the cemetery built 1866, and the first and oldest casino. I see the fine shops and realize that the city is worth a longer stay.
Going to the Nice airport (in a EUR-90 taxi ride) I analyze my mistakes. Next year I should sign up with the hotel internet access immediately and be smarter about using a laptop. By not going on-line regularly, I missed a party! I should learn how to obtain tickets to limited showings, now that I know that tickets are called invitations. Perhaps I should rent a car. We should definitely try to have two people accredited; this would increase our work area considerably. Remember to wear a sweater as the cinemas are cold inside.
Back in Hamburg, I find that I there were no press conferences scheduled the week I was gone. As our colleague Oliver Schumann says, “Steppt in Cannes der Bär, bleibt unser Kino leer.” (A tap-dancing bear in Cannes, means an empty cinema here.) What else would you expect considering that the Cannes film festival is the most important event in the world after the Olympics?