Cannes Film Festival
Anyone will tell you that the Cannes Film Festival is not the easiest festival to navigate. I went there for the first time this year as a FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) jury and I’m still not sure whether I was able to fully utilize the privileges I was supposed to get with my priority badge. So, I’ll try to help out the newbies as best I can here if you’re planning to visit this Mecca of film lovers.
French visa appointment takes months
I received the jury invitation early in April. When I tried to book an appointment at the French embassy, there were no vacancies till June 11, which would be more than two weeks after the festival ends. So, if you’re not waiting for an invitation, booking your appointment months in advance is advisable. Planning that far ahead also helps reduce the mammoth airfare and accommodation prices significantly.
The opening ceremony is off limits
The first thing anyone asks about Cannes is: How many celebrities did you meet? To them, I just want to say, the celebrities are so huge in numbers that even the parallel jury members don’t receive invitations to the opening ceremony. The closing ceremony, however, is much less star-studded.
The red carpet was only open to a handful of media outlets. Even the pavement across the street from the Palais was reserved for Reuters, AFP and other heavyweights of that sort. The streets and ladders had name tags on them specifying where each media should stand.
It was only when these heavyweights were done taking pictures and a few celebrities like Tilda Swinton and Selena Gomez and the rest of the cast and crew of the opening film “The Dead Don’t Die” were late to arrive that I had my moment up on the Reuters ladder snapping away.
The badges at the Cannes Film Festival are color coded and there’s a strict hierarchy of access and priorities that come with each color. The most privileged badge is the white one. They say in Cannes, if you have the white badge, you’re basically God. But among the mortals, pink with a dot, which I was lucky to have, gives you priority access to almost every screening, conference, workshop and social.
There is an assortment of parties to choose from at any hour at Cannes. One of the perks of being in the critics’ jury was the party invitations at fancy hotels and restaurants on the beach that are so intimidating that we wouldn’t normally walk into one even if we could afford it.
Ever-morphing landscape of film curation
At Cannes, all the films are so “well-told” that you are torn between choosing which film to see and which to leave out. The curation of films at this festival is something to idolize for any festival programmer. The movies range from pure abstract to full-blown commercial films in every genre in the book.
Waiting in long lines
The lines to get into the screenings stretch all the way around the block at times. If you do not have a good badge, it is difficult to have the patience to stand in line not knowing whether you will get a seat in the theater. Many make themselves comfortable sitting on the pavements after their legs give in. For some movies, the line can last for four hours even. But once you have seen a few films here, you understand what the buzz is about.
Cold summer fringed with rain
The summer days at Cannes are very long. Light finds its way into the French Riviera even as late as 9pm. It’s much colder there than the coldest winters in Dhaka and it rains half the time.
Cars on the roads and the pedestrians on the pavements slow down when it rains and you need to keep more time in hand to get to any screening. Umbrellas collide left and right and for a Lady Gaga-sized girl in an Alexander Skarsgard-sized world, it’s hard to avoid these clashes.
One would think that the rain would dampen the spirits of the film pilgrims, but no—the lines to get into screenings remain as long as ever. People stand drenching in the rain on the streets, as there isn’t enough space to hold up umbrellas.
On time is too late
To successfully enter any screening at Cannes, even with a priority badge, you have to arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled time. The festival officials release the reserved seats a few minutes before the film starts, and unless the film is particularly unpopular, there is no chance of getting a free seat if you arrive at the last minute.
One of the most “inconvenient truths” about the Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week screenings is that you can only use the restroom before a screening if it's at a hotel. After the movie is over, you exit the building through the fire escape or some alternative route. Festival people are not allowed to wait in the hotel lobbies till the next screening, even if both the screenings are at the same location.
Celebrities show up unannounced
You never know who you’ll run into at the Cannes Film Festival. There is always someone blazing the red carpet in front of the Palais du Festival. Celebrities randomly show up at screenings of movies they are in. For me, the biggest celebrities that walked into a theatre I was in were Willem Dafoe and the sparkling vampire—Robert Pattinson. They watched The Lighthouse with us, sitting patiently through the numerous server malfunctions. Yes, those too happen at Cannes.
Getting into press conferences can be tough
Press conferences for super hyped movies like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are extremely difficult to get into. You need to be among the top three press badge categories (white, pink with a dot and plain pink) to have any chance of securing a seat. For this particular press conference, even the priority badge holders had to wait for 45 minutes to meet Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie.
Writers can’t bring professional cameras
There are separate accreditations for photographers, videographers and writers. So, if you’re accredited as a writer, you can’t bring a professional camera into the press conferences. It’s better to carry a small consumer grade digital camera if you want to record some of these surreal moments.
So, if you are planning to visit the Cannes Film Festival for the first time, start preparing at least three months in advance and talk to people who had been there before. But bear in mind, even with all the guidance in the world, Cannes is like the Matrix—no one can be “told” what it is; you have to see it for yourself.
Sadia Khalid is Editor, Showtime, Dhaka Tribune.