All Cannes-ed Out

I’m now back in the real world, after 5 days in Cannes, networking, partying and, well, more networking, and more partying.

I’m not in fact the world’s greatest networker, but the Cannes Film Festival is one of those events that lure in shy, tongue-tied film-makers and turn them into crazed party animals.  Normally, I huddle in the corner at all social gatherings,  staring at the wall,  and avoiding anyone who is important or good-looking or who could be useful to me.  But during those days away in the South of France, I became – I hesitate to say it – dammit it’s true – actually quite sociable.

I went with my writer friend Emma, who is also a non-networking type personality, and who nevertheless shone and sparkled for day after day, until the last evening, where the two of us just slumped and became zombies. 

There is a reason and a purpose behind Cannes; it’s not all fun and frivolity.  (Although a hell of a lot of it is fun and frivolity).  Yes, it’s a Film Festival where films are shown (though watching films there is ridiculously inconvenient unless you’re famous and get proper Invitations to screenings.)  It’s also a sellers and a buyers marketplace, where sales agent pitch to distributors and distributors pitch to studios and film-makers pitch to anyone who isn’t dressed as a waiter. 

But more than anything, I realised after this latest trip, Cannes is a community.  It’s where the film-makers of the world converge and explode over each other; and just being there makes you part of that world.  Mike Figgis was there, and so was Tim Bevan of Working Title, and so were Emma and I.  And okay, we didn’t talk to either Mike or Tim – but we were close to them!

The world of science fiction of course has a fabulous sense of community – fans and writers and publishers are linked by blogs and websites and cons.  And in the film world, festivals provide the same function.

But it’s a very weird thing out there, to be honest.  The glamour is ever-present, and often fraudulent.  I saw (on a telly in a bar, I couldn’t get close enough to view it in real life) Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on the red carpet outside the Palais, exuding wealth and glamour.  But many of the film-makers sipping cocktails in bars and wearing gowns or dinner jackets were, in reality, struggling to find the price of a coffee.  And yet we all feel impelled to join in this mad process of touching the hem of the glamour garment.  Just to walk along the Croisette – admiring the vast yachts in the Bay – soaking in the Mediterranean sun – nodding at friends and acquaintances, and maybe even sipping a glass of wine or a cocktail at the Majestic or the Carlton - it’s just an impossibly glamour-soaked experience.  It’s like being a film star, without having any acting talent, or having to make any films.

And it’s also complicated. It’s the third time I’ve been to this particular festival, and I now have a grasp of the basic principles.  In order to get access to any of the buildings,  you have to be Accredited – essentially you have to prove you have ever worked in the film business.  That’s tricky enough in itself, though I’m used to it by now.  But if you want tickets for films, you have to queue on-line;  which means you stand by a computer terminal and log in on the very second the new hour begins, and then the screen tells you how many hours you have to wait to actually reserve a ticket for the film you want to see.  (It could be 2 hours, it could be 10 hours, or even 24 hours.)  And so, 24 hours later, you stand in front of that same terminal and click; and then it’s a race to see who has the fastest typing fingers.

What?  How dumb is that?

Tickets are free; but the expense of energy required to operate and understand this system is extraordinary.  There are hand outs to explain it, but they are baffling. There are people at the Information Desk to explain at which cinemas you can get tickets just with a Badge, but they never write anything down and what they say rarely tallies with reality, or maybe it’s just that they don’t understand my Welsh accent.

And of course you have to know the right people to go to the right parties,  and where to go to get free breakfast,  and where to be seen, and who to schmooze and when.  I used to think that going to this festival was like being trapped in an American High School movie, where you’re either in the In Crowd or you’re a Geek.  (Naturally, I’d rather be a Geek, but that’s not an option.) But my new theory is that the Cannes Film  Festival is a parallel reality, a version of Second Life where for a few days you can live by complicated rules untouched by domestic concerns or real life. 

I’m proud to say I made it to two parties on yachts – the yachts are essentially floating offices for the richer companies, so it’s essential to know someone who can blag you on board.  And I met an amazing range of interesting people.  An Irish film-maker who was making a short movie about people’s feet as they walked up the red carpet (no, I didn’t understand it either – but I spotted her later, filming my feet.)  Two sisters, who comprise 2/5ths of an American movie company called Five Sisters – each of the sisters is a producer, and each has a project, making their slate formidable.  An American writer/producer with an exclusive deal with a major US company who warned me passionately that America was turning into a fascist country, and that concentration camps had already been built in every US state (!!!?)  And a fantastic bloke I met who, when I asked him about his movie project, replied that hd didn’t actually have a movie – but he had built a boat that flies!  Yes, a boat, that flies, which he had designed and engineered, and built! And, er, it flies! (So what the devil was he doing at the Cannes Film Festival…?)

And, as always, I saw lots of pals who had turned up, pitching their movies via their newly formed companies, and ensuring I always had someone to talk to in the UK Pavilion.

My own reason for going to Cannes was to meet potential financiers and the like, to get some movies of mine into production.  Like many film writers, I’ve learned to be pro-active; never wait for the phone to ring, ring other people. And I’m fortunate in that over the last few years I’ve built up a circle of gifted people who know how to help new producers get their movies made.

But in tandem with the offical Cannes, I was living a separate and alien life, reading and thinking about science fiction.  At the airport, I bought my copy of SFX, which was my constant reading in all the lulls between meetings. I also, I’m ashamed to say, had a look to see if Debatable Space was available at the Gatwick Airport bookshop (it is!)  I then bought my anxiously awaited copy of The Digital Plaugue by Jeff Somers, which I will read just as soon as I’ve got through Alfred Bester’s extraordinary The Demolished Man.

Yes, I’m a true Geek; surrounded by glamour and beautiful women and gorgeous men and beautiful Mediterranean skies, I sit and read science fiction novels.

For this, to me, is the true reality; impossible and magical worlds existing in my head.  

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