||It all started rather badly as I arrived
at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, 20 May. A ballpoint pen broke in
the pocket of my suede jacket leaving blue ink all over my shirt and trousers,
making me look like a shabby painter. Then I had to go to the Palais de
Festival to collect my accreditation card in time for the NPA /Kodak party
that night. Normally this is not the end of the world, but in Cannes it
is a crime, because everybody looks smartly dressed and are very smooth.
You can hardly see who works inside or outside the film-industry, because
everybody looks and behaves like a star, including the spectators.
I often felt like being an extra in La Dolce Vita or Eight and A Half by Federico Fellini. Everywhere around you are glamorous, extravagant and larger than life people, sometimes you long for an ordinary man or woman, who doesnít look like the perfect people from the Armani, LíOreal or Lacoste advertisements. And funnily enough beautiful film stars like Andie MacDowell, Virginie Ledoyen and Judith Godreche appear in those ads too. I had only 5 days in Cannes, so decided to focus on making useful contacts with international sales-agents, distributors and producers. With my accreditation card, I had free access to all films, except the Market screenings. Only for the Selection Officiele, the main competition, you need to queue up for tickets at the Unifrance Office in the morning.
For films for Un Certain Regard (non-competitive world cinema), La Semaine de la Critique (shorts, features and documentaries judged by International critics) and La Quinzaine des Realisateurs ( first non French features, selected independently) you could get in with just showing your pass.
Like Guillaume, a French Independent filmmaker and old film-school class mate said, filmmaking is a people game and the better connected you are the more chance you have to achieve success. I made about twenty useful new contacts in these 5 days, which felt more like 5 weeks.
Let me introduce you to some of the players I met at the Riviera. First I saw Thoraya Muttardy in the Holland Film House, one of the 18 different International Pavilions at the beach side of La Croisette. She is assistant Film Commissioner at the dynamic Rotterdam Film Fund, an energetic and communicative girl, born in America with parents from Lebanon and fluent in five languages, since 20 years a real ďRotterdammerĒ. We talked over a pizza, about film and our love for fresh UEFA cup winner Feyenoord, our pride and joy.
Together with Film Commissioner and Fund Director Jacques van Heijningen and Fund manager Ineke Kanters they started a complete film studio ,with all the facilities you need from location managers to post production facilities. Last year 70 productions were shot in Rotterdam: 11 features, 22 commercials and 12 TV series. Many Americans come to Rotterdam to shoot their commercials, because Rotterdam is the happening place in Holland at the moment.. There are even plans for a Film Hotel.
On the first night at a Scandinavian party I met Finnish filmmaker Jyri Kahonen, who had his 6 minute long 35 mm film Emo (Mother) in one of the short film programmes in the festival. He felt himself very much part of the European film tradition and especially enjoyed talking to fellow European filmmakers about the diversity in continental writer/director driven filmmaking, opposed to the more formulaic /marketing approach. First we were sitting on a big hotel terrace with real grass on the floor, overlooking the moonlit beach with strong spot lights dancing all over the Croisette. Waiters in white jackets were running around, filling up your glasses with champagne, it was like being in The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald. From Fitzgerald we moved on to Marcel Proust territory, the prestigious and majestic Carlton Hotel, where you pay eight Euro for a fresh orange juice.
Here I had an appointment with Philippe Munoz, Executive producer for UH Films Ltd. A very nice and handsome, Latin looking guy, with no scruples at all. He apologises for being a bit late and didnít have the you can be happy that I talk to you at all attitude. Thatís the great thing in Cannes, you never know who you have in front of you and a complete unknown today can be the latest discovery tomorrow. For example, in 1989 Steven Soderbergh won the Golden Palm with Sex, Lies and Videotape out of the blue. So people are quite approachable, probably more so then outside the festival.
I show him my one-sheet of Off The Beaten Track (documentary) and three post cards with synopses for new projects. One of the projects he is working on is a feature directed by Jack Cardiff, the legendary cinematographer, who worked on Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death by Michael Powell. And will be produced by Martin Scorsese and Philippe.
And what about the films? I only had time to see three films: Russian Ark by Alexandr Sokurov (Mother and Son) in the main competition, Les Chants du Pays de ma Mere by Bahman Ghobadi, from the director of the wonderfully moving A Time For Drunken Horses (Golden Camera Winner two years ago) and a French road movie Schimkent Hotel by Charles de Meau with sexy Caroline Ducey from Catherine Breillatís film Romance.
Sokurovís film played in the Main Competition and seeing a film there is an amazing ritual in itself. The director of the screened film walks over the famous Red Carpet to the state-of-the-art Lumiere cinema, photographed by the paparazzi and filmed live for the the big screen inside the Lumiere. The Empire in London is small compared to this gigantic cinema. The 'chosen' filmmaker then enters the cinema under applause and is welcomed by Festival President Gilles Jacob, his General Director Veronique Cayla and Artistic Director Thierry Fremaux. An almost religious cinematic ritual indeed in this Holy High-Tech Temple to worship the Seventh Art.
Russian Ark is an accomplished costume-film shot with a High Definition steady camera in one single shot, moving from room to room in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, showing a dialogue between the off screen filmmaker and the on-screen narrator of the film, Marquis de Custione. In a philosophical and playful way Sokurov shows us some high-lights of Russian history with revivals of characters like Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, poet Pushkin among others, related to influential paintings in the museum.
Technically astonishingly made, and it culminates in a ball scene with hundreds of dancers from the last Royal Ball of 1913. The dialogue is rather understated and simple, but the humour doesnít always come off. An impressive film however based on a fantastic idea.
The Songs of the Land of my Mother is a worthy successor of Drunken Horses. Three Iranian-Kurdian folk musicians are searching for the beautiful Hanareh, a singer with a voice from Heaven. War planes of Saddam Hussein fly above their head constantly. Bahman Ghobadi again shows himself as a master story teller with a sincere interest in the characteristic faces of the people in his film. Attentively shot in close up, you can see immediately when a filmmaker is genuinely interested in his characters or just uses them as human wallpaper. Strongly recommended!
From my London film buddies, like Welsh filmmaker Robert, who looked like a Fellini character himself with his black hat and passionate talk about film, I heard positive stories about Lynne Ramsayís new film The Journey of Morven Callar and the Belgian De Dardenne (Rosetta) brothers The Son. And I do expect a lot of The Pianist, a very personal film by Roman Polanski, about a top Jewish pianist who survives suffering and humiliation in a Warshaw ghetto during the Second World War. I just saw after writing this article, that Roman Polanski won the Golden Palm for Best Film on the Internet. Congratulations!
The 55th Cannes Film Festival is a place where every Cinephile can find something for his/her taste, itís a place where huge amounts of money are pumped in to the promotion and selling of completed films (mainly features), itís rather unreal in all itís suave richness and sophistication, but when you serious about filmmaking you have to be there. Itís both a celebration of world cinema in the several film strands and competitions and at the same time itís a huge Market with a lively trade in all sorts of films. From beautiful and profound films to silly trashy exploitation stuff like Troma (Trauma) products. And itís a place of opportunities, especially at the numerous parties in the evenings, where you can make valuable contacts and expand your film network.
And when you go to Cannes, donít forget your walkman with Nino Rota music, Felliniís Royal composer, because I strongly believe that thatís the best way to cope with Circus Cannes.
Life is a stage and nowhere is that better illustrated, than at this Film Capital of the world, during those twelve days in May at the Cote díAzur.
Main Awards Cannes 2002
Palme díOr: Roman Polanski(Poland)The
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