For the average cinephile or celebrity gawker, the word “Cannes” probably conjures up images of svelte actors and gowned actresses posing on the red carpet silhouetted against a blue sea, speckled with fancy yachts, and the occasional renegade director. Sure, world premieres, photo calls and press conferences are just part of the everyday happenings, but what the photo-shopped images don’t reveal is the less than glamorous behind-the-scenes scrambling that truly makes the Cannes Film Festival the prestigious event that it is.
As a lowly student journalist I’ve been a bit of a fly on the wall, enjoying the people watching almost as much as the films. And believe me, there can be a lot of downtime. With thousands of accredited journalists attending the festival, Cannes has a hierarchy to manage who gets in to what screening. My yellow badge puts me just above the photographers, but at the bottom of the ranks of the rest of the journalists. Depending on the venue, blue, pink and white badges all have priority access before me. Just the other night, I waited in line for an hour—outside, in the rain—for the new Abbas Kiarostami film that debuted in competition, only to be turned away when the theater became full with higher-ranked press. (Granted, it could have been worse. Entry to last year’s “The Tree of Life” was so competitive that it resulted in actual physical fights.)
However, for each minor setback Cannes has something redeeming to offer, like the time some friends and I crashed a party hosted by Firefox for their new Flicks platform. Unfortunately we missed the guest of honor, actor Edward Norton, but the open bar, fireworks over the water and excellent DJ made up for it. The chances of a celebrity sighting at Cannes are also considerably high—possibly even more so than in metropolitan Meccas like Los Angeles and New York. In fact, my first night here, I took the bus back to my apartment and noticed Bonnie Wright (aka Ginny Weasley) standing a few feet away with a group of friends.
Balancing work and play can be a bit of a challenge, especially when press screenings begin as early as 8:30 a.m. and continue on until 10 in the evening which, for some films, means getting out of the theater past midnight. The Palais des Festivals, the central hub for press and industry members, offers free Nespresso stations to recharge between screenings, but as you might guess they only serve espresso. In tiny cups. Maybe my palette just isn’t refined enough, but even with sugar, the experience of drinking espresso the French way is not unlike how I would imagine taking a shot of battery acid would feel: unpleasant, yet highly stimulating.
As a seasoned journalist advised me at a press junket, the more you accept that Cannes, despite its golden reputation, isn’t actually all that well organized, the more you can relax and enjoy yourself. So having come to terms with the fact that I can only fit so much into a single day, I’m back to feeling that same sense of awe that I had the day I first checked in. For someone like me, just being here is a dream come true.