Critic’s diary

Last Updated: December 4, 2011By Tags:

There’s a few months left until the Cannes Film Festival but no harm in planning ahead, right? In the middle of May I will fly down to the South of France, board a bus with the other journalists (courtesy of the festival’s press service) and ride down to the City Hall building on the Croisette where D. Gauthier, my host, will pick me up in his yellow Twingo.

We’ll drive up the Avenue du Petit Juas, I’ll drop off my luggage and then run down the street back to the Croisette to retrieve my badge, my festival tote packed with the official catalog and various schedules. Time is a precious commodity at the Cannes Festival. Not a minute ought to be spared doing useless things, like walking, for example. A plan of action will be put in place, the same mistakes made in years past to be avoided, hopefully–this will be my fourth festival, afterall, and I should be getting better at it, by rote if by nothing else.

The strategy is simple: see as many films as possible. Several obstacles will hinder your ability to accomplish this, biggest of all a day’s exasperating tendency for only lasting twenty-four hours. Also, whether you are expected to file a news story every day or, in some cases, several times a day, will affect how well you manage your time between attending screenings and writing your news stories. As a freelance writer, I am fully in control of my time or I least I will be spending my days deluding myself so.

A movie’s popularity will dictate how long you will need to wait in line and sometimes, this means hours spent standing under the sun or rain or wind or… you get the idea. Waiting in line has its advantages: you meet other journalists (misery loves company). You’ll debate this or that film seen earlier in the day and make grave pronouncements on the state of American indie cinema or the ebb and flow of film sales. The thrill with Cannes, however, is in the discovery of new works. None of the movies screened in Cannes have been seen outside of their home country before. This is not so true of subsequent festivals, where many of Cannes’ discoveries will be rolled out time and again, like Toronto or Sundance, for reasons of timing but also money.

Attending a festival costs a lot of money. Let’s see, $ 1,200 airfare, $ 1,000 for a room, breakfast included, and approximately $ 600 for lunch and dinner daily for fifteen days–total tab for this writer: $ 2,800. You have to ensure that you can recoup this by writing for as many magazines as possible. I usually get some of my reviews and news items in Moving Pictures Magazine and Anthem magazine but the holy grail for the Cannes Festival press corps is the Interview with Hollywood A-listers. Roundtable interviews, junkets at the Carlton Beach Hotel, they’re all good and fine.

But will you have the know-how to secure an engagement with Harrison Ford? Because Cannes loves a Hollywood star as much as the Academy Awards do. Both establishments enjoy extremely high visibility and have the capacity to drastically alter the landscape. But they otherwise could not be more at odds. The Academy Awards are not hemmed in to any critical guiding principles, like Cannes is—I hope you know this. Awards and accolades are not based on merit but rather the manipulations of Oscar publicists and the legions of freelancers they summon to rally a couple of thousand ballot-holders to their cause.

This year I will probably start my Cannes To-Do list earlier. And there’s a lot to do, among others to try and find out what this year’s selection will be. Thierry Fremaux, the Cannes Festival’s artistic director, usually stays mum until late April. But I know people who know people who know people, and they can make anyone talk. One hundred fifty days? It’s a breeze.