Last month I had the opportunity to attend the 69th Festival de Cannes in the beautiful French Riviera. I was there representing a short film I starred in last year called "Reminiscence". This was my first time and it was definitely a learning experience!
There are tons of tips and tricks I picked up - I could offer suggestions about lineups (lineups everywhere for everything), the easiest place to see stars up close, what's worth it, what's a waste of time etc. etc. etc.
But the most illuminating observations I can offer are full of contradiction.
Here are my top 5 high-level learnings as a first timer with a Short Film Corner badge.
You won't get to wear that ball gown... but you'll see a movie or two
It's odd packing for a trip where anything could happen, and nothing could happen. In the weeks prior to departing, I was stressed about not having enough dresses. I begged, borrowed and stole (not really) fancy outfits from friends and family. H&M and Coquitlam Centre gifted me a beautiful floor length white lace dress for the red carpet that I fell in love with during a photoshoot. I was set!
Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to wear it. I knew it would be hard to get my hand on a gala screening ticket but... it was next to impossible.
However, I WAS lucky enough to be awarded tickets to two screenings in the Grand Theatre. Others I know didn't even get that. So I got to walk up the red carpet during the afternoon, take a few selfies, and ascend the stairs into the stunning theatre. The atmosphere inside is buzzing even during an afternoon showing. The audience was happy to be there. So was I!
Most people won't follow up... but others will surprise you!
I handed out A LOT of business cards. Mingled and chatted with as many filmmakers as I could. I met some really wonderful people who all seemed super keen and enthusiastic about making connections, hearing your story... all while knowing that in actuality, once everyone gets on the flight back home, they will probably forget about you.
My film wasn't screening but a few friends' were. They invited many to attend, with dates and times exchanged and promises made. I went to those screenings because I said I would support! Very few they invited felt the same, I guess. It was too bad...
Having said that, there are a some people who do what they say they will do! A French Screenwriter we met took the time to watch our films in the Short Film Digital Library (where lines are long and you only get an hour access). He chased us down in the street to give us feedback "Do you remember me!?" OF COURSE we did. He was a gem of a man and one of my favourite people from the festival.
Be ready to hustle... but chance encounters are the best encounters
Come prepared. Have a verbal pitch down for any upcoming projects you're working on. Print business cards, have links ready to email. Do your research and attempt to set up any important meetings in advance.
It's as important, however, to present yourself as open and approachable. Don't automatically jump to "Hmmm. what can this person do for ME?". BE KIND. Get to know people standing beside you in lines. Smile. Say hello. Ask where they're from.
The best, most memorable encounters I had were by total and complete fluke. Chatting to the person next to me on the shuttle who turned out to purchase short film distribution rights. Taking a photo for some lovely people who ended up being in the film completion business (that's a thing!?). I loved hearing their perspectives and recommendations on films, the festival, the business in general.
Did I follow up by email? Absolutely. Will I get anything "more" out of those encounters? Probably not. But they were by far the best.
The setting is stunning... but you'll see very little of Cannes
As someone who likes to take in the culture of places I visit and aims to "live like a local", there was a strange sense of guilt for being in a location as beautiful as Cannes and barely seeing outside the Palais walls -watching films in a dark theatre when the sun was shining, shuttling back and forth with other festival goers from the hotel.
But when I found myself walking home along the water, or sitting on a grassy lawn to eat lunch, a different kind of guilt came over me. "I'm here for the festival, not to lounge around! Better hurry up and get back inside!"
It was an exercise in frustration.
On my last night in Cannes when I truly came to terms with the fact I wouldn't be seeing a gala film, I opted not to attend a party and went to the beach instead. A great book, breathtaking ocean views, myself and the sunset for company. I had dinner at a tiny, beautiful little bistro, sat on the patio and eavesdropped on a neighboring table speaking Spanish, and tried to figure out what they were saying.
After an indulgent 3 course meal and delicious wine, it felt like maybe I was indeed on vacation.
It's probably not worth going back... but you likely will anyway
A quote from a long-time filmmaker and festival attendee I met:
"Every year I say 'Never again!'. And every year I come back..."