Cannes wrap up

The Palais in Cannes

Outside the main venue in Cannes, The Palais

Well Cannes has wrapped for another year and as usual it was an incredibly demanding, tiring, insightful and rewarding experience – an explosion of noise, colour, cigarette smoke and accents from the four corners. 

ACMI’s business here straddles the Market, its associated screening programs and the film festival around which the entire event is built. To quote Barry McKenzie, it’s an event that’s as full as a bull’s bum with screenings (up to six a day), meetings (rarely more than 15 minutes long) and of course the social engagements that Cannes is famous for. 

Its density is overwhelming; the amount of time you spend on your feet is painful to even think about and at times you really have to push yourself to maintain motivation and enthusiasm – especially in the last couple of days. It’s both shattering and invigorating. 

I have to say also that I’ve managed to become an expert in writing essays on a blackberry. 

In all this, I’m look at achieving several things for ACMI: 

  • gauging the tone of the international creative scene that will visit Oz screens next year
  • making new contacts in the international industry community and consolidating old ones
  • finding the works that may populate ACMI’s screens in the coming months
  • developing ACMI’s international presence and reputation (I hope)

It’s been an interesting festival all round and very different from last year. I don’t believe there was the same amount of discoveries in the market this year as there has been previously. Perhaps it was just my selection, but I think there was a kind of monotone in the works of the official program and director’s fortnight. 

That’s not to say the selections were bad and there was nothing for ACMI, but there was a real movement toward more bleak and contemplative works and it was difficult to find works that uplifted or inspired. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, there was a kind of lack of urgency in the works presented in the official program and even on the business floor. As films are a reflection of the mood of cultures internationally, this gives a pretty good commentary on the sense of the community. 

Business however seemed to be good (certainly better than last year) but the scale of things seemed strangely reduced. There were fewer stunts on the Croisette, a more restrained approach to the huge posters that run down the height and length of the magnificent Carlton Hotel and what I thought was considerably lower level Hollywood star-power – although I did manage to sight Oliver Stone, Michael Douglas, Mick Jagger and the ubiquitous Jean-Claude Van Damme. 

Tim Burton cake

We didn't spot Tim Burton, but we did spot this creepy rendering of him in cake

One striking thing was the enormous gap between the “A” and “Z” grade films in the market – with very little in between. While interesting from my perspective, it has a much more profound effect on the mid-range distribs who may miss out on works with good box office potential because of cost. 

Without good levels of content because it drops down to direct to dvd (or the likes of David Hasselhoff’s Dancing Ninja), this may make an already tough distribution environment tougher still. It may also produce the effect of people looking elsewhere for works, which has its own complexity and expense. 

Nonetheless, highlights for me included: 

  • The lyrical and gentle Korean film Poetry
  • Ellen Barkin turning in a très solid performance in the very stylish Shit Day
  • The great animation The Illusionist  (seen in the market)
  • Tetsuo; The Bullet Man (also seen in the market)
  • Kiarostami’s Certified Copy which garnered Juliette Binoche an acting gong
  • Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, a doco on the legendary Technicolor pioneer
  • The Jean-Michel Basquiat bio which hangs a really good film around a 15 minute VHS interview with the artist
  • The excellent single take horror thriller from Uruguay La Casa Muda
  • The poignant and beautifully acted African film Life, Above All
  • The Godfather-esque tale of the fight of algerian independence Outside the Law
  • The cool new burlesque drama On Tour – which won a gong for best director.

It’s so hard to gauge what audiences really think here at Cannes. They applaud even the trailers and there’s certainly a leaning toward more European stylings, as you’d expect, which is great, but when there’s such a density of them to be viewed, it can get tiresome as you crave a hit of speed. Or maybe that’s just me. 

Richard waiting in line

Richard spends more time waiting in queues

There are some beautiful things here though and some glorious cinematic moments as well as many, many strange anomalies, and it’s impossible to even come close to seeing a fraction of the program. This year I missed all the Cannes Classics for instance and a single meeting thrown into the mix or a cancelled screening can completely bugger up a whole day.

Despite the brisk market business, there did seem to be fewer films on show throughout the festival, with the first and last few days looking really sparse on the schedule. As per usual, by Friday you could fire a cannon in the market and only hit the cleaners – who, by the way, have the worst job in Cannes, especially if they’re assigned to latrine duty. Now that’s an experience of sound and smell! 

I did have one funny moment there on Friday, when the riot police were out in force due to rumours of a big demonstration related to the Algerian war film. During this time I went to the gents only to find myself surrounded by literally 10 of the gendarmerie in full riot gear (helmets, tazers, batons strapped to their back like samurai swords and all) at the urinals and filing out of the cubicles. Very funny and kind of strange as they seemed to have a rostered pissouir break. 

Aside from the riot that never was, the event wasn’t without its controversy. Godard failed to turn up for the screening of his work Socialism (which as a film caused its own level of debate) and there was a significant level of discussion and disappointment regarding the continued imprisonment of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Things came to a head at the Kiarostami (Certified Copy) media conference where Juliet Binoche broke down in tears. 

This is perhaps where Cannes has its greatest currency – the international eye and media. The media contingent in Cannes is huge. Quite aside from the masses of paparazzi, there are a considerable number of critically-oriented journalists who don’t shy from the political and who aren’t afraid to show their feelings. 

I only did the black-tie red carpet once for the Kitano film Outrage but it’s always fun whatever the film. The colour is just so vibrant and the mood buoyant as everyone, celebrity or otherwise, pulls out their own camera to capture the strange and dynamic experience. 

But come the last Saturday the place is all but deserted, which is a strange feeling that gives you the sense of still being at a party as the sun comes up, with the hangover starting to take shape and wondering where you left your jacket. 

– Richard Sowada

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