As I sit on the beach in the south of France, looking at the craggy hills that surround the bay filled with expensive yachts and cruise ships, I realize just how unique the Cannes experience is. I’m currently at the prestigious, if pretentious, Cannes Film Festival which runs for 10 days in a tiny town on the French Riviera. This year’s movie lineup has been its most extravagant in years, from Cannes favorites like Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodóvar and Woody Allen peppered throughout the week. The famous celebrities are also making the trek across the globe like it’s the Oscars plus MTV Movie Awards on steroids with A-listers ranging from Kanye West to Johnny Depp to teen favorites like Vanessa Hudgens.
However, the life of a student-journalist here is a little less glamorous. The first barrier is the intense hierarchy within the system. As with most everywhere, it’s more about who you know, so stars and wealthy producers have free reign of the festival. Next comes the press with its own separate hierarchy of colored badges ranging from the “Roger Ebert” white to your unknown-blog-photographer orange. At the lowest of the low are the film students, struggling film producers and plain old tourists. I was lucky enough to get a yellow press pass, a step above orange, three below white. Still pretty dismal, but I can attend any screening I please… except the fancy tuxedo-required galas. For those below me, they stand outside the Palais de Festival, the ugliest and most important building to Cannes, for hours on end, in tuxes and ball gowns holding tiny signs that beg for a ticket to anything. Those less curious about foreign films and more intent on the stars set up camp at the sidelines of the red carpet for as long as four hours.
I, instead, wait in long lines of up to a mere hour for an obscure Israeli comedy, watching the entire higher-level press saunter through in front of me before finally getting a seat in the back row next to a group of chatty Italian web journalists. I actually liked the film and am actually lucky to have gotten in at all, but the experience is a bit absurd and tiring. Also, to see the bigger films, all press must attend 8:30 a.m. screenings. Try watching a Spanish serial killer movie or a black and white silent film at the crack of dawn on three hours of sleep — it’s a character-building experience, regardless of how enjoyable the movie is. Fortunately, all of the journalists are in it together. We wait in the long lines, we complain about the ingratiating Korean documentaries, we praise the gutsy niche films and we all trade stories and recommendations freely.
There is also the ever-present chance that you’ll see a celebrity. You’re watching a movie when suddenly Adrien Brody is a few rows behind you. I even had a friend that had her toe stepped on by Robert DeNiro — like any self-respecting Canadian, she apologized to him. It’s also definitely possible to break into these parties. This is probably an appropriate time to thank the editors of Indiewire and Variety, who I have never met, but bouncers and security will tell you that “I am with” them. The stories from the even more exclusive parties get increasingly absurd, ranging from impromptu Jamie Foxx concerts to free horse rides around the villa. And while the drinks are always free, no one is dancing because they’re all talking. This is a place where producers and talent come together to meet and greet, rub shoulders and make deals.
Without connections, I’m usually left on the beach watching the parties happen on exclusive yachts in the harbor or in a lavish villa up in the hills. However, I’m perfectly happy lounging on the beach, catching a glimpse of Penelope Cruz or Meredith Vieira, discovering tiny films months before they get released in America and dressing up to get into B-list (or C-list or D-list) party. Tonight, I’ll be watching a classic film the festival shows on the beach under the stars along with a few of my new journalist friends. Don’t worry; you’re allowed to be jealous. I am too.