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The Inside Scoop on the Cannes Film Fest

If you’re ever in France in May, you’d better not pass up the chance to attend at least one of the two most exciting events of the year on the French Riviera: the International Film Festival in Cannes and the Formula One Grand Prix in Monaco (next month’s article).

Not only are all of the Parisians here (those low budget flights with Easyjet and AirLib make it easier), stars from all over the world come to get a piece of the action as well. And before you start thinking that it’s too expensive or too hard to get in, I’m here to tell you how I attended both for practically nothing, and how you can do it too!

Cannes: A Paradise for Film Buffs and People Watchers
The Cannes myth is one of glamorous starlets prancing around topless on the beach and handsome actors hanging out in hotel bars. The reality is a bit less enticing. The Film Fest is really a business convention, but the business happens to be a bit more illustrious than most, since what are being bought and sold are films from around the world. The lesser-known directors, filmmakers and producers have to scramble a bit more to get the attention of the press and distributors, while the big budget films are mostly hyped up and promoted with huge billboards covering the elegant facades of the hotel palaces along the Croisette.

The competition for the Palme d’Or is what most lay people hear about, but there are many films that do very well at Cannes that never make it to US cinemas. So the three main activities that take place over the two weeks are: publicity, the screenings of films in and outside competition, and the awards show. The majority of the people you’ll actually see running around are journalists, PR people, and other tourists. The stars that show up at all tend to stay closely guarded and only travel by chauffeured car to and from the Red Carpet or the yacht parties. So what does that leave for the average Joe to look forward to?

Don’t believe the Lies
Everyone will tell you that it’s impossible to get into the screenings if you don’t have a badge (and badges are only for the press and the film industry people who had to register in advance for them). You can try and get a badge, or try and get the extra tickets that are floating around. If you plan in advance, the badge method may work. If you’re a writer and have a big name publication to write a letter of assignment for you, go for the Press Pass. If you want to fork over the extra dough (last check a few hundred bucks) you can buy a Market badge (you have to say you’re there to buy films) which gives you all access. It’s best to do this around the winter holidays beforehand, since the deadline is pretty early for documentation. Get the official accreditation guidelines here. Film industry newbies who want to get their film into the festival should find lots of handy advice in the Festival Virgin’s Guide.

Getting into the Screenings
Ask ten people and read ten different guides, and you’ll find twenty different answers to the question, “Can anyone get into the film screenings?” Normally, the screenings are just for the press, market and competition judges armed with badges. But there are four alternative ways that supposedly work (I tested the first three):

1. The Free Open-Air Screenings: These are specifically for the general public. Last year Apocalypse Now-Redux was shown on the port the day after it was screened at the festival. This year they moved it to the beach and showed digitised classic films in tribute to directors Jacques Tati and Billy Wilder. All you need to do is find out what time the films are showing (usually past dark) and show up with a towel to sit on.

2. Free Cinéphile Passes: Formerly called Le Forum, the Cinéphile Club is a local film fanatics club. They get their own special badges and have about 20,000 tickets to distribute to their members and the general public. But they’re not very well organized about it. Their website says to go to one place to pick up the public tickets (at the Licorne theatre), while another source said to ask at the white Cinéphile tent in front of the Palais des Festivals (between the Jimmy’z Casino and the Blue Carpet entrance for Un Certain Regard). I was even told by one to go to the Espace Miramar to get the tickets. I chose the second idea, because I was in front of the Palais anyway.

I just stood in the line, and when I got in (ignore the signs that say “accreditation only”) asked if there were any public places left, and got a ticket for the next screening taking place in the “Un Certain Regard” (a horridly depressing Belgium film). Later that day I went back again and got another, this time for a different theatre around the corner (I didn’t have time to go so I gave it away). Finally, I went a third time, and they were out, so told me to come back again in the morning. I think the trick is to keep going back, preferably just before a film you want to see, since they only give out tickets to the next screening. And if you get a blank look, ask someone else. Persistence helps (and make sure you’re dressed nicely, it helps).

3. Buy Tickets: I wanted to see the documentary about soul singers from the 60s called “Only the Strong Survive” with a journalist friend who had a badge. It was part of the Director’s Fortnight (Quinzaine des Réalisateurs) selection, so my friend went up to the Director’s Fortnight tent setup outside the Noga Hilton and asked if there were any public tickets. They’re sold for 5€, and no particular film is listed on the ticket so I assume you can use them for any of the Director’s Fortnight films. After this particular one, I was able to follow my friend to the press conference in the tent with no one checking badges, and got to see Sam Moore (singer of Soul Man) and the directors D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

4. Talk Your Way In: I didn’t try this, but I’ve heard of people who have done it. Other variations on this theme: get chummy with the guards, find someone in line who has extra tickets (some journalists do), hang around the Red Carpet in eveningwear and wait for someone to invite you (another friend of mine got into Star Wars this way, but the goon then tried to paw her the whole time). Needless to say, these methods work better if you’re the sort of person who makes friends easily and doesn’t take no for an answer.

Finally, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get into the films. Just walking around the Croisette can be fun and entertaining with all of the publicity stunts contrived to get the public’s attention. You can see who’s on the Red Carpet if you’re anywhere nearby because they have a giant screen setup for the masses to get a peek. The bars, clubs and restaurants are full of beautiful people and wannabe’s in absurd outfits. In short, just hang out and enjoy the atmosphere, lie on the beach, read the free festival magazines that circulate in the hotel lobbies each day, and if you do run into a star, make sure you have your camera ready!

This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged. 

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