I’ve only been to Cannes twice. Both times with short films, which were part of the Short Film Corner.
Cannes has a lovely setting; the weather is almost always nice, which should make for an enjoyable experience. As a festival goer, I’m not going to tell anyone that my experience wasn’t pleasant and that the festival was disorganised and in a mess, quite the opposite. For an average festival goer who is looking for fun, Cannes surely delivers. However, as a female indie filmmaker, Cannes Film Festival was undoubtedly not for me.
From the moment I walked in through the “palace” door, I felt overwhelmed. The place is so busy with people that unless you are an A-lister, you will get lost amongst the amount of information coming your way, which you can’t possibly filter fast enough.
Most people at the Cannes Film Festival are there to sell; and most of them, especially the distributors, are very pushy salespeople.
Even during the “networking” events organised by the Short Film Corner, the people I talked to usually looked through me searching for another victim.
Many people you will meet are full of shit, getting your hopes up only to crash it in the next few minutes. What I have noticed is that huge majority of people who attend Cannes are not there to build a relationship with anyone, but to boast about their own films, projects and how fantastic they are. Please do remember that I’m talking about my experience, from the point of view of an unknown female filmmaker. I guess the experience for the already established people in the industry must be very different.
Apart from the main competition, Cannes has a market, and this should be the place where the deals are made. I have no access to the market knowledge since I’m not a sales agent neither a distributor but a filmmaker. However, if you are lucky and nice to the distributors who organise press screening you might be able to go and watch a few films you wouldn’t typically be able to, and I do have to say this is a very nice perk of the festival. So if you happen to go, take advantage of that.
Parties are the vital part of any festival, but Cannes is especially famous for its parties. The only one “posh” party I managed to go to, organised by one of the distributors based in the UK, was terrible. He told me that unless I attach an A-lister to my film, it was never going to be made and if I was going to direct the movie myself, once again, it was never going to happen (I happen to have a vagina instead of a dick, still major obstacle in this industry). Of course, I can’t help but thinking that he said that because I’m a woman (that happened in 2011) and back then he still believed that he had the power to break or make someone’s career. Especially that, as I later researched, he only had gotten into distribution because he was a failed film director and producer. It does sound familiar, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, people like him – the gatekeepers, are what stops women from making to the top in this industry.
This unpleasant encounter made me realise that I needed to make my feature film independently and this is what I did with “Anna & Modern Day Slavery”. I made it completely independently. It took me shit lots of time to complete the film, but I did it without some asshole telling me what I could or couldn’t do. To support me and the movie watch it for free on YouTube and contribute if you can:
If you decide to attend Cannes, don’t go for more than 3-4 days, and spend most of your time hanging out at the pavilions. The American pavilion is really exciting (you need to buy a pass to get in; buy it in advance to get the discount); the UK has many talks and you can arrange one-on-one meetings with people from BFI or Film London (it may change yearly, just be aware of what the pavilion offers.); Canadian pavilion allows you to make appointments with producers who could co-produce your film (be prepared for those meetings). There is also a Media Desk (the European Union body supporting arts and film), always worth visiting and many more pavilions representing their countries’ film industries, offering incentives and organizing parties, some of which are really lame so be cautious.
Have SMART goals set up for that visit; goals that are not too unrealistic. However, if you approach the festival as a fun thing to do, maybe catch a competition movie, enjoy the weather, and take gazillions of pictures to share on social media. By all means, you should go but don’t have high expectations that this festival will magically change your life if you are not in competition with your film.
I’m not saying that I’ll never go back to Cannes. I don’t know. At the moment, as an indie filmmaker, I have very little to look for in Cannes.
Cannes is all about glamour, A-listers, and a lot of advertising money. Indie filmmaking is the opposite of that and unfortunately, unless women filmmakers (a lot of us is working in the indie filmmaking world) will be given a chance to work, and have access to funding, we will not be fully included in places like Cannes. For now, the indie filmmaking world is the only place we can tell our stories.