There are film festivals and then there are the A Festivals: Berlin, Toronto, Sundance, Venice, San Sebastian. Then, there is Cannes. The ‘A’ festival of the world. The festival that every filmmaker dreams to premiere her/his film one day. I’m definitely that filmmaker.The first time I attended the Cannes film festival, I was an M.A film student at Goldsmiths College and all I could get was a film student accreditation. I couldn’t go anywhere near the red carpet or the Marche du Film or the main Palais des festivals but I could see movies and talk films in the bus , while on lunch, by the beach. That was my dream come true as a wannabe filmmaker.
There were about 9 of us doing the Masters and I convinced a few of them to travel to Cannes. I sorted out their accreditation and accommodation and travel to Cannes we did. From the polluted , run down, grey streets of New Cross where Goldsmiths College is to the bright blue skies of Cannes. The difference was a world apart.Even though we were staying in a Caravan miles away from the Croisette, we woke up around 7am every morning to make it to the screenings. My first time was just fun, not too glam but good early twenties fun. I remember once getting to La Croisette in trainers and an evening dress with my heels in a bag. Having nowhere to leave my trainers, I hid them by a bush next to the bus stop where we used to get our bus back to the Caravan. Come 1am that night and after a night of parting, it was time to change to my trainers and there they were, safe and sound inside the bush.
That year in Cannes, I met Pedro Almodovar’s brother, Augustin, at a breakfast event in the Carlton Hotel. At the Caravan, and as students on a budget, the diet was bread, ham and camembert cheese daily and I was craving cooked food. One day , wondering alone in one of the best hotels of La Croisette with my stomach making “feed me” noises, I see this fantastic breakfast going on that I could not resist. My stomach and I had to go in even if we were not invited or supposed to be there, but I just walked in as if i belonged to the event waving confidently to someone already in the room whom I had no idea who she was but i made it past the PR girls busy with other guests. In the breakfast event I could immediately spot a few top dogs from the film industry, but I wasn’t there to make contacts, I was there to eat as much as I could before returning to the ham and bread diet.While stuffing my face as if no tomorrow, a man and a young woman approach my table to grab some food. It was Agustin Almodovar, the producer brother of Spanish filmmaker, Pedro Almodovar. Immediately I introduced myself and maybe in my youthful arrogance, I told him I’m a film director and that I’m doing an M.A where Im writing a feature length script and would he consider producing it? I pitched him the script entitled “Love, sex and sushi” . He was kind and a good listener and asked his assistant to schedule a meeting with me for the day after at The Martinez Hotel so I could give him the script to read. I was on cloud 9 walking down La Croisette when I bumped into my fellow Goldsmiths students looking for a cheap place to eat something or a party to crash so they could eat canapés for free. I was already full from all the breakfast freebie so I went back to the caravan to work on the script one more time before giving it to Agustin.
The day of the meeting, he was so open minded and kind I couldn’t believe he was considering my film. He asked if I would consider as well being an actress as that was good training for a director too, and again in my youthful ignorance I said: oh no, I have acted here and there but wanna focus on the directing. Looking back I should have said yes, Im an actress too. They thought I had the typical Spanish look , like one of those girls in an olive oil bottle and sometimes I think, maybe that was my chance gone. Maybe he could have recommended me to cast for his brother. I don’t know. Being a film director is difficult but not impossible but it is a big shot and a big game so as you can expect, about a month later , he called saying the script wasn’t ready to be made into a film but he left the door open to future collaborations. That was defo the highlight of my first ever trip to Cannes.At the time, I took a Nikon FM2 with me as was learning about the mechanics of a manual 35mm camera. As a results my photos from that time in Cannes are blurry as my colleagues where taking them but had little idea about f-stops or apertures . Oh well
A pink dress is fine for meetings in Cannes
Things quickly changed after I graduated from University and got my Masters. I started to work in tv and film production while on the side I self funded my short films and eventually made a feature film. I had some success as a filmmaker and was invited to the Berlin Film Festival, San Sebastian and with my first feature film, ‘Campo de Batalla’, I travelled to Triestre in Italy where the film played in the main competition of the Triestre Latin American Film Festival. I was also selected by competition as a filmmaker and was invited to Harbour island in the Bahamas alone with camera and sound equipment to make a short film. My short film ‘America’ made it to the New York Film Festival and an article appeared in Spain El Pais about making my first film on a low budget as well as El Pais launching online my short film ‘Rescue Me’. Cannes always eluded me, it is very hard to get into any of their competition sections. But after establishing a bit of a name for myself as a female film director, the festival started to invite me to attend and offered a much better accreditation, a filmmaker accreditation that gave me access to the red carpet premieres in the evenings, the Marche du Film and pretty much everywhere I couldn’t get in the first time I went as a broke film student.Thankfully by now, I could also afford a hotel near La Croisette so no more Caravan or bread and ham diet.
Even though is fun to travel with your filmmaker friends to Cannes, I usually travel there alone as those are the most productive times. I can focus on establishing new connections,preparing my meetings, and specially on rising bright and early to make it for the 8:30 am screenings of the films in competition. And who wakes up at 7 am to spend two hours in the darkness of a film theatre to watch a film from Russia with subtitles when outside the beach is calling? I do and hundred of other festival goers do too and that is what I love about Cannes; forget the glamour, forget the parties , forget the fashion, the A listers. I love the fact that people love cinema and are eager to discover a cinema masterpiece and you can strike a good film conversation with the stranger sitting next to you in the Palais des festivals to talk about films, filmmakers, or how the competition is looking while reading the Trade Papers. Even the guys working as stewardesses in the main Palais are knowledgable about films in the festival, they care about their job and they know where each film is playing and whether they think the film has a good option for the Palme d’or or not. Many of these guys work in the festival year after year so you end up recognising quite a few faces.
The best cinematic experiences I’ve ever had were at Cannes, the film that blew me away the most was perhaps a Russian film I knew nothing about, ” Leviathan” . It was two and a half hours long but noone in the packed Palais left their sit to even go to the toilet. Personally, I was transformed. I knew I was watching a masterpiece, I knew there is hope in the world because there are artists out there creating great work that means something, that says something that can transform a person.People with a good heart and a brilliant mind.
My most crazy moment in the red carpet was at an Angelina Jolie premiere, it was a film entitled ‘A mighty heart’ by Michael Winterbottom. I was invited to the evening premiere but somehow I got caught up in meetings during the day and I didn’t have time to go home and change for the premiere.The Cannes Film Festival main competiton evening premieres are a glam affair. The dress code is extremely strict and you will definitely not make it pass the gates if you don’t follow the code. To me, it makes sense and I abide by the rules always, well almost, because that evening I was wearing flip flops and a blouse with shorts but I really wanted to see the film.My trick? Add red lipstick, do big hair and smile. I got to the gate with my ticket feeling self-conscious about my clothes amongst ladies in Chanel , but when my turn came, I looked to the guy straight into his eyes, smiled as much as I could showing off all the lipstick and big hair that he just didn’t have time to look at my outfit . I walked up the red carpet discreetly and when I got inside the Palais, I waited till the lights were dark to make my way to my sit. When the film finished , I left and needless to say i didnt attend the film party.
My evening appearance wearing flip flops and shorts at a premiere was a one off as I do like to follow rules and consider myself a dress code abiding citizen!
Oh yes, I did get to see Angelina Jolie, beautiful woman. Skinny as most actresses. That’s another thing. Something that shocked me in Cannes about the big stars both male and female is how thin and petite they are, almost fragile. Im a naturally slim girl size small, but even me, in Cannes, compared with the big stars there, I’m considered curvy. So when you see pictures of an actress who may look curvy , she probably is just normal.
My other red carpet appearances were a bit more glam within my very tight limits – meaning no hair stylist just wash and go and make up on the toilet of the hotel before heading off to the premiere after a day of running around in La Croisette- but in Cannes with the sun and the good water , your skin and hair will feel and look better so you get two in one as no need for much styling when you can get it naturally and for free. Plus with so many beautiful women around, all extremely well dressed and polished, it’s good to be yourself always and just be happy with what you have. Its not the dress as they say, its the person. Its the attitude.
There is one side to Cannes I don’t like but it no longer bothers me as i stick to my world and they always stick to theirs and their agenda. The people who only go for the parties or to make contacts. They tend to be quite fake and have zero cinematic culture and couldn’t care less about what films are playing in the film festival.In fact,many leave the festival without having watched one single film. Thankfully, I can now spot them and smell them as soon as they open their mouth so I waste no time in getting rid of them. I just don’t like people who go through life trying to make contacts, or who only like you depending on how good a contact you could be for them. I like to make friends not contacts.Contacts are too corporate and we filmmakers are artists at heart.
The first time I was a guest in the red carpet I remember feeling so emotional, not because of me being there, but because i realised this is a festival where filmmakers and films come first and are treated with the utmost respect. When I sat down in the darkness of the theatre to watch the film in competition that night – ‘Melancholia’ by Lars Von Trier staring Kirsten Dunst-I just knew that was the place where i wanted to be one day with a film. My filmmaking game needs to be raised if I’m ever to do so.It’s not easy , it requieres talent , a lot of talent , a talent as big as Andrei Zvyagintsev, director of Leviathan, has.
And what is my favourite part of the festival? If you are lucky enough to ever get an accreditation or an invite to see a film playing in the main competition, I love the festival trailer which they play just before the movie starts. Its always the same and it has been so for years. Its a graphic of the red carpet steps going up and up until they reach the stars, then the festival logo comes up and then the movie starts.
The music of the trailer is just beautiful and it is the same music they play at the red carpet when everyone is sitting and waiting inside the Palais des festivals and the filmmaker and actors premiering a film that evening finally appear in the red carpet. They are the last people to enter the cinema and are greeted by the artistic director of the festival at the top of the steps. Every time I hear this music i don’t regret for one minute that one day I took the uncertain decision of becoming a film director.
I don’t care that I have two bread and butter jobs, that i can’t make as many films as i would like to, i know my passion for making films is in me and it will never die, i just go into remission for a year or two and then, i bounce back. Cannes is waiting for me and im waiting for Cannes.