I’ve been back in Toronto for two days, and am experiencing the fantastic benefits of east-to-west-travel jetlag. I haven’t felt so productive in ages!
Whenever I fly from Canada to Europe, I find myself exhausted and out of it for two or three days, sleepy at odd hours, unable to get up when I’m supposed to – all the classic symptoms of jetlag, especially if you “lose” six or seven hours in transit.
But when I come back home from over there, the effect is very, very good. “Gaining” time is somehow much easier to bear than losing it, so when I’m transported to a timezone that is five to seven hours earlier than where I left, I end up falling asleep early (I usually push it to 9 or 10pm on my first day back in order to try to achieve the best effect) and then wake up the following morning feeling well rested and bright eyed around 6 or 7am. It’s fantastic. I am by no means a natural morning person, but I feel incredibly productive and positive when I get up early and can say “wow, look at all I’ve accomplished, and it’s not even 9am”. And honestly, even if all I’ve accomplished is having breakfast and a shower, it still feels like a victory.
Of course, getting up that early means I’m exhausted by 10pm, so the effect really kills my nightlife, but honestly I’m mostly a hermit these days anyway so the pros of having more AM hours to get shit done far outweigh the cons of going to bed at grandma o’clock.
Since I stopped working full time in an office, it’s been harder and harder to keep to a regular schedule. Relying on myself for discipline and motivation has never been my strong suit (I’m working on it). I work a lot of hours every day but sometimes I don’t start those hours till 1pm, and then I’m up past midnight still hammering away at my keyboard trying to meet a deadline. Even though I often feel like I hit my creative stride later in the day, I’d still much prefer to get the majority of my work done before dinnertime, so that I have the option of relaxing in the evening instead of still being at it until bedtime. That’s the other problem of working for yourself. No separation between work time and personal time. Although to be honest, that was kind of the case with REEL CANADA too, so it’s not a huge change.
Since getting back on Monday, I’ve gotten up early enough to hit the gym and start my workday by 9ish. It feels amazing, and I really want to keep it going. In the summer, when the sun rises earlier and I’m generally feeling less sluggish and more peppy, it might even be sustainable? If only I didn’t need a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to kickstart this kind of change. First world problems? Jetsetter problems?
By the final weekend, I’m starting to feel like I have been here forever. Almost everyone has left, so Cannes is starting to feel like a ghost town again. The empty, quiet feeling that was so relaxing and vacation-like at the start of the trip now feels kind of sad and lonely. I guess it’s the difference between arriving early for a party that you know is going to be really fun, and being there after it ends and the fun is over.
My stamina is waning as well. The reason we decided to stay until the very end is that all the official competition films (as well as the award winners from the sidebar programmes) are repeated for market badge holders in these final days. It’s way easier to get into the repeat screenings, even when they’re in smaller venues, than it is to try to get tickets for the official premieres. The premiere screenings for the films in competition all take place in the Lumiere, the 2400 seat cinema with the famous red carpet, where women in informal sandals and men without bow ties and black shoes are turned away. It’s a bit of an ordeal not just to get tickets, but to get all dolled up and stand in line for an hour (know what’s not fun? being drenched in the rain while waiting in line in a formal gown, then having to watch a movie sopping wet … in a formal gown).
Once the bulk of the festival and market attendees leave town and the repeat screenings start kicking in, it’s a cinema lovers’ paradise in Cannes. Easy access to competition titles and back to back screenings with minimal waiting / line-up time for three or four days? What could be better? And yet, but this point I’ve been here for so long and am so tired that it’s getting hard to focus on films. In the end, Colin and I only manage to see one film on the final weekend – Alejandro Jodorowsky’s La Danza de la Realidad.
After seeing the awesome documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune, we were a bit nervous about seeing La Danza. It’s a personal story about his relationship with his father, and it’s the first film he’s made in 23 years. A lot could go wrong, right? And yet, the old master proves he’s still got it with a whimsical and totally unexpected treat that manages to be playful even when it’s tragic. The touching tale stars the director’s son, Brontis Jodorowsky, as the father, and the film is all the more poignant when you think of the father directing the son in the story of the grandfather, and when you think of the raw and shocking performance the son gives, in the directorial hands of his father. It’s a family affair, and probably in my top three films that I’ve seen here. Jodorowsky’s reflections on life, family, aging and art are both fresh and wise. The man’s done a great job of getting to be 84 years old.
At the end of the day on Saturday we decide to invite some friends who are still in town over to our now-empty apartment (the roomies have left town) to drink rosé and catch up. Five bottles of very good local stuff set us back €15, which just makes Toronto prices all the more depressing. Even in a restaurant, a really good bottle of Provancale wine rarely costs us more than €20-30, but the insane cheapness of wine in grocery stores is really something.
After a quiet dinner for two at a French place, a handful of stragglers descend on our place for wine on the balcony and end up staying until 3am, or thereabouts. It’s totally worth it for the fun with friends, but it screws up our ambitious plan to take a ferry on Sunday to Île Sainte-Marguerite, the pine-and-eucalyptus dotted beauty where the real prison from Man in the Iron Mask still stands. Instead, we spend Sunday packing and trying to buy gifts for our moms and dads, before heading into the scenic, cobble-stoned old town for one final meal.
We pick a cute restaurant and sit down at one of their outdoor tables, next two to gents in tuxedoes who obviously just came from a red carpet screening. We strike up a conversation (as one does with strangers, while travelling) and it turns out our table mates don’t work in film at all, but are attending the festival simply as fans!
I’ve blogged before about how tough it can be to get accredited to Cannes, which is an industry-only festival with no real “public tickets” to speak of. Well, as it turns out, our new pal Ray, who works in a healthcare-related startup near San Francisco in silicone valley, managed to fake working in post-production and got himself a pass about seven years ago. Once you’re in the system, it’s considerably easier to just keep coming back, so he’s continued to buy a market pass every year since, and comes to Cannes for ten days just to watch movies. Every year, he convinces a different buddy to tag along, and this year it was an English writer pal who was relying mostly on the kindness of strangers for his film tickets, because he didn’t have the market pass. The two had been having a grand time, and had probably seen more films than we had. It was so delightful sharing our dinner with “civilians” who weren’t exhausted by two weeks of schmoozing, meetings and work-related obligations, but had actually come to town for the love of film, and were totally invigorated by the experience. We tried to talk them into coming to Toronto in the fall, of course. After all, TIFF shows way more movies.
On our final stroll back to the apartment, we pass by the familiar sites where we spent so much time over these past few weeks and say goodbye for another year. The tech crews are already back, taking apart the temporary structures and barricades erected to keep things orderly during the fest. The streets are mostly empty. It’s really and truly over. And I can’t wait to get home to my own bed.
This is the day that I pack with film watching! Feels like being at a film festival, finally, except that almost everyone’s already left town and it actually feels like everything is over just as I’m hitting my stride. On day one or two, I felt like I had already been here for months, but now it seems like the whole thing whizzed by in the blink of an eye.
I kick off the day with a screening of the competition film Borgman, which is apparently the first Dutch film in competition in over 30 years. It’s absurd and funny and defies description (and really, any description would be a bit of a spoiler, and the surprises in this one are so satisfying). Loosely, the plot is about a man who slowly worms his way into the lives of an unassuming family, with unexpected and bizarre consequences. Refreshing!
Next up, I pop into the Quebecois film Sarah Prefers to Run, which is in the Un Certain Regard programme. It’s a small and simple movie about a young woman who loves to run. Sarah’s commitment to running has all but eliminated any hopes of a normal social life (or any kind of life outside of running), but considering how awkward she is in all her human interactions, perhaps it’s for the best. After all, given a choice, Sarah prefers to run over pretty much any other activity.
After a short break for quick snacks, I race across from the Palais to the Theatre Croisette (a whopping 10 minute walk, really) to catch Erik Matti’s On the Job. The film looks fantastic and there are a lot of great action moments in it, but I can’t help feeling that a lot is lost in the cultural translation about the way Philippine society works. The plot centres around two inmates who are routinely let out of prison by corrupt guards in order to work as assassins. The relationship between the two is interesting, but the ins and outs of the prison system are difficult to understand at first, and once the film broadens into the larger corruption (it reaches to the top, naturally), I missed the intimate story about the two hitmen that we’d started with.
The final film of the day is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, which had just a couple of days ago received some boos in the press screening but was then seemingly well received by the later public audience. None of the negative reactions lessened my excitement, and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. The film is slow, highly stylized, and Gosling isn’t really the hero or even the main character (Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm is, and he’s great). I loved the Thai colour palette, the deliberately languid pacing and the dreamlike atmosphere. And I loved Kristen Scott Thomas! She is the best bad mom ever.
But anyway, being booed puts the film into some pretty fantastic company, as this Booed at Cannes retrospective at BAM in Brooklyn points out.
After Only God Forgives, Colin and I go off to dinner with some friends who work in distribution, back at Papa Nino’s, our favourite pizza place in town. There’s a weird amount of pizza joints in this town. I don’t know if it’s the proximity to Italy or what, but you couldn’t spit without hitting a pizza place in Cannes. They’re all pretty decent, but Papa Nino’s is by far the best. It’s a small mom & pop shop that seats 30 (tops) and I hope it never gets too popular, because it’s so good. We’ve eaten there three times on this trip and it hardly feels like enough times.
Spending the day watching movies did wonders for my sense of calm and wellbeing. At this point, getting through the odds and ends of the last couple of days seems like it’ll be a breeze.
It’s official. The meetings are over, and there’s nothing but movies left to occupy our time. On Thursday, I saw the new Hirokazu Koreeda film, Like Father Like Son. I’ve been a big fan since After Life (1998), and I was honestly looking forward to a beautiful drama and not yet another genre film, just for a change of pace. The story (about two very different families which have to cope with the fact that their sons were switched at birth in the hospital six years prior) was so touching, funny, sad, beautiful and heartbreaking, it was like a perfect balm for my exhausted, frayed emotions.
That was followed up by a major tonal shift when we went to see the US indie Magic Magic, which was an uncomfortable, difficult experience, and a really good film. Sebastián Silva’s simple story of a young woman who mentally unravels on a trip to Chile to visit her cousin managed to sustain a really intense atmosphere of anxiety and dread throughout, and Juno Temple and Michael Cera both gave excellent performances.The latter was so annoying an unlikeable that I was actually really impressed with his willingness to play a role that’s so against his usually loveable type. Although I gather he’s similarly awful/great in Silva’s Crystal Fairy, which I haven’t seen.
In fact, the film made me realize two things which I’d like to rectify. First, I’ve never seen any of Silva’s films. I thought I had, but after looking him up I realized I must have been confusing him with someone else. Second, while I’ve been hearing Juno Temple’s name absolutely everywhere for the past couple of years, she’s actually a black hole in my movie viewing experience. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her in anything, which seems impossible, but after reviewing her filmography I realize that almost every film she’s had a significant role in is one that I’ve somehow inadvertently missed in its festival or theatrical run and sworn to “catch up with later”, but haven’t. Kaboom, Dirty Girl, Killer Joe, The Brass Teapot, you name it. I haven’t seen any of them. I’m not even sure how it’s possible. So, apparently she exists in some kind of opposite world from me. But I thought she was really great in Magic Magic.
In the evening, feeling pretty productive after having seen two films, we decided to take a break from Cannes by going to a convenience store, buying some pasta, sauce, an onion, some lardons and a bottle of red wine (oh, and €20 worth of baklava from the nearby Lebanese joint) and going home to cook dinner and eat it while watching an episode of Breaking Bad in bed. Sometimes you really need a break, y’know?
I realized today that my stress about not having seen enough films actually stems from a deeper place. Every time I’ve come here in the past (a whopping two times, but still), I’ve been “taking time off” from my full time job at REEL CANADA in order to be here. And every time, I’ve felt a certain amount of anxiety about the work I’d left behind. I wanted to make really sure that no balls were dropped in my absence, that nobody would be stuck without an answer, or without some crucial piece of a puzzle being completed in a timely manner. I’ve always checked in via email multiple times in a day and felt nervous about whether I was reachable enough. I’d like to think that I’m just conscientious, but I know that I’m also just a natural worrier when it comes to work, and working in a high-pressure environment (which RC often was, though it was also often fun and rewarding) brings out the worst of my anxious tendencies.
All this is just to say that this year, I’m not taking time off to be here. I’m just here. My position at REEL CANADA is part time and I’ve got no pressing projects at the moment (and the ones I have are under control and trucking along well without me). I’m working on projects (such as the film with Peter Lynch) but I’m not neglecting them while I’m here. In fact, I’m pitching them to people and trying to help get them made. I feel busy (like, really busy), but nothing is out of control, and it feels genuinely weird to not be stretching myself way (way!) too thin for the first time in years. I’m not anxious because I haven’t seen enough films. I’m anxious because I feel like I should be anxious about something and it freaks me out that I might actually have shit under control.
Or maybe I’m just feeling better because I saw two good films.
The market is starting to draw to a close, and I am starting to feel incredibly guilty for not seeing more movies. Self doubt is creeping in. I’m wondering if I did this all wrong, if focusing on only meetings was a bad idea and if I should have been scouting the market more. I talk to journalist pals who’ve been cramming five films a day into their schedules, and festival programmers who’ve managed to achieve a decent balance of two to three films a day in between their meetings. I’ve seen a few in the market and a few out of Director’s Fortnight, but nowhere near as many as I’d hoped.
Yes, there are still a few days left and the official films are being replayed, so I’ll get my chance to catch up on many of those, but all this is just to say that I’m not an expert at managing film markets yet, and I’m not sure I did this one as well as I could have. Next time, I’ll be striving for more balance between business and … business.
Other than my sudden panic over seeing too few movies, this rainy Wednesday was a success. Attended the Fantasia Frontieres cocktail, where lots of people turned up to toast to the upcoming co-production market in spite of the rain. Since I’m representing a project that’s been selected for Frontieres this year (The Void, by team Manborg), I wouldn’t have missed the cocktail for all the rain in the world.
In the evening, Colin very nearly got us a pair of tickets to the red carpet screening of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, but they turned out to be for an afternoon screening that had already passed by the time we were given the envelope. Boo!
It did save us the trouble of racing back to our apartment in the rain to change into formal wear, so instead we caught up with some friends over drinks on a lovely terrace over (what else?) rosé.
At midnight, we overcame our sleepiness and went to the Only God Forgives party & drank champagne. I probably would have rather seen the film, to be honest. Since the film was screened at 10:30pm, the party didn’t start until midnight, so it was quite brief. As in most places, Cannes has a few strict rules about noise & such, so all beach parties have to be shut down at 2am sharp. Other places will keep serving alcohol until much later into the night, but the high-end beach-front clubs and restaurants where most of the films end up having their premiere parties can’t go past 2.
The party was reasonably subdued, but we were still in a bit of a social mood, so we strolled to the Petit Majestic to end our night at the rowdy street party full of festival hooligans (probably the last truly packed night at the Petit of this fest, since lots of folks are already leaving). Two drunk steamed hotdogs later, we managed to get home to bed around 3:30am. Finally a truly late night out in Cannes! We waited long enough.
This is the day I almost fall to pieces. I’m exhausted, I’ve got some kind of huge zit on my forehead (I think?) even though I’ve been really hardcore about my skin routine (here’s a tip for the ladies: if going on an intense work trip that will leave you feeling run down, pack twice as much skincare stuff as makeup, because you can’t hide tired, dull, dry, oily, flaky, clogged-up skin). And, to make matters extra-worse, I woke up with a really sore throat. The kind that I desperately fear will turn into a cough that lasts three weeks.
I don’t know how it happened this time, because I’ve been going to bed early-ish (12:30 or so, but that’s super early compared to most), eating pretty well, not really drinking, and generally taking care of myself. I’ve even been taking vitamins every morning! Sometimes, you can’t avoid the bugs that are going around. What matters is how you deal with them. In my case, the answer is: by trying to nip it in the friggin’ bud.
I started my day by heading out to my most important appointment, “Awesome Ladies Club” brunch with a few cool women I know. ALC was spontaneously invented in Berlin when my friend Ivy mentioned wanting to meet more women who are doing similar stuff to what she’s interested in and who are kind of at the same beginning-ish stage of their careers, so that we can all support each other, learn from each other, talk about hair and boys, and so on.
Brunch on The Hollywood Reporter terrace was a strange and comforting experience because it was like a North American breakfast (rare – like, super rare – around here). Not a croissant to be seen, but my eggs benny were pretty good. After catching up with the ladies, I headed to a pharmacy, bought more vitamin C, some throat losanges, a vial of oil of oregano and whatever else I could find, and hightailed it home for a two hour nap, followed by another two hours or so of just taking it easy in the apartment. No movies, no meetings, nothing but rest and recovery. Priority: health. I’m gonna be here for nearly another full week, and I don’t want to spend it miserable.
I almost didn’t go out at all in the evening, but I really didn’t want to miss my chance to see Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are. I love Stake Land and I’ve been super curious about this one ever since it premiered at Sundance. So, I threw on pants and went out. Luckily, this is another one of those Quinzane screenings that take place at a theatre that’s only two blocks from our apartment, so it’s not much of a trek.
The film is beautiful and has some really great performances (Bill Sage, who I’ve loved since he was in all the early Hal Hartley films is pretty great as the scary dad, and Julia Garner is definitely a young lady to watch). I ultimately had some questions and issues with the story which I won’t go into because, y’know, spoilers, but the film is really well done, no doubt about that.
After the film, we stop into the official We Are What We Are party to congratulate Jim, but vow to leave early (easy in this case, because unlike all the other open bar parties we’ve been to all week, this one has drink tickets – so it’s much tougher to get carried away). On the way home we stop at the Grand Hotel terrace and the Petit Majestic (the high rent / low rent late night destinations of Cannes) to say hello to some pals, and end up buying beers and taking them back to our apartment, where we hang out on the balcony with two good friends until after 2am, talking about what it’s like to raise chickens (hey, nobody likes talking about movies all the time). So much for keeping the early nights trend going! Still, hanging with pals on the balcony for an hour or so is not the same as knocking back shots at an open bar. Overall, a successful day, and even my throat was feeling better by bedtime.
Yesterday, I had a really interesting meeting which I wanted to expand on a little bit. It was with the OMDC, regarding a Canadian / German co-production I’m working on. The OMDC had an info session at the Canadian Pavilion to talk about the benefits of co-producing with Canada, and even though I’m Canadian and the event was intended for foreign producers, I found it super useful and am glad I was able to attend.
Apparently, Canada has more co-production treaties than just about any other place in the world, so there are lots of benefits of partnering with us, but there are even more added benefits at the provincial level. For example, who knew that there were major incentives to do visual effects in Ontario? Probably lots of people. But not me.
The whole tax credit system has always been a bit of a mystery to me, but I do understand the basics. The government gives you cash back for money you spend employing people in a given province, up to a certain percentage. In Ontario, it’s 35% of all eligible labour costs, but there’s a 10% bonus if you shoot outside of the GTA, which is why places like Hamilton and Ottawa are such popular choices. And that’s without even getting into the additional incentives that exist for those who want to shoot up north in places like Sudbury or North Bay, where government programs have in the past given up to a million bucks (as long as that’s not more than 50% of your budget, and actually it is a bit more complicated than that) for productions taking their business to northern communities.
At the OMDC meeting, I discussed the German / Canadian co-production with the representatives present, then told them all about Ultra 8 Pictures, and mentioned that since I’m Toronto based, we should follow up when we get back … what’s the Canadian slang equivalent of “stateside”? That.
I also heavily pimped the project I’m working on with Peter Lynch, because we definitely hope to get some support from the OMDC on either the film or the cross-platform / digital / new media component of the project, which is also looking like it’ll be super cool. I got the feeling that one of the people I met with took a genuine interest and really wanted to follow up later. It’s someone I’ve met via email many times before during my time at REEL CANADA so we kind of “know” each other already even though we’d never met face to face. The other person we met with, I think will probably require 3-5 more introductions to me before I start registering as a person that’s worth remembering. But that’s the film biz, I guess. I am not yet important enough for certain people. No point getting upset about it.
But anyway. That was Sunday! On Monday, I spent a couple of hours catching up on emails, a couple of hours running around having meetings, and then a whole lot of hours in the evening catching up with various friends over drinks and/or snacks. We even went to the Serbian Happy Hour, where rakija was being served in traditional glasses. A taste of home!
It was kind of a relaxed pace, as far as this week has gone, and we topped it off by going to the Fantasia / Fantastic Fest Karaoke Party, a super fun staple of every market, even though I don’t actually sing karaoke. I like watching other people give’r, though.
In fact, it was kind of a “relaxed pace” day out of necessity, because I can feel the scratch in the back of my throat that signals “you are too tired and if you’re not careful, you will wake up sick tomorrow”. Only had one beer at the party and got home just after midnight (other pals stayed out till 5am, I hear). At least the weather’s gotten pretty warm (though insanely windy).