Saturday May 20th was another “get up early with baby and then go down for a nap with him as soon as possible” start to the day. While I napped, Colin went to the Frontières proof of concept panel, and I joined him afterwards for a lunch also hosted by the Frontières market folks. They’ve been very good to us over the years, from the very first time we went there with The Void in 2013, through two other projects over the years – both with filmmaker/super-nanny Tim Reis!
At the Frontières lunch we got to see some old pals and colleagues, got to hang with a few folks who we normally only see at Fantasia, and got to recommend our fave pizza place (Papa Nino’s, obvs) to Void producer Casey Walker who’s in Cannes for his first time and presenting at the aforementioned proof of concept panel.
Best of all we got to sit down and catch up with Louis Tisné, who produced one of the fan-faves that Colin had in Midnight Madness back in 2014: the Belgian horror film Cub. Louis is a knowledgeable and insightful guy – and also a dad – so we got to chat about movies and about kids’ school plays in equal measure.
After lunch we raced off to say hi to another Midnight Madness alum and pal of Colin’s, French director Xavier Gens (his film Frontier(s) was at TIFF in ’07), who is completing a new film at the moment, Cold Skin. We got to see the promo, and I’ll say this much: if it delivers on its own promises, it’s gonna be one of my faves of the year.
Xavier Gens was the third in a run of awesome European directors – my version of ‘celebrity spotting’, maybe. I’ll tell you the other two as well, not to name drop (is it still name dropping if they’re not household names?) but to encourage you to see their films, which are so, so good: A.J. Annila, whose super-creepy and beautiful Sauna is easy to seek out because it’s on Shudder; and Koen Mortier, whose mind-fuck Ex Drummer is 100% worth whatever efforts you need to put into seeing it.
Later in the afternoon we decided to be adventurous with bébé so we strapped him to Colin’s chest and brought him to the terrace of the Grand for a meeting. He made friends with people all over the terrace and was delightfully well behaved throughout.
Afterwards, we strolled around in the direction of a meeting that was cancelled at the last minute and then got some Papa Nino’s pizza to go and settled into a nice dinner at home. Turns out that the guy who runs Papa Nino’s is named Alex. That technically makes him Sasha’s namesake, since Sasha is short for Alexander! He was delighted.
And, oh yeah, I picked up two tickets that I acquired through the far-less-complicated-than-it-used-to-be ticketing system. This system doesn’t require paragraphs of explanation. You just log in, make your requests, and then get an email later telling you if you got ’em. Easy!
Movie count: 0
Rosé count: ∞
Pizza count: 3
Friday May 19th was a day of naps and also of productivity. Colin had a ticket to OKJA, the Netflix-funded Bong Joon-ho film that is part of the current hullabaloo between Netflix and the French film industry (I’m simplifying but you can find out more here or here – and I have to add that I’m with Will Smith on this one).
While he and Tim enjoyed the film, I slept with booboo, then woke up with him, fed him and played for a while, then napped with him for another two hours for which I was immensely grateful.
Then a producer friend came over with a wide variety of delightful pastries and we hung out in the garden for a while talking while Sasha played and munched on bits of croissant. Perfect day so far!
Tip #1: if you’re going to a market with a kid, it pays to get a place that’s nice enough to host people.
I will preface this by saying that it’s often not possible. Apartments in Cannes can be wildly expensive, especially if they’re centrally located. However, just like the ‘arrive early’ tip from day 1, this is one of those targets of opportunity that you try to hit but shouldn’t stress out about if you can’t.
Many meetings in Cannes (or at any market or festival) must, by necessity, take place in the offices or booths of the people you’re meeting with. Sales agents, distributors and the like: they have offices and people come to them. Their schedules are too tight to allow them to zip all over town meeting with people, and besides, they need to have promotional materials handy, TV screens to show trailers and clips, and so on. But! There are also the producer types and the financiers and film festival programmers and buyers who float freely from meeting to meeting, location to location.
They’re the ones you meet on the terrace of the Grand hotel or at your favourite cafe. If you’re lucky enough to have a centrally located apartment with a decent-sized living room or balcony (or in our case, a glorious garden – a rare thing for Cannes) you can invite them to come over so that you don’t have to cancel a meeting when your baby decides to nap at an inopportune time. If the difference in cost isn’t a deal-breaker and you have the option of getting a place where you can have people over, I highly recommend it. You might miss out on the late-night drinks at the Petit Majestic because of kiddo, but how nice is it to tell all your friends to swing by for a glass of rosé en route to all their fabulous parties?
As I warned in an earlier post, this year’s going to include a lot of niche tips for a niche audience. But really, being able to host a small do – even when you and everyone else you know is out of town! – is one of those slightly underrated but amazing skills that I advise to anyone to pick up. It’s showbiz, after all.
Colin got home from his blitz of post-movie Palais walk-by meetings partway through my garden hangout (I was in the middle of updating our friend on the progress of Birdland) and he whisked sweetpea off to the kids’ amusement area near the Palais to meet up with some pals who brought their older kids along to Cannes.
Yes, by the way, there is a mini kids play area right by the Palais. There’s an adorable double decker carousel which I can’t wait to take bébé on, a little ride where kids can ride different cars along a track-loop, a mini-pool in which you can race remote control boats, and a playground nearby. It’s adorable.
The fun-zone is next to an outdoor restaurant where we decided to stop for lunch. Unfortunately service was so slow that Sasha fell asleep on Colin’s shoulder and he ended up walking him all the way home, fast asleep, and gently sliding him into his crib for a nap.
Tip #2: try not to feel too much crushing mom-guilt over the amazing experiences you’re giving your kid (that they won’t remember anyway).
I can’t tell you how bad I felt that Sasha fell asleep before eating lunch and before getting home to his cozy bed. I felt like I was starving and exhausting my poor perfect little baby, because I’m an awful, selfish mom. But really, he was fine. He was sleepy, so he fell asleep. Later, woke up cheerful and had a good dinner. He is 100% the best. It was as if I’d temporarily forgotten that he is not a shy baby and always makes his voice heard if he has real complaints. Take a chill pill, mom! You’re in the south of France.
After Colin left to put Sasha down for his nap, I got his lunch to go, finished up with our pals and then headed home to get ready for the next thing. We left lovebug with Tim, who’d spent the afternoon watching a film in the market, and we headed off to the TIFF cocktail.
The TIFF cocktail is held at the La Plage des Palmes, a patio / restaurant / party space overlooking the sea on the end of a long row of beachside international pavilions that surround the Palais. It’s a great opportunity to meet up with a lot of Canadians and also a lot of the international film festival community. Plus, since Colin has only been out of TIFF for a few months, everyone was still expecting to catch up with him there. And so we went, and a lovely time was had by all. I reconnected with a woman I hadn’t seen since we spent a delightful afternoon in an Absinthe bar in Paris five-ish years ago with a small group of mutual friends. As one does, in Cannes.
Tip #3: have good answers for questions you’re likely to be asked.
After TIFF we raced over to the Grand for a cocktail hour meeting with our friends at EPIC, the company that is selling Jason Bognacki’s Mark of the Witch. We’ve dealt with a lot of sales, distribution & production companies over the years and they remain at the top of our list for being really good, honest guys who do great work. We talked to them about our future plans and were slightly stumped by their question of what we really want to do next. Gotta work on that one.
After such a packed day I was pretty happy to settle in with the bean and some takeout kebabs from a place across the street while Tim went out to meet friends and Colin went to a screening for Shudder.
Early nights. My new favourite thing about Cannes.
Movie count: 0
Meeting and/or work-related-reception count: 3
Baby playdate count: 1
Ahhh, day two. Thursday May 18th, that is. Already, time is speeding up. The first day felt endless, and now, time is starting to pass swiftly. By next Monday it’ll be whizzing by at breakneck speeds and then before I know it we’ll be home.
After a so-so night of sleep, Sasha ended up taking the world’s longest nap on Thursday late-morning, so we decided to split up for the day – Colin attended the meetings we had booked and I stayed home and relaxed / napped / ate 1,000 croissants / caught up on emails while booboo snoozed.
The biggest benefit of working with your partner is that you can take turns working and taking care of kiddo. But of course, since most of the people we’re meeting here are Colin’s business contacts, if one of us has to stay at home, it’s likely to be me (which, in this case, was completely fine because I needed the downtime).
By late afternoon we were able to leave the sweet, napped out little guy in Tim’s care and head out to a meeting with a Canadian producer who had great insights to share about where the industry is headed. Asking people what they think is working in the current market can be very illuminating.
Tip #1: when you meet with people, make sure you aren’t doing all the talking.
Yes, it’s important to talk if you’re pitching a project. But sales agents, distributors, financiers and other producers can all be very insightful and helpful, if you ask questions and then shut up for a while.
We scheduled a lot of our meetings this year on the terrace of the Grand Hotel, a good see-and-be-seen place where everyone congregates. Our motivation wasn’t so much that we need to ‘be seen’, but that we weren’t 100% organized about our meeting-requests and pre-market emails to reach out to various friends and associates, so being somewhere that’s a central hub helps, because we’re likely to run into everyone we need or want to see.
Tip #2: don’t be cranky with security, they’re just doing their damn jobs.
This is kind of an aside, but an important one. Security has been beefed up this year. Big time. There are way more army types with big scary machine guns roaming the streets, and it takes a lot longer to get into the Palais because the badge-scanning and bag-checking system is a bit more thorough than it used to be.
I’ve only gone through security a few times but a note to huffy Americans (they’re almost always Americans): you don’t have to harrumph your way through the lineup or tell the guy who’s just trying to process a thousand irate people a day that you’re “in a hurry” as if he’s trying to delay you on purpose. We’re all in a hurry! Just calm down and be patient. Accept the fact that you might sometimes be five minutes late because of security. Everyone will understand, because they’re going through the same security checkpoints as you. The guy who probably spends ten hours a day looking through handbags does not deserve your attitude.
After some walk-by meetings at the Grand and a fun catch-up with one of our Shudder colleagues, we went back to the apartment to snuggle our BB and get ready for the Shudder team dinner, which was at a fun but way-too-loud restaurant in the centre of town. Am I getting old? Yes. Was it also impossible to hear anyone more than one foot away from my face in there? Yes. The food was very good, though.
Tip #3: go to bed early sometimes.
After dinner, we swung by the Petit Majestic to have a single beer and introduce our Shudder colleague and pal Sam Z to the late night watering hole for his first time. And then we took our plastic cups of beer to go and headed home to bed. Sometimes, it feels just phenomenal to have an early (ish) night.
Movie count: 0
Meeting count: 2 (+ 2 that Colin did alone)
Social fun-gatherings count: 2
Every time I write Cannes tips, I start with this one, and I’m gonna do it again:
Tip #1: arrive early.
I know, it can be difficult to book the time off, or to afford the extra night’s stay in an already expensive place, but if you’re traveling to a film fest or market across multiple time zones, or going to a new (large) festival or market for the first time, and can afford the time/money to arrive a day early, do it.
Arriving early allows you to catch up on some sleep and adjust your internal clock, but even more importantly, it gives you a chance to do a walkabout, get the lay of the land before it gets crowded and hectic, and map out your days in peace.
Cannes is small and relatively easy to navigate, but getting your bearings before there are (literally) 10,000 assorted schmoozers jostling you for elbow room along the Croisette is a big bonus.
This year, we arrived early because we had no idea how travel and jet lag would affect our bébé, and we wanted to give ourselves a chance to deal with potential pandemonium before things got busy.
Tip #2: don’t adjust your baby for jet lag (much).
This tip only applies if you’re coming from North America to Europe – or Europe to Asia, or anywhere that’s a few (but not too many) hours east of where you started.
Our BB goes to bed between 6 and 7pm at home. Here, that’s midnight or 1am. We decided to make his bedtime while we’re in Cannes roughly 11pm-midnight. That’s only one hour of ‘adjustment’ for him and it allows us to go out in the evenings without risking a cranky, over-tired mess. Europeans eat dinner late[r than Americans], so being able to bring lil Bean out to a 9pm gathering is great. Especially since everyone wants to meet him!
We successfully got through day one and even managed to take him out to our favourite pizza place, Papa Nino’s. He loved the pizza. Obvs.
Day two was a equally easy-peasy, and we met up with friends for a leisurely dinner at Grandmother’s Wheelbarrow, another favourite restaurant that I highly recommend you check out if you’re in Cannes and a) have the time for a meal that will take a couple of hours, and b) have people to eat with who you want to chat with for a couple of hours.
By the time Wednesday May 17th – aka the first official day of the market – was upon us (day three of our stay), I was feeling pretty confident that we’d somehow outsmarted jet lag and had the world’s most resilient, easygoing baby.
Tip #3: don’t be cocky about your ability to outsmart jet lag.
Wednesday was very hot and sunny – a day that we really should have spent going to the beach, but instead spent strolling around the centre of town saying hi to people and showing our colleague/friend/roommate/occasional nanny Tim Reis around the Palais.
We investigated the new ticketing system (much easier to navigate than the old one) and snagged two tickets to the new Bong Joon Ho. It’s at 8:30am on Friday, so Colin and Tim will go and I’ll stay at home with the bean. Saddling Tim with early morning baby duty seems a bit cruel. I’m angling to go to the new Yórgos Lánthimos in a few days, anyway.
We had some croque monsieurs in the sunshine, bébé munched on dad’s festival badge, and somehow in the hubbub we stayed out too long and ended up skipping one of his naps.
No big deal, we thought!
In the eve, we left him in Tim’s care so that we could attend a cocktail we’d been invited to, and then came home for rosé in the back yard with some good friends.
When we got home, we put BB down for the night and settled into the garden for rosé and catching up with old pals. I went to bed shortly after midnight thinking it would be an easy night. And it was, until 4am rolled around and tired ol’ mom and dad had to party with the tiny, yelling muffin for two hours before he finally conked out again around 6:15am.
Maybe he got a little overstimulated, or a little dehydrated, or a little too much sun (don’t worry, he was covered and sunscreened up all day, with sippy cup in hand). Who knows. He’s a tiny guy and he’s gone through a lot of big changes and adventures over the past few days. When he did finally fall asleep again, he was sprawled sideways across our bed, and we didn’t have the heart to move him so we all snuggled down together for a morning snooze. It’s amazing how much space such a tiny human can take up. It’s amazing how little sleep an adult can learn to survive on when the cause of their sleeplessness is so cute.
One market/festival day down, eight to go.
Movie count: 0
Meeting count: 0
Dinners/parties/gatherings over rosé count: 4
I decided to switch from coffee to green tea recently. I don’t think I drink too much coffee, but sometimes you just want to check in with yourself and be comforted or alarmed by how much your body is used to certain things.
I like green tea, but I think the caffeine in it is just inadequate for the kind of feel-like-I’m-on-speed flurries of work I have to get through in the next four days before I fly out on Sunday. Now that I’m talking about it, I’m feeling even more like “mmm, a nice Americano would hit the spot”. I might go get a coffee right now.
Anyway. I’ve got to finalize and hand in a funding application to Telefilm before I go, and I’ve got to do some National Canadian Film Day wrap-up work (that went great, by the way, and I will tell you all about it in another blog post). And I need to buy a new pair of pants. Jeans, maybe? My old jeans just won’t do my ass justice on the Riviera.
Anyway, in addition to meetings and market screenings and what not, I do actually want to catch a few of the official screenings as well. In the actual Cannes festival I’d like to catch a couple of the Canadians (Egoyan, Cronenberg) and a couple of the Britishes (Loach, Leigh), but in all honesty I haven’t looked through the competition / out of competition / midnight / Un Certain Regard titles in detail yet. I have, however, checked out the sidebars. Here’s what I’m looking forward to.
In Directors’ Fortnight:
Cold in July, by Jim Mickle. Jim’s so good at what he does. Stake Land was amazing and We Are What We Are was gorgeous (plus, Bill Sage, am I right?), and how can I not be psyched about him doing Joe R. Lansdale?!
A Hard Day, by Kim Seoung-hun. I mean, it’s a Korean crime film. Automatic yes.
National Gallery, by Frederick Wiseman. Do I have the stamina for a three hour Wiseman? Time will tell.
These Final Hours, by Zak Hilditch. I can’t tell whether this film looks amazing, but I do like “last days on earth” scenarios and am intrigued.
Tu dors Nicole, by Stéphane Lafleur. This guy edited one of my favourite quiet Quebecois dramas of TIFF 2013 (Le Démantèlement) so I’m willing to take a gamble on his summer vacation movie.
In Critics Week:
It Follows, by David Robert Mitchell. This film seems like one of those interesting line-straddlers between arthouse and genre. Besides, any description that includes “plagued by strange visions” is my thing.
When Animals Dream, by Jonas Alexander Arnby. I think this film might be about a woman turning into a fox. What part of that doesn’t sound eight hundred precent up my alley?
What else should be on my list, y’all?
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.