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From The Archives: Cannes 2004

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Blvd Croisette-Cannes

The girls at the American Pavilion began the day with yoga and gossip. The day I got there, it was early enough to see this routine.

First there were the morning stretches, and then, exchanged news about the parties and rumors of parties they wished to investigate before going into a rousing rendition of the 1990s Walt Disney songbook --- they had seen Pocahontas and Little Mermaid tapes hundreds of times, I guess, and had the whole thing memorized.

These are the shiny, happy people who spend most of the day waiting on tables where producers, actors, and journalists will be vastly overcharged for lunch and snacks after paying another €20 for the privilege of sitting there.

The view, on the other hand, is pretty good. Had the temperature been a dozen degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer, this would be wonderful, but today, it’s in the upper 50s and the train from Nice was late. Or I overslept or something and missed the start of the 8:30 AM screening.

This is The Cannes Film Festival -- the great festival of festivals -- and here on the sidewalk next to the beach everything seems to be going according to plan, whatever that is.

On the Boulevard Croisette, just east of the Palace of Festivals, the curious and the fans go hunting for movie stars and generally aren't finding them, except at a great distance. Those who attend the parties generally don’t attend the screenings and vice versa. Okay, maybe one or two, but one must understand, this thing isn’t for the people of Cannes, the French Riviera or even the tourist industry, although the hoteliers make out like bandits. No, this is for the movie industry and it alone.

There are a few seats for the general public and, I mean, a few of those with “cinephile” cards have to go and beg on the streets for any extra tickets, or even worse -- one lady tried to grab mine!

While the films shown on the huge screen of the Lumiere Theater get all the glory, that’s not why most of the people are here. This is in fact, a private trade show for movie distributors and producers, and the market, which is located in the basement and first floor of the hall next to the Palace is where most of the action takes place.

There are hundreds of booths from all over the world set up, highlighting some of the most god-awful stuff, and while I’ve been at the critic business for a number of years I really couldn’t imagine that there was so much crap out there.

True, there was some decent stuff for sale and a few films were better than some of the official entries (you can tell by the fact that the lines to get into the “market screenings” are unbelievably long), but for the most part, you had stuff like Pauly Shore is Dead or Killer Barbies vs. Dracula which is the Cannes way of doing things.

Twice a day for two weeks, the big shots in their tuxes and evening gowns along with their similarly clad retainers trudge up to the red carpet to the approval of the awestruck crowd, guarded by goons in blue suits and, on occasion, real troops in fancy dress uniforms.

During the morning and early afternoons, a similar ritual takes place, where those of us who have the right badges trudge up the same red carpet to no accolades whatsoever. That is, of course, if we get there on time. But getting there on time is only half the fun, you’ve got to have the right badge before you get ritually frisked and get your tote bag inspected for the umpteenth time.

The badge situation is the key to understanding the Cannes experience. There are three groups of badges, four if you count those poor souls who write an essay to qualify to beg for tickets on the street...

The Market badges
They allow the bearer to get into the market and see as many market screenings as they could handle.

The Producer badges
These show that the bearer is in the industry and can get into some market screenings and, if they can find the secret ticket office, the regular screenings.

Then, finally, with a more complicated hierarchy, there’s the Press badges...


Way up there, these are the people who they hold press screenings for half an hour or more back home and have tuxes and/or evening gowns waiting at their €700 a night hotel room, which is paid for by the company and not them. They just saunter in and look down their noses at everybody. They also get into best seats in the orchestra section.

famous critics who aren’t as influential as the Whites, they get to saunter in whenever they like unimpeded too, they get into the orchestra section too, but don’t get the best seats.

They have to wait on line, but ahead of everyone else, These are reserved for daily newspapers and medium sized national magazines. They get the better seats, when available, in the balcony.

That’s me….and the juries for the sidebars, too. These are for the smaller dailies and weekly newspapers and websites. We have to wait on a longer line, but we usually get in. We get what’s ever left in the balcony, which sometimes means on the stairs between the seats. But that has to do with timing and whether we get our seats before or after we head off to the bathroom.


They get on a different line with the people with producers badges and a few “beggars” who’ve figured out how to gate crash. They don’t usually get in, but if they’re lucky enough, they’ll end up with us in the balcony.

This is the worst. The paparazzi are allowed in the Palace, but can’t get into the screenings and had to fight to get into the press lounges this year, something they didn’t achieve until the second or third day.

Of course most of the screening rooms don’t have balconies, but the hierarchy is pretty much the same for everything, which means that getting in is sometimes chancy.

The press can’t get into most of the market screenings, and if we do, it’s generally when the people running it aren’t looking and we’ve missed the first 10 minutes or so. These rooms are extremely tiny unless they’re at the local theater down the block, which I didn’t know about until well into the festival.

Now when you’re not seeing movies, waiting on line to see movies. getting frisked or looking for the john, there’s the question as to where to eat. The price of food is insane. There are a couple of kiosks near the beach which sell decent stuff, but the restaurants generally jack up their prices by about a third, which means that some lettuce with salad dressing will cost about seven bucks and everything else costs over $10, and this means that finding a party with a buffet is imperative.

This is not an easy task, as the people running the parties generally are on the lookout for moochers, even those who’ve been invited. But if you do get in, and these are in the big hotels where the major studios have rented suites, the best you can get are the hors d’oeuvres. Although you can make a decent and healthful meal out of them, it’s just too much of a pain in the ass most of the time.

But this is Cannes, and you can't get more glamorous than that.

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