HOLLYWOOD – Most Los Angeles-based executives do more walking during the two weeks of the Cannes Film Festival than in the other 50 weeks of the year combined. The lucky exceptions are the sales agents who, once ensconced in their hotel suites, have the luxury of waiting for others to come to them. For the rest of the industryites who have trouble navigating unless they’re at the wheel of their stylish automobile of choice, we offer this pedestrian’s POV of the fest:
Starting at the goal of filmmakers everywhere — the red carpet in front of the Palais — and looking straight ahead, this year’s Palais mural comes in to view above the famous stairs. Unveiled on the first day, the mural normally makes little or no sense to anyone but the artist. Then the press office puts out an official release to explain it all, but we remain none the wiser.
Heading off the red carpet to the right, one enters the hive around which all festival activity buzzes: the Palais. Slipping into the cool lobby, away from the overheated crowd of stargazers, one finds a small area of relative calm. The choice: to go up to the Palais’ screening rooms and the press center or to head deep into the bowels of the Palais. It’s an area, legend has it, that has swallowed many an unsuspecting film buyer, dooming them to an eternity of wandering the corridors in the hope of finding daylight or a half-decent film project.
Holding that deep breath, continue along the center aisle until you see daylight. In the old days, daylight is about all you got streaming through the windows above the bar at the back at the Palais. Today, thankfully, you can actually exit the bunker and emerge into the relatively fresh Riviera air. After the climb from the bunker, one emerges in the tented village that is the sophisticated European Pavilion. Just like the real Europe, the Pavilion has no obvious border controls, but still has clear national boundaries, lead by the Brits who, at times, look as if they’d be happier on their own island in the middle of the ornamental pond.
Though it somewhat resembles the paddock area at a Formula One Grand Prix, the European Pavilion has become a multifaceted gathering spot, with some of the tents boasting the latest technical innovations from Quantel, AVID, Kodak and Philips, among others. Many of the national film commissions have come into the partial sunlight and set up offices here.
During this year’s festival, the tented village will be both united and divided by talk of the World Cup soccer tournament. Americans who venture in should at least take the trouble to find out which teams have qualified so as not to offer support for countries that have already been knocked out of competition. A tip from an insider says cheer for Brazil — they’re everybody’s second- favorite team, unless you happen to be talking to an Argentinean or an Italian. With these nationalities, it’s safer to discuss the relative merits of Ferrari’s chances at the Monaco Grand Prix.
On the edge of the tented village, the Americans have set up their own M*A*S*H unit to handle U.S. casualties who have strayed off into the bunker. The Variety Pavilion and the American Pavilion (celebrating its 10th anniversary at Cannes), offer a home-away from home for assorted hangers-on and host prestigious events that add to the Cannes calendar.
The American Pavilion is a second home to some of the most indie indies from the U.S., many of whom can barely afford the price of a place in the backstreets of Cannes, let alone the rent on a suite of offices along the Croisette. The American Pavilion offers sanctuary — a place to be contacted; a place to leave messages; a place where one can actually understand what the bar staff is talking about and get a Corona beer.
Cordiality is a major draw, says Julie Sisk, who has run the facility since its inception. “People have got into the habit of dropping by after screenings to find their friends,” Sisk says. “We serve over 1,000 lunches a day, so we are kept pretty busy.”
Each year, the American Pavilion also offers a group of American film students the opportunity to live the Cannes experience. “It’s one of the key elements of our program,” says Sisk. “We have gone from 12 in the first years to over 100 students this year, and all are eager to learn — even if it’s only learning how to crash the parties!”
For most of the festival foot traffic, the quickest route from one end of the Croisette to the other is along the Mediterranean side of the street. That doesn’t mean you’ll miss any of the action, since what are arguably the biggest and most important deals of the market will be taking place just below your feet in the restaurants that line the beach.
Life, as most of us know it in Cannes, comes to an end just around the Martinez Hotel. In the distance is the Palm Beach Casino — site of many of the festival’s overhyped parties. Walking to the parties is a half-hour proposition, but there’s no need to hurry; there will be lines to get in no matter what time you arrive.
As Cannes hotels go, the Martinez used to be — and probably still is — a major player in terms of accommodation and service. But as a center for market activity, it is now somewhat off the beaten track, though it still attracts some AFMA companies and a delegation of Italians. For a time the hotel of choice for the Eastern Block, the Martinez was once considered the Cannes equivalent of Siberia.
The Carlton is where the action really begins on the return trek to the Palais. The Carlton is the hotel of choice not only for a number of the more traditional sales companies but most of the Hollywood majors.
“There are many reasons the Carlton is special. Where do I begin?” says Lloyd Kaufman, Troma president and long-term Carlton festival resident. “Could it be the inexpensive yet excellent coffee (only 8 francs from the ’employees only’ machine in the restricted area of the basement)? Or is it the scrumptious, free continental breakfasts (leftovers that the rich studio execs leave on room service trays in the hallways) which the Troma Team consumes daily? Perhaps what the Troma Team loves most about the Carlton is its proximity to the very intellectual transvestites of the evening who ply their trade on the Croisette!”
Although no longer what it used to be, the Carlton Terrace is still the place to people-watch, even if most of the people to watch are now wannabes, other people-watchers and the cast of Troma’s latest film.
Between the Carlton and the newer Noga Hilton — which was built on the site of the old Palais — is 52 la Croisette, a stylish block offering apartments that make very comfortable and workable offices. It has long been the place to find the Australian Film Commission and the Scandinavians, a combination of nationalities that have hosted some of the festival’s better parties, regardless of whether or not they have a film of note to push.
Since opening in 1992, the Noga Hilton has become a hotbed of market activity for U.S.-based sales companies. It often seems busier — perhaps due to the sheer number of companies based there — than the Carlton. The hotel is home to Directors’ Fortnight, which draws its own crowd, and the lobby atrium and bar is always hopping. It’s a mini-AFM all on its own, if that’s what you’re looking for.
The neighboring Grand Hotel is difficult to get a handle on. It’s often troublesome to find exactly which door is the right one to a company whose banner you see from the gardens. Despite the odd problem of access, or perhaps because of it, the Grand is popular with many of the trendier sales companies, especially the British.
As you head on down the Croisette toward the Palais, look for the Blue Bar, where the Germans and their friends congregate for breakfast, and, set back along Rue des Serbes, the Hotel Gray d’Albion, an oasis of calm that hosts companies and the movers and shakers who don’t have to make a fuss to attract their clientele. Britain’s Film Four is one of the notable regulars, as is October Films.
That brings us to the Majestic, home to Dennis — as in Dennis Davidson, the head man at the praisery DDA, which controls much of what goes on not only in the Majestic but also in Cannes. Just the DDA presence is enough to attract media traffic, but high-profile sales companies and filmmakers like Miramax, Dimension, Summit, Beyond, Capella and HBO give the Majestic its pulse. If the pulse isn’t beating in the Majestic or on its terrace, the market –and possibly the festival — is dead.
“I like the Majestic. It has become a real home away from home for me, my family and my staff,” explains Davidson. “Apart from being one of the world’s great hotels, with the commensurate service that all that entails, the Majestic — with its proximity to the Palais — pulses with excitement throughout the festival. It’s nice to think that some of that excitement results from our presence.”
Speaking of proximity, walking just a couple hundred yards down the Croisette from the Majestic you’re back on the Palais’ famed red carpet. If you’ve made the entire round-trip, you’ll be glad you packed your Reeboks. After all, there is always Mifed to stay in training for, with its shopping, eateries and marketplace madness that can only be traversed on foot.