You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Magic bus ride sparks bonds

Stranded film biz execs make the best of old-fashioned travel

As magical mystery tours go it had all the right ingredients: a sense of total chaos with no clear idea how it might all end.

When Iceland’s volcanic eruption sent a plume of ash into the skies over Europe last month, grounding flights across Europe for nearly a week, millions of travellers were stranded far from home.

For a group of European film industry professionals stuck in Turkey after the end of the Istanbul Film Festival, sitting it out was not an option.

Producers and film funding ing chiefs including Michel Reilhac, head of cinema at Arte France; German producer Karl Baumgartner; and Berlin Brandenburg funding board head Kirsten Niehuus; swiftly worked out that the best way to get out was to hire a bus.

The only problem was there was no bus left in Istanbul with a permit to drive through Europe.

“We ended up hiring a bus to take us to Skopje, Macedonia, where we picked up another bus with the right permit to continue onto Berlin,” Reilhac told Variety.

Around half those stranded in Istanbul — 35 people, mostly Germans, Dutch and French — chose to go, paying around €250 ($306) each for the 48-hour nonstop journey. Others decided to wait for Europe’s skies to clear — a decision they would later rue.

For the “bus people,” as they soon dubbed themselves, it was like an experience from another age.

With no Internet access and mobile phone batteries rapidly running down, the group had to return to old-fashioned travel practices — watching the countryside of Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and the Czech Republic pass by and talking to each other without constant electronic interruptions.

All but one: Reilhac had two spare batteries and tweeted and filmed the entire journey via his mobile phone.

“The whole feeling was like total chaos; we had one stop for a hot meal but nothing else apart from toilet stops. There was no time for showers,” Reilhac says.

With a three-hour stop at the Bulgarian border where the entire bus was scanned for contraband and everyone’s bags were inspected, there was even a sense of Cold War deja vu about the journey.

But far from a nightmare, it became a bonding experience as an international following for the tweets grew — including chiropractors who gave advice for onboard exercises and a chocolate shop in Paris intrigued by Reilhac’s reference to eating white chocolates with wasabi centers.

Those who stayed behind in Istanbul hired a bus from a dodgy character who simply dumped them and their bags at the Bulgarian border.

But for the first group the journey to Berlin became an experience not to be missed. Reilhac and other French passengers managed to get on a train back to Paris where they were met by a French TV film crew — Champagne in hand — who had heard of the epic journey via the tweets.

Such is the nostalgia for the trip that they staged a “bus people drinks” reunion party at Cannes with another planned for the Berlin film festival next year.

“People who were not even on the bus have been asking if they can join the group,” Reilhac adds.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Dowdle Brothers

    The Dowdle Brothers Tackle New 'Friday Night Lights' Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    John Erick and Drew Dowdle, aka the Dowdle brothers, have boarded Universal Pictures’ reimagining of “Friday Night Lights.” Both will do a polish on the script, with John Erick directing and Drew exec producing. Sources tell Variety that the movie is not a sequel to Universal’s 2004 film starring Billy Bob Thornton, nor is it [...]

  • Roman Polanski's Accuser Reached Out to

    Roman Polanski's New Accuser Reached Out to L.A. Prosecutors in Early 2017

    Valentine Monnier, the former actor who recently went public with her accusation that Roman Polanski raped her 44 years ago, sent an anonymous letter to L.A. prosecutors in early 2017 detailing those allegations, sources tell Variety. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has confirmed that it received such a letter in February 2017 and [...]

  • Tomas Davison

    MGM Studios Exec Tomas Davison Dies at 43

    MGM Studios executive Tomas Davison died on Nov. 16 in Miami. He was 43. The cause of his death is still pending. Davison joined the studio over a year ago where he was tapped for the position of senior VP of international television distribution Latin America and U.S. Hispanic. During his time at the studio, [...]

  • Hello Ahma

    SGIFF: Shorts Panorama Highlights Breadth of Singapore Talent

    It didn’t take long for the shorts programme that is part of the Singapore International Film Festival’s Singapore Panorama strand at the National Museum of Singapore on Nov. 27 to sell out. That is because the Singaporean audience is well aware that the best and brightest of filmmaking talent from the country cut their teeth [...]

  • Harriet Tubman Cynthia Erivo

    AMC Theatres Fires Three Employees Over Racial Profiling Incident During 'Harriet' Screening

    AMC Theatres has fired three employees in one of its Louisiana multiplexes after an incident during a screening of “Harriet.” An African American women’s group called the 504 Queens allege that 15 members were racially profiled while watching “Harriet” at AMC’s Clearview Palace 12 in Metairie on Nov. 7. A letter sent from the organization’s [...]

  • Accept the Call

    Eunice Lau Returns to Singapore With Hard-Hitting Documentary ‘Accept The Call’

    New York-based Singaporean filmmaker Eunice Lau is back in her home country for the Asian premiere of her impactful documentary “Accept The Call” at the Singapore International Film Festival. This is the film’s third outing, after premiering at the Human Rights Watch and Woodstock Film festivals. In Woodstock, it received a special mention for best [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content