Le Festival de Cannes: Up the Red Carpet by Michelle Nott published on Rendez-Vous, March 2011

Most people dream of the French Riviera, its sun, its sand, its sea...and its stars. There are plenty. Whether you are on a yacht looking up at a cloudless night or perched on an inch of pavement facing the red carpet of the Palais du Festival, stars will be shining. In particular, from the 11th to the 22nd of May this year, the city of Cannes will open its ports to another wave of cinema professionals and fans for the 64th Cannes Film Festival. A lucky few will actually realize their dream of walking up the Palais steps toward and into the Grande Auditorium. The current Palais du Festival is not, in fact, the original venue. And, the physical structure of the festival is not the only change. Let's rewind over 60 steps back in history to better project this evolution. In 1930, the only international film festival was held in Venice, Italy. Some professionals feared it was becoming too political, notably the French. In 1938, despite rave reviews, Jean Renoir's “La Grande Illusion” lost the top prize (referred to as the Mussolini Cup) to a German film highlighting the Nazi achievements at that year's Olympics in Berlin. As a result, critics and filmmakers petitioned the French Government to host its own festival free of political influence. After much thought, the government agreed. Of course, many cities were considered but Cannes won based on the sunny climate, not to mention its 115 hotels and abundance of restaurants. Wishing to extend the tourist season another two weeks, this first Festival International

du Film was to take place in Canne's renovated casino on September 1, 1939. Louis Lumière, the co-founder of cinema, was its president. Unfortunately, France would enter into World War II the next day and the Festival would only have time for one film, Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) by William Dieterle. The lights did indeed shine again after the dark years of war. They were called starlets, and more specifically Brigitte Bardot and Simone Sylva. Despite some financial difficulty at the end of the 1940s, the Festival held strong. The festivities were relaunched in 1946 in a newly constructed Palais on the Croisette. The next decade brought two more improvements. As the Berlin and Venice film festivals were earlier in the year, Cannes' festival was missing out on many premiers. Its dates, consequently, shifted from September to May. In 1955 Lucienne Lazon designed the first festival trophy – a heart with a palm. Since then, Chopard has had the exclusive rights to craft the Palme d'Or, a symbol of victory and life based on the legend of St. Honorat. The Festival was also growing. In 1959, it expanded to include Le Marché du Film where professionals could meet to promote or to collaborate on projects. In that famous year of 1968, France went through quite an upheaval and even the cinema world reacted. The then Minister of Culture, André Malraux, wanted to fire Henri Langrois, the co-founder of Cinématique, over budget issues. Langrois was extremely popular with film professionals, notably Louis Malle, Roman Polanski, François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard. Their protests (“antics” really) quickly persuaded Malraux to change his mind. Although Langrois was indeed an important figure, some felt that the issue was too political and contradicted the Festival's beginnings of being free from political platforms.

As a result, Société des Réalisateurs de Films was formed by a group of filmmakers including Robert Enrico and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze. They then added another side event to the festival called Quinzaine des Réalisateurs. This forum presents films without any censorship or diplomatic agenda. For thirty years, the Festival was held at le Palais Croisette, the current Palais Stéphanie. However, the festival was growing every year. A new solution was researched, although not completely admired. Architects Bennett & Druet drew up the plans for the modern Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. Nine floors, including two levels of garages, houses the Grande Auditorium and 24 other auditoriums. While the smaller auditoriums seat anywhere from 10 to 300 people, the Grande Auditorium seats 900 spectators on the main floor and 1400 in the balcony (careful on the steps, as they go up at a 45 degree angle!) An additional 300 places are foreseen and yet rows A through H are removed so that Brad Pitt, George Clooney et al., plus competition filmmakers seated in Row I, have a clear view of the stage. If you haven't seen Cannes during festival week, picture 300 photographers and 1500 journalists swarming the city, plus beautifully dressed men and women in and out of shops like Chanel and Dior. Of course, the beaches are packed. Unless, however, you have access to the private beaches of the Majestic, the Carlton, or the Martinez, celebrities won't be blocking your sun. In the 1980s, celebrities, filmmakers and members of the jury were freely walking up and down the Croisette. Times have changed and personal security is a top priority. Regardless, plenty of the most famous stars will dazzle up the red carpet each night of the Festival. The best view from the street is just across the main entrance of the Palais or

from an apartment balcony. If you get there early and think there is a good spot from the side, remember all the photographers will also be arriving. And that is their spot. As we are no longer in the 1960s when anyone could attend the showings, imagine for a moment being one of the selected few to walk up those carpeted red steps. Your chauffeur opens the limousine door at the bottom of the staircase. You stand, turn, wave. (You hope you've checked your teeth for lipstick). Your earpiece directs you, “Walk straight, turn right, smile, wave. Turn left, smile, wave. Walk up steps, stop, turn left, wave” and so on. This less-than-relaxing entrance is not over until you take your seat. Once through the glass doors, this is not the time to fix your panty-line. Everyone already seated in the Grande Auditorium is still watching your every move on the big screen. Besides gallivanting up the red carpet in the evening, celebrities are giving interviews and going to viewings in the Palais during the day. They could enter from the back past numerous stands of film associations or from the underneath parking garage. The badge holders enter from the front entrance at the right of the red carpet. Inside past the security check, to the right is the Théâtre Debussy. Spectators view films in Le Certain Regard competition here. Proceeding straight up the many flights of stairs, journalists and photographers are consulting time schedules, talking into their audiophones, cellphones, and jotting down notes. An interview room awaits at the very top floor. The press gathers well in advance of the particular movie director, producer and cast. Flashbulbs announce their arrival to the left. Only a small group of journalists are ushered in behind them into this small room for the press conference. Journalists left outside can always go all the way downstairs, just outside Le Marché du Film hall, where interviews are shown on closed-circuit televisions.

The Espace Toscane opens across the hall from the Théâtre Debussy, in front of the Grande Auditorium. The glass facade welcomes the celebrities who turn to offer a final smile to the crowd, the cameras, and the palm trees before taking their seats. Translators and speakers line the sides of the auditorium. In the middle section about half-way back is a box of specific seats for members of the jury. On the evening of the Palm d'Or, only the jury, the festival president and the “chef de lumières” (to know where to shine the spot lights, of course) know the winner, and guard the secret carefully. Just outside the Grande Auditorium is a cozy room, called La Loge du Mer, where the jury gathers for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres or just to relax. During the festival, four projections are shown per day, two of which are in the competition. Jury members are required to attend at least one, often at 8:30am with the press. They can roll out of bed across the street at the Majestic minutes before tending to their duties. At the end of this same hall is a magnificent, wall-sized, blue and gold mosaic of le Palme d'Or. The celebrities get a last glance of it as they sneak out to the right through the administration offices (and the trashcans) to the second floor of the garage where the chauffeurs await. For those who stay long enough for cocktails, the veranda referred to as Espace Georges Pompidou invites up to 300 guests at a time. In the park under these windows, hand prints in pavement line the walkway. Some impressions need to be redone and so, the last hands molded are those of Sharon Stone in 1992. The Salon des Ambassadors, at the back of the Palais, overlooks the yachts and accommodates eight hundred to one thousand dinner guests. Otherwise, up to 3000 invitees can mingle with cocktails while appreciating the view of the islands of Ste Marguerite and St Honorat.

To this day, the Cannes Festival is a premier place to appreciate the art, and glamour, of the seventh art. But also year round, Cannes delights residents and visitors with its sunny disposition. The luxury shops, the casino, the beaches, plus the delicacies and wines of the Mediterranean are ever present. And yes, the stars shine every night.

References Cannes Guide for Filmmakers and Film Professionals, “Festival Basics”, accessed 5 February, 2011. Le Festival de Cannes, “About the Festival”, accessed 5 February, 2011. L'Office du Tourisme de la Ville de Cannes

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