Croisetiquette: Surviving Cannes

Tricia shares her top tips for anyone who is attending their first Cannes this year.

16 May 2017
Tricia Tuttle
By Tricia Tuttle
Tricia is currently Deputy Head of Festivals at the BFI and responsible for delivering the annual programmes for the BFI London Film Festival & the BFI Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and managing a team of programmers and programme advisors.

Tricia Cannes 2.jpg

a girl with war paint on her facce
I am Not a Witch, Rungano Nyoni (2017)
Despite justified objections in recent years about Cannes’ lack of female directors, there are few more deliciously thrilling places to see a new film. It’s a cinema-lover’s paradise, but it can also be daunting to go for the first time. I remember being confused by the sections (what is Un Certain Regard or La Semaine de la Critique?). And I definitely felt like an imposter as I watched delegates bustle from one meeting to the next, like everyone else had more important reasons to be there than I did. 
In comparison to other festivals, Cannes’ hit rate is high. Last year, The Handmaiden, American Honey, I, Daniel Blake, Elle and Toni Erdmann all debuted there. And there’s feverish excitement about the 2017 programme, with new work from Todd Haynes, Claire Denis, Bong Joon-ho, Sofia Coppola and David Lynch. From the UK, Lynne Ramsay reveals her work-in-progress, You Were Never Really Here, and BAFTA-nominated short filmmaker Rungano Nyoni premieres her feature debut I Am Not a Witch.
If you are reading this you probably know why you are going to Cannes, and may have done some planning. If it’s for meetings with sales companies or national agencies, you will have ideally pre-booked these. Diaries get full fast. If you haven’t yet confirmed, do reach out before you get to Cannes. Just make sure you have a coherent reason to meet someone, and aim for Monday or Tuesday when diaries start to clear (many sales companies leave on Wednesday 24 May). Keep it short, 15-20 minutes maximum. 
a man a woman and a child stand in the street
I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach (2016)

But if your diary is intimidatingly bare, that’s a blessing. Give yourself over to the joy of a Cannes queue and see films. The cinemas you can access with your general festival badge are set along the Croisette (the beachside strip that runs along the seafront). In these cinemas, you’ll be among the first audiences in the world to see a film. For me, this is the true pleasure of top fests, especially Cannes where quality is high. It might be wildly inventive, heartbreaking, joyous, provocative, or even horrifically, infuriatingly terrible. You get to decide this for yourself, with your response untainted by critics, friends and family whose opinions will later colour how everyone else reads the film.
Here’s my quick summary of the sections and the sidebar programmes:
Official Selection is the official festival, programmed by Thierry Frémaux and his team. This comprises:
  • In Competition is the home of major feature films, usually from the elites of world cinema (Campion, Kiarostami, Haneke etc), which compete for the grand prize, the Palme d’Or. This strand also includes short films competing for the Palme d'Or du court métrage. Go see anything in Competition you can get into – these are some of the films we will be talking about for the next 12 months.
  • Un Certain Regard (UCR) is harder to categorise. It features “works which offer a unique perspective and aesthetic”. UCR can be great for discovery – Kornél Mundruczó and Yorgos Lanthimos had early works here and both are in this year’s In Competition. I’m excited by Valerie Grisebach’s Western, produced by the company behind Toni Erdmann.
  • Out of Competition tends to be a mixed selection. It may feature commercial cinema or prestige short films, and this year has UK works from Vanessa Redgrave and John Cameron Mitchell.
  • Cannes Classics are major restorations.
  • Cinéfondation shows short work from film schools. If you are a newer filmmaker, check out these and the Comp shorts, to see what talented colleagues are making globally.
In addition to the 50-odd films you can find in those sections, there’s a thriving Market (Marche du film) in which the world’s sales companies pay to screen new works to distributors and other buyers. These screenings are set off the Croisette and require a special market badge. The Market also includes hundreds of sales offices and stands in the Palais at the heart of the festival and you can walk through these stands with a general accreditation pass.
Your general fest pass also gives you access to the independently programmed sidebars such as Directors’ Fortnight (programmed by France’s Directors Guild), which historically favours innovation and new voices. The other major sidebar, Critics Week, is programmed by the French union of film critics and screens first and second features (François Ozon and Alejandro González Iñárritu first premiered here).
a small blonde girl on the back of a bearded man
You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay (2017)

As you pack your bags, here are some general nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up through trial and error and from friends and colleagues:
  • Relax and accept that hours of queuing are inevitable. Talk to fellow queuers about what they have seen (or download and listen to a podcast, like Brian Reed’s astonishingly brilliant S-Town).
  • Queue as early as you can bear it. An hour is the minimum you should expect for most films if you want to get in.
  • Treat this as a year of research, find out where all the cinemas are, which bars are friendly, what the Marche and the Producers Network have to offer. 
  • Take business cards. You can’t do Cannes without them.
  • Take extra charge for your phone. You are likely to leave early and come back late.
  • Plan for sunny weather, but have a coat, comfortable closed-toe shoes and an umbrella. Nothing is more miserable than an hour-long queue when you are cold and wet.
  • If you want to see a film in the Palais at night, you will need evening wear. You need ‘invitations’ (that’s tickets to you and me) which you can apply for with your badge.
  • Check out the National Pavilions in the International Village (behind the Palais on the waterfront). Many of these have free programmes of talks and events which are great places to meet people and develop knowledge about other markets.
  • The Petit Majestic is the best place for after-film networking. It’s cheap, friendly and democratic (unlike some of the more swishy hotel bars).
  • Make a screening schedule for yourself before you get to Cannes that has first choices and backups for all of the times you want to see something.
  • Read as much as you can about the programme before you go. Don’t be that person who looks blankly every time someone mentions a film they have seen. Here are a few helpful previews with more than the obvious:
Tricia is attending Cannes with BFI London Film Festival Director Clare Stewart and programmers Michael Blyth and Kate Taylor. Between them, they’ll have over 100 meetings and attend approximately 150 screenings.