At Cannes - The World Comes Together to Experience Cinema History
by Alex Billington
May 21, 2016
When covering film festivals in the press, most reports are about the many films (with hundreds of reviews published daily) or the celebrities on the red carpet or the business deals being made in the market. Rarely is there any discussion about the people who attend the festival, the die-hard cinephiles from all over who spend two weeks in the South of France watching films. Whenever I'm asked to describe the Cannes Film Festival, there's always one thought that comes to mind first - it's the most well known film festival in the entire world. Sundance draws mostly American crowds, with some international coverage. But Cannes is the place where the world comes together to experience cinema history. I'm inspired by the way this unites us.
Throughout the last seven years I've been attending the Cannes Film Festival I've had the distinct honor of meeting and befriending a great number of different people. A few years ago (at Cannes 2014) I wrote about making friends with two people from Turkey, discussing how much I love meeting people at this festival. "You never know who you'll meet on the Croisette. That's the joy of it." So true. This year in particular it felt like it was a truly global mix of cinephiles. I stayed in a small apartment with three friends from Sweden; I made friends with or talked with individuals from: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, New Zealand, India, Cuba, France (of course), China, Korea, Japan, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the UK, and America. Other people from nearly every last country make up the 3,000+ members of the press. A truly diverse mix of film lovers.
How many other film festivals in the world can bring in such a broad selection of people from all over the world? Maybe the Venice Film Festival, or the Toronto Film Festival, but in all honesty - not much compares with Cannes. We're all here because we love cinema, because we want to see amazing films that leave us in awe, because we want to be a part of film history as it unfolds in front of us. We're here because we want to say, "I was there" when this film premiered, when this film was booed, when this film received a standing ovation. Too much of the media coverage at Cannes is about the red carpet, what celebrities wore what and what they said while walking up the stairs. But I like to remind people there's more to this festival, and it's really all about the attendees, the people who fly here from every country to celebrate a love for storytelling.
There's something particularly exciting and magical about the fact that a film festival can bring so many unique and different people from so many places together under one roof. We all get to sit together in the different theaters, staring at the same screen, watching the same film. And afterwards (and inbetween films) we get to mingle and interact and discuss and converse and it's kind of awesome. It doesn't matter if we don't all agree, what matters is that we're all here together having these discussions in an open, friendly way. We're all encouraging each other, and (hopefully) appreciating everyone's own unique opinion. It's also fascinating to hear about the ways everyone covers cinema all over the world, from TV show features to capsule reviews to full-on interviews to press conference tidbits to podcast recaps and everything inbetween.
I will say again thank you and namaste to every last person I had the pleasure of meeting at Cannes this year - new friends and old friends, acquaintances and random strangers sitting in seats next to me. They are the reason I love festivals, and they are the reason I keep coming back. As I wrote in 2014, these moments of interaction end up being some of the most unforgettable of the entire experience. "Making new friends, developing connections, nurturing relationships during lunch, bonding over our love for movies, breaking down international barriers in the name of cinema." In a world that is becoming increasingly insular, it makes me happy that a film festival can bring us all together peacefully and unite us in the name of cinema.
Roger Ebert once wrote this note about his struggles with alcohol but it applies perfectly to the experience of interaction at festivals: "I began to realize that I had tended to avoid some people because of my instant conclusions about who they were and what they would have to say. I discovered that everyone, speaking honestly and openly, had important things to tell me." Somehow, film festivals bring that out. Maybe it's because so many of us don't hold back when discussing these films within the context of a festival, or maybe it's just all the French wine and Italian pasta. Whatever it is, Cannes brings us together. It's the glory of big screen storytelling that reminds us it doesn't matter where we're from, what language we speak, or what we look like - we're all humans who feel emotions, who want to smile & laugh, inspired by the bonds we share.