The Great Return to the Splendor of the Cannes Film Festival in France
by Alex Billington
May 12, 2016
I'm back again in the South of France for the Cannes Film Festival, and it feels so good. I had to skip last year as I just couldn't afford to make the trip, and I really missed it. So I told myself I'd be back again this year, and here I am. There's just something about this place, a magic in the Mediterranean air that is almost tangible. There's so much history here, but right now I'm here, I'm a part of it. When I was mirroring Roger Ebert's book a few years ago (see "Two Weeks in the South of France" posts from 2014) there is a section where he talks about going out to Francis Ford Coppola's boat after the Apocalypse Now premiere. That's the kind of history that hangs over this festival, but it's actually inspiring and exciting, not overwhelming.
I'm so glad I came back. It was hard not to, but I'm also very happy to be here. Things have changed. I'm no longer friends with the person who first introduced me to Cannes and that I used to stay with for years. Now I'm crashing with a new group of friends from Sweden, including Alexander Dunerfors who runs the site MovieZine.se. Some things have stayed the same - my favorite place for pasta (called La Piazza) and my favorite Armenian kebab place (called Aux Délices Arméniens) are still open, and I still eat at both places regularly. The cinemas and screening venues are the same (except for new seats inside the massive Grand Lumiere theater). It's a mix of emotions, some good, some bad, but I'm still overtaken by a feeling of utter joy - that I'm back in Cannes, watching films, basking in the glory of cinema, enjoying every second of this.
Many have asked me what it is about Cannes - why do I keep going back, why do I love this festival. It's hard to explain and I've said before that you have to come here to understand. It is about the history, but it's also about the feeling that Cannes is the center of all things cinema for these two weeks. Everyone from all over the world knows about the festival, and the thousands of members of the press here are sending out updates constantly. My focus is to remind people that this is really all about the films and filmmakers. There's already enough red carpet coverage and an oversaturation of photos from tongue-wagging paparazzi; I could care less about celebrities. I'm here for the storytellers and to see/hear the stories they're telling this year.
Speaking of films - this seems like it might be a great year. My most anticipated films are from filmmakers I've discovered in Cannes before and have come to love. Xavier Dolan's latest feature, It's Only the End of the World; Jeff Nichols' latest feature, Loving; Andrea Arnold's latest feature, American Honey; Park Chan-wook's latest feature, The Handmaiden; David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water. I'm also excited about discovering new filmmakers, checking out new work from all over the world. You never know what you might find. It was Cannes that first introduced me to Alejandro Jodorowsky, and now, well - Jodo rules!
The way I record my life experiences in this world is through photography, primarily as @abillington on Instagram. Here's one of my first photos from Cannes this year taken inbetween the International Pavilions:
As always, you can find my to-the-second updates/mini-reviews on Twitter as @firstshowing constantly throughout this year's festival. I'll also be posting reviews and updates here on the site, as well as photos on Instagram as @abillington. My coverage may not be as intensive as previously, but I still want to share my own unique perspective and my own personal thoughts on films I've seen. For years I've been referencing this quote and it resonates even more now, considering Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu has a new film premiering this year (called Graduation). His thoughts at the beginning of the festival: "I'm waiting for a film that can re-invent things and shows us a new way of seeing a film… I'm looking for a certain kind of honesty and courage from a filmmaker. I'm looking forward to seeing films that lead us on a different path."