Why Cannes still rules
With only two exceptions, the film industry has relocated to the French Riviera every year since 1946. Cinema has changed dramatically over those decades but Cannes provides some constants.
It has always been an incredible carnival, bringing together directors from around the world to parade pictures as diverse as American mega-blockbusters, British kitchen sink dramas, Bollywood musicals and Iranian indie gems.
But it’s the business side of the event where the real chaos is to be located. James Toback, a film director whose documentary Seduced & Abandoned is required viewing for anyone brave/foolish enough to lead an assault on Cannes, puts it best when he says, “You can spend your entire year looking for money and not find enough cash to buy a cup of coffee, but then you can go to the Riviera and tie up everything on the financing front in three days flat. Since everyone – and I really do mean ‘everyone’ – is in Cannes, it’s the best place to do business.”
Toback’s not wrong about the throng Cannes attracts. The biggest stars, the hottest directors, the wealthiest money men – it’s the ideal place to pick up a cast, a crew and cash, lots of cash. It’s also the perfect location to sell a picture: the event at times resembles a second-hand car show, with producers desperately trying to palm off their dodgy straight-to-video wares to wary distributors.
But Cannes also has artistic merit, often setting the coming year’s movie agenda. Always much braver than the Oscars, the Croisette is the place to unveil leftfield avant garde pictures. Orson Welles’ Othello, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, David Lynch’s Wild At Heart, Mike Leigh’s Naked, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes The Barley… these are just a few examples of the films that launched here. Compare this list with films that have won the Best Picture gong at the Academy Awards with those that have scooped the Palme d’Or and it’s obvious: the ones that reign on the Riviera are far, far superior. But then you wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise when the festival juries are led by movie legends such as Kirk Douglas (1980), Dirk Bogarde (1984), Clint Eastwood (1994), Martin Scorsese (1998) and Jane Campion (2014).
Martin Scorsese, a man who’s won the Palme d’Or, served as Jury President and regularly attended Cannes both to promote pictures and drum up financial interest, offers this summary: “With the sun and the sea and the yachts floating in the marina,
I understand why people might think Cannes is where the film industry goes on holiday. But look beyond the hotel suites and the five-star restaurants and you’ll find that Cannes is the film industry at its most industrious.”
“Cannes is my idea of hell. You see all the people you thought were dead and all the people who deserve to be dead. After a while, you start to think you might be dead, too”
“Look at the film buyers and sellers in Cannes any year and you’re basically looking at a lot of shoe salesmen working out whether it should be sneakers or lace-ups next year”
“Every time I’ve been to Cannes, I’ve made up my mind never to return. Every time my vanity wins over”
“So, where is the Cannes Film Festival being held this year?”