When you first visit the small Riviera town of Cannes, it seems impossible to imagine that the world’s most anticipated film festival takes place there every May. While obviously luxurious, the town has the feeling of a quiet Provencale beach village.
However, quite suddenly, for two weeks the town is a completely different world. Celebrities, paparazzi, press parties, and red carpets are suddenly everywhere you turn. Walking from our quaint home at the Collège International de Cannes, it’s immediately clear the Cannes Film Festival has taken over in a big way.
I was lucky enough to get an internship with filmfestivals.com, a French website dedicated to coverage of film festivals around the world. A few other AIFS students and I were responsible for daily blogging about all aspects of the festival—the day’s premieres, press conferences, galas and parties, and the culture in Cannes for tourists and locals alike. I was given a special pass granting me access to the Palais des Festivals, the business hub of the festival where all the major industry players—from production companies to financial firms—had set up their temporary offices.
Every day I would walk to the Palais des Festivals and towards the red carpet, photographing street life and interviewing film industry executives from all over the world regarding deals being made and their impression of festival life. Being able to talk to a producer from India, a director from South Africa, an agent from Croatia, and so on, was a wonderful culmination of my time at the Collège. The Collège is an international meeting place for those dedicated to learning the French language, just as the Cannes Film Festival is a mecca for those who love film from all over the world.
Although the Collège may be diverse, we all shared one thing in common—an overwhelming excitement for the Festival. In between blogging and my internship as an amateur-paparazzo, I was able to enjoy the star-studded side of the Festival too. Since finding the AIFS Cannes program my freshman year of college, I was determined to get on the red carpet. The other students and I anxiously discussed the confusing process, which required badges, or tickets, or passes, or something new it seemed every day.
It was all easier than we expected, however, as a few friends and I decided we absolutely MUST walk the red carpet and see the premiere of Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller’s newest film starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carrell.
We got all dolled up in floor-length gowns and tuxedos, and headed out to get tickets in the best way we knew how – begging. We had heard that while it sounded bizarre, standing outside of the Palais and asking for tickets from the executives exiting the building was your best shot. We made cute signs, smiled, and even sang for a little. Some tourists stopped to take our pictures, as I’m sure we seemed ridiculous, but within just 30 minutes all five of us had scored a ticket.
Through a stroke of luck and some very generous friends of AIFS, we showed up to the red carpet in a Mercedes, and walked the same endless staircase as countless film icons had before. It was unreal to Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, and so many other Hollywood stars sitting just rows below us, watching a film that won’t even be released in the US until November.
While I was star struck after this experience, I had no idea what was coming next as I worked backstage during the annual Cannes amfAR gala, benefitting AIDS research. All AIFS students can volunteer to work the event in the days leading up to it, and get a behind-the-scenes look at planning the most glamourous party in Cannes. Even before the gala started, one of the biggest highlights was seeing Lana Del Rey’s sound check on stage—it felt like a private concert held especially for us.
During the actual event, most of us had the job of greeters—welcoming guests to the 5-star Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc in Antibes, where the gala was held. This meant mingling with celebrities like Heidi Klum, Kellan Lutz, Sophia Coppola, and Adrien Brody, all while keeping our composure. While I had to sneak in a few “oh my GOSH!!” faces to fellow students working the event, it was amazing to be surrounded on all sides by people I had only seen in glossy magazines.
Once the dinner, concert, and auction portion of the evening began, we were able to sneak inside for a few moments to appreciate the fashion show featuring almost every supermodel on the planet, and see a little of Robin Thicke and Aloe Blacc’s musical performance. While I tried to keep my cool, it was hard to not jump up and down a little once I spotted Leonardo Dicaprio just a few feet away.
We returned to the College totally star struck and equally exhausted— really the main two ways to best describe the Film Festival experience. It was a whole new kind of education—learning about an industry by living it in the most exciting way possible. While I was sad to see the glitz and glamour of the Festival leave Cannes as quickly as it came, it was nice to have Cannes back as our quiet oasis for our last week in France.