Film Scouts on the Riviera 2000

2000 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
It's Difficult To Get To Cannes

by Richard Schwartz

Film Scouts on the Riviera 2000 is presented by:

SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE, May 12, 2000, 2:35 a.m. - When filmmakers talk about "how difficult it is to get to Cannes," I'd always understood that to be a commentary on the arduous process of selecting films. After the last 27 or so hours, however, I realize that statement to be one of the purely literal sort.

Of course, I am here to report on the film festival - and not to offer some long-winded exercise in self indulgence detailing this writer's tangential experiences abroad (Lord knows I've done enough of that in the three previous Cannes festivals I've attended). But please humor me for a short interlude because my tale is representative of the horror stories that so many festival attendees experience in transit every year. I just believe mine is the worst.

The drama begin around half past 1 p.m. Los Angeles time, Wednesday. Arriving at the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX, I soon discovered the airport police had held traffic to allow the striking janitors to picket. I have the deepest of sympathies for the rights of blue-collar workers to strike (in fact, the very subject matter is explored in British director Ken Loach's film "Bread and Roses," featured in the Cannes competition), but I don't even think Samuel Gompers would appreciate having rushed to the airport only to have his transatlantic check-in delayed while a picket line passed (granted, I don't think there were airports in Gompers' day, but he still wouldn't have been happy).

Moreover, as the striking janitors were the first unexpected obstacle in what would turn out to be quite a hellish travel day, I therefore assign them blame for setting in motion the unfortunate chain of events. I do have to say, however, that this was the cleanest picket line I'd ever seen. Not a single gum wrapper or cigarette butt to be recovered after the march.

And usually it's the French who strike, often picking the worst possible time (remember the World Cup '98?) to make a statement. In fact, en route to Cannes a few years ago, I was caught in a bizarre train strike that commenced mid-ride for me, resulting in an unplanned midnight walk along the rails of a small shipbuilding town. The fact that the Americans were already striking had me worried - what would those French, ever game to engage in one-upsmanship, do to top this?

I soon found out when my flight was delayed, delayed again and then delayed once more - in total, four-plus hours - by Air France. They didn't really tell us what transpired. Some sort of mechanical problems. Very reassuring. I'm guessing that someone had sent our pilot that ILOVE YOU virus. Either way, we were grounded.

Unfortunately, the usual gaggle of celebrities traveling LA-Paris-Cannes was nowhere to be found on my flight, depriving me of some serious people watching during my down time in the airport lounge. One face I did recognize was that of Richard Zanuck, the ex-studio chief, film producer and, most recently, producer of the Academy Awards ceremony. The pained expression grew stronger on Zanuck's face during this waiting period, which easily eclipsed his marathon Oscars telecast by at least ten minutes.

When we finally boarded, we were treated to a power outage - fortunately, it was on the ground and not on the jet at 30,000 feet - that set us back another hour. By the time we took off, we were already five-and-a-half hours late.

And then the turbulence hit. Not small patches, but a major stretch above the Rockies that lasted almost 90 minutes, certainly longer than it takes to pass over the mountain range. It probably didn't help that the last name of our pilot was Champagne, for it seemed like he'd consumed too much of that very libation, leaving him with few of the motor skills necessary to get us through this tough patch smoothly. Someone next to me wandered aloud, "Uh-oh, hydraulic problems?" A couple of experienced travelers nearby admitted this was the bumpiest ride they'd experienced. A couple passengers rushed back to wipe somebody else's vomit off their clothing. Everyone was queasy. The pilot even asked if there was a doctor on board. Leslie Nielsen was nowhere to be found. This was no laughing matter. Finally, the turbulence subsided.

All was quiet until the captain made an announcement about a half-hour after we'd been rescheduled to land at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. "De Gaulle airport is closed," he said, "so we're in a holding pattern." And we circled the Eiffel Tower ("Looks, kids, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe!") for about another hour before we finally landed, now seven hours tardy.

Naturally, we missed our connections from De Gaulle, so we had to catch a plane from the other side of town, Orly Airport. Hopping a bus, we soon discovered we'd been caught in the midst of both bumper-to-bumper Paris rush hour traffic and a torrential downpour. We arrived at Orly an hour-and-a-half later, where we were informed that all Air France flights to Nice had already departed. That was a relief, until I learned I'd instead be flying the aptly named Air Liberté.

Making the flight as a standby passenger in this penultimate leg of my journey, I even got a window seat, which offered a better view of the lightning show happening right outside the airplane. Does the captain know about this? I wanted to ask. For a minute, I felt like that frantic John Lithgow character from the "Twilight Zone" movie ("There's a man on the wing!").

We landed in Nice, where the runaway begins where the Mediterranean ends (not a catchy ad slogan, but a true statement for the touchdown is so close to water that one almost prepares his seat cushion for flotation). After waiting in the taxi queue for another 40 minutes, I prepared for a short hop, which was really a long trip, to my hotel, which was really more like a youth hostel. I'd booked late and was stuck in some rural town halfway to the Catalan region of Spain. The taxi sped down La Croisette, the famous seaside boulevard in Cannes, and then right out of Cannes.

I've finally made it to Cannes, but I'm still not there.

They're right. It really is difficult to get here.

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