Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Cannes Diary #1: Thpelling Errors

by Lisa Nesselson

Taking my first stroll along the Croisette I am delighted to see the large banner adorning the Festival Grill: WELCOME TO 51 TH FILM FESTIVAL.

Obviously, their awning printer was Sylvester (or "Thillvethtur") the Cat. ("Here I am at my fifty-firth phethtival. I'm not wearing anything fanthy. Baythic black.")

Personally speaking, this is my 11th Cannes Film Festival. (Or as the Festival Grill would have it: 11st. You can have a 1st fest but ten years later would be your 11th. Anyone who thinks that's arbitrary, should try conjugating irregular French verbs.)

On the next block going east is the wedding cake white enormity of the Carlton Hotel. And on the top floor is a billboard announcing: He's Longer Than the Carlton Hotel. GODZILLA. (Per Sylvester, Godthilla is a giant lithard. Although Tweety Pie will tell you he's only an animated puddy cat, Thillvethtur thuthepects the movie is thtupid. But for now, all we know for sure is that the thubject of the movie is bigger than a thity block.)

This afternoon I was honored to be interviewed by the television branch of Reuters. I waxed eloquent about how terrific this year's line-up looks on paper and how the day before the fest begins is always a treat because the event is still bathed in the warm glow of Potential, with a capital "P."

Every film is a potential masterpiece, every new director a potential genius, every as-yet-unseen performance the potential stuff of which priceless memories are made. A few days down the line the catch phrase will be "Seen anything good?" But for now our lips are aquiver with "I hear 'Velvet Goldmine' is great" or "I can't wait to see 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.'" ( Of course, this time last year, we were all eager to discover Johnny Depp's "The Brave.")

To the general public, the Festival International du Film (referred to internally as the "FIF" and known colloquially as "Cannes") seems to consist only of those films in the running for the Golden Palm. But there's way more to Cannes than the Competition. There's the Competition's companion section Un Certain Regard (which this year features an unusual number of "overflow" films by directors who are household names - or at least they are in households that closely follow international film.) There's International Critics Week, celebrating its 37th edition this year. There's the Directors Fortnight, celebrating its 30th edition this year. The all-French sidebar Cinemas en France completes the so-called "parallel sections" of the Fest.

You'd have to be superhuman to catch every single pic in the aformentioned slots, but to make matters "worse," there are myriad additional celluloid temptations in the Tribute to Producers (dedicated to French producer Anatole Dauman, who died April 8 at age 73), the new section 'Cinefondation,' designed to showcase the work of budding directors from the world's best film schools, a 30-film special program in solidarity with Algeria (May 14-24) and the hundreds and hundreds of movies that make up the Market.

The interviewer from Reuters asked me to assign a pecking order for people attending the Festival and I, at her prompting, placed journalists at the bottom. But, on second thought, I don't believe that's true. In fact, a great deal of what goes on here at Cannes caters to journalists. It's inevitable that some scribes are going to be shut out of certain screenings: nearly 4000 people receive accreditation and the biggest auditorium holds "only" 2400. There are "only" 1800 press boxes (a heroic number of pigeonholes to stock with press kits and press releases several times a day, with special attention paid to French-language and English-langauge divisions).

My trusty press box contained a photocopied letter from the gentleman who oversees their use. It's heading? WELCOME TO THE 51TH FIF.

Since they were generous enough to give me a press box, I bow to their wisdom. Methinks it's going to be a terrific 51TH FIF.

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