Film Scouts On The Riviera 1997


by Mayra Langdon Riesman with Kathleen Carroll

(see also our List of Hotels)

Everybody wants to go to the Cannes Film Festival. Whether you're fresh out of film school with your precious graduate thesis film tucked under your arm or an equally jittery veteran producer with a high-priced movie in the main competition there's simply no other place to be in the merry month of May but in the ever so exclusive seaside resort town in southern France. For film lovers and celebrity gawkers alike Cannes represents the film festival equivalent of an Olympic gold medal event.

Both mentally taxing and physically demanding Cannes can either make or break you. You can walk in a nobody just as writer-director Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino once did and within a few frantic days become the toast of the Croisette (the main drag of Cannes) with eager backbiting agents clamoring to represent you. If anything the charming Riviera town resembles Brigadoon in that it's highly visible every year for a mere two weeks before the French, in effect, lower the curtain by quickly removing all the movie billboards and slashing prices in the local bistros.

How to register

First things first: it doesn't matter what role you're planning to play in Cannes; you'll need to apply for the proper credentials by mid March or so to guarantee access to the film market and the screenings. Even if you do fill out all the forms for the all important photo-ID badge there's no guarantee that you'll be treated with respect. For details, see our Registration page.

If you arrive any time before the official opening you must have a day pass in order to enter the carefully guarded Palais, the salmon-colored, fortress-like building which is the main theater of the festival . The Palais has its own guard detail . The guards wear blazers in order to appear more approachable. In years past the guards were notoriously brusque even to those whose only crime was wearing something that they considered too casual to the gala evening performances of the competition films.

For in Cannes a fashion victim is someone whose choice of evening wear does not measure up to French standards. Film Scouts producer and creator Mayra Riesman recalls attending a black-tie evening performance with a well-known German producer who was given a dressing down by a French guard and curtly denied access to the theater. The producer opened his jacket , exposing an Armani label and the guard, by now suitably impressed, motioned for him to enter. Still Film Scout Kathleen Carroll recalls being grateful for the tight security during one memorable Palais screening in which a number of normally dry-eyed critics found themselves weeping because an angry group of medical students had tear gassed the building. Forced to evacuate the theater the critics found themselves under the protective wing of an elite French police force waving plastic shields. The so-called dress police have reportedly improved their manners of late but do expect wardrobe inspection if you want to have the thrill of going to the glittering star-studded night screenings.

Once again sign up for the appropriate badge before you leave the states. One Cannes veteran suggests bringing extra small photos of your self which can come in handy if your badge is mysteriously missing. You will need an extra photo if, for example, you are one of the lucky distributors who are invited to make use of the Unifrance Ambassadors Club which requires a separate admissions card.

As a side note you can get credentials once in Cannes, but the process can take several days and be time consuming at best. So in the event you need to do this bring your business card and two passport size photos along with a great degree of patience. And remember this year is the 50th, and is going be a very tough year.


Screenings are obviously the main business of the festival. They start in the Palais and The Sale Debussy as early as 8:30 AM and the last ones begin around midnight. Film buyers and film critics check the daily programs in Le Francaise, the French trade paper, Moving Pictures and Screen International, the British publication, early and try to squeeze as many screenings into their day as is humanly possible. The late nights and early morning starts soon take their toll so try to snatch some down time just to organize each day in advance.

Press passes are in high demand because it's the only way to avoid spending time standing on line. Even with a market pass you are required to pick up additional tickets for the competition films. Simply go to the first floor of the Palais and walk to the left where there's a ticket counter and usually a long line. Alas there is where you need to pick up either tomorrow AM tickets or same day tickets. Your market badge should get you into most other screenings including the sidebar events "Un Certain Regard" and the Directors' Fortnight.

Here's how market veteran and longtime New York exhibitor Ralph Donnelly assesses the situation. "Most market screenings are held in the Palais screening rooms ABCDEFGHI on the 3rd and 4th floor of the Palais or at the Bory on the 4th floor and the Bazin on the 3rd floor. Some rooms are quite small so arrive early when possible. Other market screenings are scattered between the Arcades, Olympia, the Ambassades and Star Theater complexes, all located on the Rue d'Antibe. Donnelly further suggests concentrating your screenings in one area for unless someone has recommended a certain film just see what's available because, as he says, "it's all 'a pig in a poke' anyway."

The Market

Behind the glamour of the festival is the business of the festival, the market, where millions of dollars of business deals are done every year. Since 1961 Cannes has been the principal market place for foreign sales. Films are brought and sold plus deals are set for a range of territories and rights from video to television to a United States distribution deal. All this can translate into millions of dollars lost or won in single a moment. Of course the "business" is all over Cannes in the hotels at lunch or dinner. However officially the Palais is the domain of the official market of the festival.

Once in the Palais it is a totally bewildering maze of film sellers. The festival provides an incomprehensible map so finding your way to the Hungarian film stand and other specific destinations requires the detective skills of novelist Georges Simenon's French hero - Inspector Maigret. So keep your patience and wits about you and do not fear you will find your way.

All the hotels also have suites that function as offices for companies as well during the festival. You will often find these areas easy to maneuver about as all the hotels provide an information board set up with all then proper room and company information in their lobbies. And every hotel front desk also has the proper information in case the studio, producer or sales organization has changed their address. Remember look around you and if you see something that meets your interest, introduce yourself!

The Pavilions

A veritable Bedouin village has grown up behind the pyramid of Cannes or Le Bunker which is everybody's pet name for the Palais. In recent years Americans, British, Canadians and Europeans have pitched luminous white tents or pavilions which are, in effect, hospitality centers. The pavilions are a welcome addition to the festival because they provide you with up-to-date information and just a comfort zone where people are friendly. The American Pavilion has become a popular meeting place for the independent film crowd. You can get office privileges, the use of a computer, a Xerox machine etc. for a fee. If you have a sudden craving for American junk food the tent offers a campus snack bar of sorts where you can fill up on potato chips instead of pomme frites.


Talk is the one thing in Cannes that's cheap. So by all means please don't be shy! Now is not the time. Speak to strangers while keeping in mind that there's a certain risk involved. Kathleen was innocently walking back to the Sofitel one night when a tall, mighty friendly stranger, who turned out to be the late Chuck Connors, abruptly rose from the shadows and locked her in a vice-like embrace.

Still do try to cozy up to the rich and famous. Join group discussions, anything to link up with a potential mover and shaker - someone who just might be able to jump start your filmmaking career. Sometimes all you have to do is voice an opinion. For example if you think a Polish film about a middle-aged pig farmer is a work of genius tell everyone you meet. First of all they'll be impressed that you've actually seen a Polish film and you will have the thrill of being able to shape public opinion for within hours after dropping the name of the film it will be the hottest ticket in town.

Wardrobe Tips

Jeannie Williams, the USA Today columnist, seemed to have licked the basic wardrobe problem in Cannes a number of years ago. The fact is there's so much going on at the festival that freshening up and changing clothes is usually out of the question so every day Williams would simply wear black slacks only to retreat to the ladies room of the Majestic Hotel where she switched into a long black skirt for the evening. She has since vowed never to step foot in Cannes again so this may not be the best solution to what to wear on the fashion-conscious Croisette.

You may be able to get away with wearing just your lightweight spring clothes. But it's wise to toss a wool sweater into the suitcase and to bring a raincoat in case there's a mistral - the mysterious winds that blow in from North Africa. It has been said that the mistrals wreck havoc on the emotions and people do actually seem more testy when the winds are all astir. The aforementioned Ralph Donnelly also includes a small flashlight and the all important fashion accessory - a canvas shoulder bag, in his Cannes survivors' kit.


Mayra compares Cannes to high school in that the "in" people - the better known stars, producers, journalists and distributors - tend to cling to each other in little power groups much the same way the football heroes and prom queens did in your high school. In other words you may feel like a hopeless wallflower at times but it's worth remembering that those in the most enviable cliques are often feeling just as left out and insecure. In many instances movie stars find themselves all alone in Cannes without even a friendly publicist because everyone assumes that they're being invited to all the right parties. It's also true that in the late evening after a certain amount of vin even the most aloof festival goes may drop the pretenses and unburden his or her soul to you.

In fact the picture-perfect harbor of Cannes has been the scene of many a romance, some brief and some that actually lasted until the next festival.

Surprisingly many people have bonded for life in the midst of the high-pressure Americanized atmosphere. Many of our best friends have come from a chance meeting in Cannes.


The bar at the Majestic Hotel - Definitely one of the hot spots it features moveable seats and there's a constant game of musical chairs as veteran table-hoppers and would-be patrons desperately scan the room for someone who might offer to buy them a $25 whisky. And yes it does come with a dish of bar olives.

The bar at the Grey d'Albion - More inviting than the Majestic it attracts the most savvy independent film buyers, publicists and festival directors.

Shopping - There are at least two or three people in the world who can afford to shop in Cannes. If you are lucky enough to be one of them our favorite frequent shopper has some tips. Actually she like to buy porcelain at Terre de Provence at 54, Av. G. Clemenceau. (Tel. which she says has the best quality faience in the area. She also like Atelier Sassi-Milici at 65 Bis, Av. G. Clemenceau (Tel. for both ceramic art and paintings.

For a discussion of eating and drinking in Cannes, see Film Scout Jim Byerley's notes on Food and Drink for 1996 and watch for his 1997 best bets.

The Party Scene

It's always party time in Cannes. There are promotional lunches for the press., yacht parties for the visiting stars and so it goes. Don't feel too badly if you're not receiving all those coveted invitations. We know of at least one award winner who was actually turned away from the traditional post-awards party at the Carlton. Still if you must go there are those who have refined the art of party crashing in Cannes. A New York indy producer used to get dressed in formal wear every night, promptly at cocktail hour. He'd then head for the public beach where he removed his shoes and socks. By walking along the beach he found he could easily gain entrance to the many parties that are held in the various beachside restaurants. Film Scouts does not recommend this approach.

And there is always what an unnamed producer calls the serendipity of Cannes. "It is the Disneyland for the film professional. You never know who you will meet, where you will go, the only given is that you will by sheer serendipity meet interesting people. It is really the land of opportunity. And you never know just someone you run into on the Carlton Terrace socially will be able to make that deal happen for you the next day. You can go to a reception and meet 10 people that would have taken a year to meet otherwise. The accessibility is just terrific. I would say it is akin to a Star TreK episode, where you go into a nightclub at the edge of the universe, and you meet people from all over the world. From nothing you can have the most simple but brilliant evening that you will never forget. The rule is very simple - just always be open to opportunity."

The Beach

Cannes is not for swimming, it's for displaying certain assets. The pebble beaches have appeal only to those uninhibited actresses (?) who like to take their clothes off sur la page in front of the Carlton not just to enjoy the breeze but to attract the attention of the hordes of paparazzi.

Mayra always remembers having a party for a film that she was producing, on a glamorous yacht then belonging to David Bowie. "As my guests went on the Carlton Pier, waiting to board a skip to the yacht duly parked mid-sea, they all had to stride past a nimble young thing taking off all her clothes in the most wild fashion for an ocean of on-looking cheering still photographers. A male guest remarked to me that I provide great shoreside entertainment!"

The beach restaurants beginning with the Carlton's outdoor lunch spot are the "in" places to be from noon until 2 PM as long as the weather is reasonably pleasant. Except for luncheon press parties everyone tends to stick to their own circle and each country seems to have adopted a particular beach restaurant. The Canadian contingent and the press corps, for example, tend to gravitate to Long Beach. All of which brings one to the next subject.

Getaway Attractions

After overdosing on all the phony talk one longs for an authentically French experience. Do yourself a real favor and take time out on a Saturday to explore the quaint flea market which is held right next to the Splendid. The flower market (just take Rue Hoche which runs right into it) is another special treat. If you're not as budget conscious and you have wheels head for St. Paul de Vence where you can enjoy lunch at the Colombe d'Or on the very terrace where the late Simone Signoret used to hold court.

Crime: Pickpockets

One must be extremely wary in Cannes of pickpockets. A former New York film commissioner had his watch taken from him while he was sleeping in his hotel room. So be extra vigilant . It's wise to carry as little money as possible (with the dollar rapidly losing value on the foreign exchange you may have no other choice) and put your passport and other valuables in a hotel safe as soon as possible, for the mugging incidents seem to be on the increase.


(see also our List of Hotels)

Finding a hotel room in Cannes at festival time is an art form in itself. Does the word bribe mean anything to you? Let's put it this way a one-time reservations clerk of the tres populaire Majestic Hotel did so well he began a whole new career as an investment counselor. On the other hand Mayra took pity on a waif-like young actress a few years back and found her a bed in a well-located hostel run by American hippies. The price per night was $30 which included a brown rice breakfast. The actress, Uma Thurman, was more than happy with her accommodations. Robert Redford is fond of telling how he slept on the beach in front of the Carlton Hotel the first time he came to Cannes.

Even so, arriving in Cannes without a hotel reservation can turn strong men to jelly. A combat-tough AP photographer, who had narrowly escaped being kidnapped with Terry Anderson in war-ravaged Beirut was reduced to a bundle of nerves after merely one day of being snubbed by Cannes hotel clerks.

Having said all this persistence sometimes pays off. Remember, too, once you have found so much as a bare cell (with one of those curtain-less showers the French are so fond of) never let it go even if it means furtively crossing the palm of a French innkeeper with the equivalent of a month's salary. Hotel Du Cap - This is a people watchers paradise. In this deluxe 1920's period setting you fully expect F. Scott Fitzgerald to make an entrance at any second. You must go and check out the hotel's vintage grandeur but bring lots of cash for they frown on credit cards in this heavenly place. It's a thrill just to be able to ogle the Hollywood high rollers who recline by the pool or dine at the luxurious oceanfront Eden Roc waiting for lesser mortals to pay court to them.

Carlton Hotel - The best furniture is always carefully removed on the apparent assumption that the film crowd likes to tear up hotel rooms as much as Johnny Depp who was arrested this past year for wrecking his New York suite. The lobby, as a result, looks like your average Holiday Inn convention center. No longer the main hub of the festival it still draws SRO crowds especially when Sylvester Stallone or some such star saunters through the hotel's revolving doors. The Carlton Terrace is still the place to be seen at around 5 PM when everyone cuts deals by scribbling the details on their paper cocktail napkins . Mayra has dubbed it the "Liars Terrace" but the truth is watching the action there can be more entertaining than the competition films. You can't afford to be overly sensitive, however, since people tend to greet you warmly enough only to automatically stare over your head to see if they can latch on to someone more important.

Hotel Gray D'Albion - A sleek, modern hotel with all the convinces including as gleaming ladies room for those in need of a posh retreat from all the hustle and bustle.

Hotel Martinez - Your chances of bumping into European festival fixtures here are great as the hotel has traditionally been the official headquarters for the Italian film contingent and other Europeans.

Hotel Majestic - Wonderfully convenient the hotel features the most visible swimming pool. Lunching at poolside is a Cannes tradition for such regulars as indy producer Ben Barenholtz who, last year, could be seen sharing a much prized poolside table with the star of his then future movie - Jennifer Jason Leigh. For years Cannes regulars used to measure the annual inflation rate by checking the price of a poolside charcoal grilled hamburger which, at last count, was well over $40. Journalists in search of screening and party invitations and interview possibilities will be even more interested in the fact that this hotel also houses the temporary office of Dennis Davidson Associates. Coffee ranges about $6.50 per, so be advised.

Hotel Splendid - If you want to woo a famous American film critic or charm the New York Film Festival's selection committee just station yourself in the cozy lobby of this prime-location family-run hotel . For you are sure to run into the creme de la creme of American movie critics not to mention the sought after members of the selection committee. Splendid habitués include Roger Ebert and Time magazine's Richard Corliss.

Hotel Sofitel - This hotel is a calorie-burning walk from the main action but the stroll through the old part of Cannes is truly refreshing. Besides, the dean of British film critics, Alexander Walker, considers it good enough to have made it his base for years.

These are just a few of the main hotels. There are many others (which are listed on our List of Hotels, with phone numbers). Some are comfortable and relatively modest like the Canberra and the Victoria but they are booked solid with repeaters - guests who return year after year to the same familiar room. Apartments are also available and sharing one is truly the best way to beat the sky-high prices even if you have to rent it for the entire month.

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