My coverage of Cannes? There isn't any. I can't afford to go to Festival de Cannes any more than the average indie filmmaker, and it isn't one of the festivals on the travel docket for B-Side, so here I sit in my living room reading the internet coverage. Not that I'm complaining -- these days I get to about as many festivals as I can realistically handle -- but there's always something about knowing there's a great festival going on somewhere else that invokes that twinge of envy. I can only imagine that Cannes is the ultimate in festival-going -- its insistence on fancy dress at evening screenings guarantees a high level of glitz and the temperate weather in France in May (especially as opposed to Utah in January) attracts actors and other industry types like flies. With media, Hollywood types, and indie filmmakers all crammed shoulder to shoulder and clamoring for attention, it's got to be the ultimate show for a film festival buff.
For those of us left behind, now is a good time to review the basic facts about Cannes. Not only is it one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, it's also one of the oldest -- founded in 1939 but not truly launched until after the war in 1946 -- and one of the most dramatic. From its war-torn beginnings to the various tensions between nations, film academicians, filmmakers, and the irrepressible Hollywood machine, Cannes has seen its share of excitement and conflict over what the festival should and should not be. If you're interested in the history there are a few books out there on the subject, including Cannes: Inside the World's Premier Film Festival by Kieron Corless and It's So French!: Hollywood, Paris, and the Making of Cosmopolitan Film Culture by Vanessa Schwartz.
Today's Cannes is a mixture of business, pop culture, and art. What few filmmakers and even fewer filmgoers seem to realize is that it's possible to "play Cannes" without having been selected by Cannes. Here's how:
The Official Selection of Cannes is limited to about 100 films. This year (2008) there are 22 films in competition, 21 in the "Un Certain Regard" section, 8 in the "Out of Competition" section (including the latest Woody Allen flick and Spielberg's new Indiana Jones movie), 7 "Special Screenings," 17 shorts in the Cinefondation section, and 9 in the Shorts competition -- a total of 84 out of the thousands that must have been submitted. (Sundance received over 4000 submissions in 2008; we can only surmise that Cannes receives at least that number.) Compared to most other major festivals, that's not a lot of movies.
Cannes makes up for its ultra-selectivity in official selections by throwing its doors wide to all comers for the Marché du Film (Film Market) -- so long as they have cash in hand. For a mere $10,000 or so, anyone can set up a booth at the Marché and peddle their films to interested parties, each of whom have only paid about $500 for the privilege of seeing what's for sale. As with other film markets like the American Film Market or ShoWest, the Cannes market is all about business. Though there are screenings of films, they have been paid for by the sellers and no guarantees of quality are made by the festival. If you believe your feature film has the potential to justify that kind of cash outlay, there's no easier way be a part of Cannes and to capitalize on the hubbub surrounding the festival.
Further muddying the waters of what it means to "play Cannes" is the Short Film Corner, a sub-section of the Marché du Film that showcases short films for a mere 75 Euros (about $120). Registration includes limited access to certain parts of the festival and Marché du Film, plus special networking events. Your film is available for viewing in a variety of different ways, including kiosks, private online screenings, and even mini-screening rooms where you can schedule screenings once you're on site. This is where it starts to become really tempting: for the price of three or four regular submissions to film festivals, you can say that your film was "at Cannes" for as long as your conscience holds out.
So -- even if you don't plan on bending the truth that much, is it worth registering your short with the Short Film Corner? I guess it depends on how much cash you have to blow and what you expect to get out of it. If you're planning to actually show up and take advantage of the festival and market, it seems like a no-brainer. Festival credentials and the ability to introduce yourself as a filmmaker with a film in the Short Film Corner? That feels like a pretty good icebreaker. And who knows? A buyer might find you charming enough to go dial up your film out of the other 1800 flicks in the pile.
If you're not planning on being there, however, participation seems largely academic. There's a competition of sorts (though darned if I can figure out how to become a voter) and you can display a nifty "Short Film Corner at Cannes" graphic on your web site, but there aren't likely to be many tangible benefits. You might be able to weasel your way into some minor festivals on the strength of your "selection" at Cannes, but anyone in a position of importance enough to really help you is likely to know the difference -- and will probably take a dim view of your trying to pull a fast one. Participating in the Short Film Corner certainly can't hurt your film unless you misrepresent the significance of said participation. Chances are it won't do much to help your film either, unless you get your butt over to France and take part.
If the $120 doesn't mean a lot to you, there's something to be said for registering your film with the Short Film Corner just for the sake of being "on the record," much the same as I encourage documentary filmmakers to register with Hot Docs' "Doc Shop" market even if they don't make it into the festival itself: it's good to have your film's name and information in that catalog -- who knows what could come of it? If you're scratching for every dime, on the other hand, use that money to promote your next actual screening at a festival you can actually attend. Better yet, put it into your next film. There's plenty of time to work on your French vocabulary.