The race was on. I left home in London at 4am and had to get to the UK Film Centre in the Village International – for an interview with the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey, just six and a half hours later. Seeing the 0410 bus to Luton airport whiz past at 0406 was somewhat perturbing. The 0430 was not running early, but late. Having scraped onto the plane just in time and made it to the railway station near Nice airport on time, it was similarly worrying the train to Cannes was running 25 minutes late.
The thing about the Cannes Film Festival is that when you’ve been going as long as I have, you bump into people you know everywhere – from sound engineer Vanesa Tate in the queue to board the plane to director Martin Stitt at baggage reclaim in Nice. Having not seen him for years, catching up and learning about the feature film he’s selling at Cannes, Love Me Do, took my mind off being late on the train journey.
After negotiating the left luggage facility and collecting my registration badge, I made it to the UK Film Centre with seconds to spare. There are worse ways to start a business trip than sitting on a terrace on the beach, in glorious sunshine, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and a line of billboard-clad hotels along the Croisette, speaking to the Minister for Film about film – and Brexit. Over ten minutes, Ed Vaizey said Britain was lucky to have two films in the official competition this year, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake and Andrea Arnold’s American Honey. When I pointed out that the last time Britain had two directors nominated for the Palme D’Or, in 2009, it was Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold, and before that in 2006, it was – ahem – Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold – he laughed but suggested, “We have a slew of great directors and producers, producing great films, but it’s probably more of a coincidence than a conspiracy that Andrea and Ken are once again flying the flag for Britain.”
One of the many things to say about Cannes is that there’s always so much going on that you invariably miss far more than you get to do or see. Meeting Mr Vaizey meant missing the screening of Stephen Spielberg’s The BFG. Another clash was Stephen Spielberg’s press conference with my first film of the festival, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake; a film about a 59 year old Geordie with a heart condition who can’t get benefits and befriends a single mother who’s similarly struggling to make ends meet. It felt like an angry socialist rant that would be more comfortable on my Facebook feed than on the big screen – in among all the clunky talk of government bureaucracy (tick), foodbanks (tick), benefit assessment tests (tick), having appointments cancelled as you arrive lat (tick), a middle-aged man trapped by fast-moving technology he doesn’t understand (tick), exasperated protest against the authorities (tick), being moved to another city to find suitable accommodation (tick), shoplifting to make ends meet (tick) and unrepeatable insults directed at the long-since resigned Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith (tick), Loach accidentally added a couple of plot-points. Palme d’Or Gold then. And then, just as you think the hard graft is finally going to pay off, Loach doesn’t even let you enjoy that moment. He’s got his message across without a plot and then adds a plot point just when he doesn’t need to anymore. It was notable that there wasn’t a cloud when I went into the screening. I came out to a gloomy, cloud-filled sky, heralding showers so heavy that the UK Film Centre was handing out promotional umbrellas. Loach made the whole of Cannes miserable.
Next, I put on my film-maker’s hat and popped to the Turkish pavilion to seek contacts to discuss a possible project that would involve a shoot on a boat off the cost of Istanbul; perhaps “could” would be better than “would” – what the story requires is invariably not the most practical or economical option in this business.
Then it was time to tour the market, to get a sense of the films being sold by agents and distributors. It’s a lesson in poster design – with thousands of films for sale, with each stand plastered with dozens of posters, it’s fascinating to see what sells – or what they think sells. It’s also fascinating to see the kind of small fare that some big names are reduced to – or how films are sold on the basis of having “Harry Potter star Bonnie Knight in…” or punning titles from vintage favourites – some of which won’t even work unless you have an American accent.
Then it was back to the apartment to freshen up for the evening’s activities – tonight, cocktails hosted by the festival’s IT sponsors, HP at the Majestic Hotel opposite the Palais. On hand were staff to talk us through some of the new technology the company is promoting, including 3D imaging – used mostly for medical training and architecture – and a VR headset, of which more later in the week.