No two days at the Cannes Film Festival are the same.
The event, which runs for 10 days in May each year, is so jam-packed with films, press conferences, talks, parties and random celebrity sightings that a 24 hour summary doesn’t really do it justice.
This year was my first time at Cannes. Before I left I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew that along with Sundance it was probably the biggest festival in the film calendar, but it had always felt like something of a private party, an exclusive event that you had to be a part of the film industry to fully experience.
To give you an insight into what it’s actually like (at least for a lowly journalist like me), I’ve outlined how my first Friday at the festival panned out:
7:00am Grab a hearty, well-balanced breakfast on the move.
If there’s one thing Cannes taught me quickly, it’s that it’s impossible to underestimate the value of an eight-pack of pain au chocolat. The thing with Cannes is, the In Competition screenings start early 8:30am and you have to get there even earlier to guarantee yourself a spot. For people who hate the morning like me, a speedy breakfast is essential.
7:45am Join a (very long) queue.
After a 10 minute walk from my hotel I arrived at the Palais des Festivals the main hub of the festival where the majority of screenings take place ready for my first film, Okja. I was particularly excited about this film because it’s got Jake Gyllenhaal in it, so I was more than a little concerned to see a massive queue of sleepy journalists winding 100 metres down the pavement from the screening room entrance. Despite being 45 minutes early, it was already looking touch and go.
I made it in the end though. At Cannes your queue-time is directly linked to the colour of your festival pass (yellow is the most common, then blue, then pink, etc.). Due to some catastrophic administrative mix-up I’d somehow manage to get my hands on a pink one. (Winning!) This meant I didn’t have to wait quite as long, and the screening room was only three-quarters full when I finally got in and took my seat.
10:40am Dash to a press conference.
For reasons already hinted at above, the Okja press conference was deeply important to me. As soon as the 8:30am screening was wrapped up I joined the throng of journalists moving through the Palais and then broke off to the conference room.
Press conferences at Cannes take place after pretty much all the major screenings and last for about half an hour. You can watch them from screens in the press rooms, but it’s sort of fun to be in the same room as the cast and crew and see how they react to the questions up close. In my case it was also an opportunity to take a borderline-inappropriate number of photographs of Jake Gyllenhaal’s chiselled beard.
11:10am Attempt to befriend Jake Gyllenhaal.
I’m not going to bang on about my tragic attempt to talk to Jake Gyllenhaal after the press conference you can read all about that here but the TL;DR version is that it was not a success.
11:15am Get cheered up by a singing man outside the Palais.
I may not have met Jake Gyllenhaal, but I did find this man busking for film tickets outside the Palais entrance. According to his sign, he was singing for an invite to Okja. I’m not sure if he achieved his goal, but his rendition of “I Love You, Baby” certainly seemed to be entertaining a fair few people.
11:30am Do some work.
As much as I’d have loved to have split my time at Cannes between soaking up the sun and seeing films, I did also have to do the occasional bit of work. Dotted around the Palais are a number of press rooms where you can set up your laptop and grab some wi-fi, so for the next hour or so I wrote up a quick news piece about the press conference (focussing on Jake Gyllenhaal, obv.).
1:00pm Grab lunch in the sun.
Having successfully finished a whole article I felt it was high time I treated myself to some lunch. There are plenty of cafes near the Palais with outdoor terraces, so you can grab a bite to eat and soak up some sun at the same time.
2:00pm Go exploring.
Aside from the information pack you’re given when you pick up your press pass, nothing is really spelled out for you at Cannes. All the different areas in the Palais, the logistics of the festival, the various events that take place outside the main program a lot of this is left for you to discover on your own.
After lunch I chatted to people inside the Palais for awhile I wanted to see which films people were most excited about seeing at the festival and eventually I stumbled across a door that led to a roof-top terrace. The views were pretty impressive:
As well as taking some time to explore the Palais, I’d also recommend a stroll along La Croisette the main promenade that runs from the Palais along the beachfront. All the big expensive hotels lead onto this stretch, and many have their own private bars and beaches. It’s a good area for spotting celebrities, if that’s your bag (I didn’t see anyone on the Friday, but I did catch a glimpse of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the beach on the Saturday).
3:45pm Join the queue for film number two.
My second film of the day was also my first major lesson in just how chaotic Cannes can be. Wonderstruck was showing at a different theatre to the Grand Thatre Lumire where Okja had screened earlier, and despite asking staff for directions (and thinking I had loads of time to get to it) I ended up getting woefully lost.
My screening was around the side of the Palais, and to get there I had to struggle through the rapidly growing red carpet crowds, go the long way around barriers that hadn’t been there before, and then try and for at least 10 minutes fail to find the entrance. When I finally did arrive, I learned my press pass didn’t give me priority; this was also a public screening, it turned out, and the queue was already so big the staff member at the front thought I might not even get in.
I did in the end, but it was another reminder that I’d need to give myself way more time to get to future screenings.
7:00pm Navigate the red carpet crowds.
By the time I emerged from the Wonderstruck screening, the red carpet for Okja was in full swing. I did my best to catch a glimpse of Jake Gyllenhaal on one of the big screens, but there were so many tourists packed into the streets that it was hard to see anything.
9:30pm Head for dinner.
Cannes is the type of festival you can comfortably rock up to on your own plenty of people do, and there are loads of opportunities to meet new people and network. But it’s always nice to have one or two people you already know who are going.
For me that was my colleagues in Mashable France, Lhadi and Louise, who were polite enough to listen to me over dinner while I waffled on about almost meeting Jake Gyllenhaal.
11:30pm Find a party.
There are two different sides to Cannes: the seeing films and soaking up the sun bit that goes on in the day, and then the massive array of parties and events that take place at night.
From talking to people at the festival, it sounds like there are three types of party at Cannes: the ones at clubs and bars that are open for everyone to attend; the semi-exclusive events put on by various companies and brands that require an invite; and then the super exclusive parties held on private yachts, or in the houses in the hills behind the town.
After dinner, we went to an event near the Palais at Villa Schweppes to watch a French singer called Mai Lan, who my Mashable France colleagues had interviewed live on Facebook earlier in the day.
1:00am Retreat to bed.
I’d love to tell you I went to an after-party on a yacht or something cool like that, but the truth is I was so shattered by 1am that I went straight home to bed.
I knew I had another screening the following morning, and the pull of my pillow was just too tempting to resist.
For anyone more hardcore than me, though (i.e. most people), there’s so much going on around the town at night that you’d have no difficulty finding another event to go to.
Plan your evening well in advance, though. There are numerous stories out there of people sneaking into VIP parties at Cannes, but it’s a hell of a lot easier if you can secure an invite.