Sometimes people ask me to compare Cannes to an American festival they might have attended. Is it like Sundance but on the ocean? Well, if you find yourself at the Grand Hotel between the hours of 12AM and 2AM and imagine everyone in a parka and snow boots, there would be many familiar faces and I suppose you could see how this could be Zoom transported across the Atlantic with thirty dollar bellinis, but no…its really not the same. What is so foreign to my US festival going peers is that Cannes is not only a world class festival with an extremely competitive line up and formal premieres that you have to pack a fancy dress/tuxedo to attend, but at the same time there is an AFM plus sized market happening just behind the walls of the Grand Palais.
Imagine whatever the major exhibition center in your city is, the Javitz Center, Los Angeles Convention Center, McCormick Place and then put it smack dab into the middle of the largest festival you have ever been to in an extraordinarily beautiful place and that’s Cannes. If you procure the proper credentials (and the gendarme of Cannes are very strict) you veer left of the world famous red carpet you enter the Marche, a sea of booths with every major distributor and buyer that ever existed. Now, this is not an entertainment conference, there is no one selling the new Red Camera or a fancy film stock (well, they are there but usually on a yacht outside).
What is most striking are the movie posters. Row after row, floor after floor of movie posters. If you’ve ever wondered about what you are going up against making your film or read the statistics of how many films each year get distribution, and not just theatrical but even DVD/VOD or online, when you walk these isles, you can’t help to be humbled. There are always booths that stand out, Spain’s design is simply beautiful and Canal + of course shines, but everyone else is mainly four walls filled with well framed and lit posters of the films they are representing. Beautifully designed posters with actors we all recognize but films we’ve never heard of.
Then my heart beats a little faster, the poster looks great and I know this actor has some box office draw…are they just waiting on a release date? Or gearing up for a multi-city roll out? Or is it what I fear most, is the life of this film right now, on these four walls, screening at Cannes but not the Cannes we all know. This is not Directors Fortnight Cannes where careers are launched, it’s the Marche at Cannes, where a bunch of buyers from small territories that don’t really pay that well will watch the first 5 minutes or actually not even want to take the time to sit in a screening room and request a DVD so the film will be relegated to 5 minutes in a hotel room on a lap top somewhere off the Riviera?
It’s painful to imagine and I do it to myself every year but this year on the last day of walking the Marche, I found solace upstairs in a booth tucked into a tiny corner where I saw my friends film title sticking out from a rack of about 20 different one sheets. All he got at Cannes was a one sheet. So I guess having a poster is actually pretty good…it could be worse.