Republished courtesy of John T. Trigonis and Film Courage
As many of you may know, Team Cerise––that is myself, producer Camiren J. Romero, and marketing mind Marinell Montales––flew off to the French Riviera to support our short film Cerise at the Short Film Corner during the 64th Annual Festival du Cannes.
Now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know what to expect from the Cannes SFC. A month prior to taking this trip, I spoke with friend and fellow filmmaker Jim Vendiola, whose friend had gone to Cannes the previous year to support his film in the SFC (Jim’s film “Drift” was also part of this year’s SFC.) About a half hour into our conversation, it seemed like the trip might not be all it’s cracked up to be, but I figured “heck, man! It’s Cannes!” So I slid some credit cards and we were off to the races.
From May 11th to May 22nd, the streets of Cannes bustled with hundreds of people, some dappered in tuxedos, others sporting button downs and jeans, and all of them wearing badges around their necks and “official” messenger bags hanging off their shoulders. The gorgeous Boulevard de la Croissete consistently hummed with talk of films, the oohs! and ahs! of badge-impaired passersby hoping to catch a glimpse of Owen Wilson or Johnny Depp on the red carpet, squirming through dozens of ladders propping up photographers hoping to freeze a moment of glamour through lenses so impressive they might even capture the moon in full envy of the flashbulb elegance glittering just outside the Palais des Festivals at the Festival du Cannes.
And it was there, tucked away in the basement, far out of reach of any professional-grade cameras or free Wi-Fi, and situated to the right of the spillover of the Marché du Film that the Short Film Corner sat, like the kiddie table at a too-large Thanksgiving feast. In the center of the sizable Corner stood a series of horizontal monoliths wallpapered with promotional materials from some of the 1,900+ short films that were registered at the SFC this year. It reminded me of all the bulletin boards I’d plastered event flyers on back in college. From the small booths that housed companies like Mubi and L’Agence du Court Métrage to the bar where everyday at 5pm a Stella Artois happy hour was held, the room buzzed with short filmmakers slipping cards and one sheets onto these monoliths and talking to others about what there film was shot on, what festivals they’d screened at, and what they hoped to gain from their time at Cannes. Rumor has it a representative from Boston Underground Film Festival was making the rounds, but there was no way to tell filmmaker from festival programmer from buyer (if any of the latter breed were present at all.)
After taking this all in, I looked at my modest stack of post cards and didn’t know where to start. It was quite an intimidating scene, being with so many other short filmmakers seemingly trapped in a No Exit scenario of sorts, each one trying to get another one to watch his or her short (filmmakers were the majority at the SFC, after all.) But the first day of anything is always about reconnaissance, right? So I realized very quickly as I gaped at one filmmaker slipping his post card in front of every other card (including one I’d put up for Cerise) that this would be a kind of war, and the flags we’d need to capture were the eyes and ears of anyone you might convince to watch your film. But in a room filled with so many flags, Sun Tzu himself may have had a difficult time strategizing a proper plan of action.
By the third day, however, we Three Ceriseketeers shifted our viewpoints (Marinell and Camiren more than myself––that darn poet in me just wouldn’t keep quiet!) and were able to think more clearly and come up with an innovative tactic. We arrived at the SFC. The monoliths had grown into giant, unwieldy trees, reaching out with torn paper corners and dark colors almost threatening you to watch the films they advertised. We watched as people squinted, trying to focus on the shape shifting yellow wallpaper before them. For some, it proved fruitless. And at that point, Zen-like, we placed a Cerise post card into the sightline of one of the unfortunate victims of information overload. While they focused on the soft cyan and Hollywood cerise hues, Marinell opened a bag of lush, red fruit. “Cherry?” She asked, and a smile of relief crossed the faces of our hopeful viewer, who reached in and grabbed a few. Then he took the post card over to the Digital Film Library, where he booked an intimate hour with Cerise and any short films he wished to watch. One flag captured!
The “Cherry Approach” proved a worthwhile strategy, and lead to a total of seventeen people who watched Cerise. Admittedly, this is not a high number at all, but the first days of intimidation was a blight we couldn’t quite quell in its entirety.
Once Camiren left Cannes, Marinell and I decided to shift our attention from the SFC battlefield to the research arena of the DFL to watch some shorts that piqued our interest from one sheets or conversations with the filmmakers. Among my favorites were a Korean film in competition called Ghost, From the Cellar, a UK short, Der Kleine Nazi from Germany, and How Nikola Tesla Popped My Cherry. By watching both well-done and not-so-well-done shorts, we were able to see that the production value (oftentimes strictly visual) on many of the ones we watched was very high, and a few stories were engaging. Some shorts didn’t even make it past the one-minute mark for various reasons ranging from ultra-amateur audio problems to that most unforgivable of faux pas––not only for filmmakers, but for any artists––sheer boredom!
So Jim, in short, everything your pal told you about the SFC was absolutely true.
But that’s not to say that the Festival du Cannes proper was the same story. If you’re a filmmaker and have a feature-length film in idea form or a finished product and you’re searching for a buyer, then Festival du Cannes is definitely the place for you. But do your research beforehand!
The best parts of our Festival du Cannes experience actually happened away from all the glitz and glamour. On our second day, we were riding the train from Nice to Cannes seated across Philippe Le Sourd, long-time DP for Wong Kar-Wai (who’s latest film The Grandmasters looks awesome, by the way.) We chatted with him and his wife (who’s a director for TV commercials in France) about filmmaking, editing techniques, and screenwriting on the ride to Cannes and back to Nice (coincidentally, we all caught the same train for the ride back, a bit inebriated with the kind of drink that smoothes out any conversation) where we learned about all the other big-name directors Philippe had worked with through his very impressive career.
We also met up with Daniel Jahns, one of Cerise’s proud backers and owner of Fierce Entertainment, based in Los Angeles, and London-based filmmakers Saasha Celestial-One, Matthew Holt, and Michael Axelgaard who were at Cannes promoting their feature-length horror film Hollow at the Marché du Film. Four or five hours of great film-laced discussions and about the same number of Panachés (Grolsh beer mixed with Sprite) always equates to a fabulous time! Then, at a party hosted by American Pavilion, we met a cool festival programmer named Charlie Prince who runs the Lighthouse International Film Festival on Long Beach Island, NJ, and Marinell was happy to see Ryan Gosling chilling out with some filmmakers nearby. Throw in some cool hang time with good friend Raffi Asdourian, a ton of conversations with filmmakers from all over the world, and plenty of tasty food and we round out the highlights of these more positive memories of the Festival du Cannes.
So now that all’s said and done, what did we learn? Well, the biggest lesson we chuffed away with on the train ride from Cannes to Paris was that we should have prepared much more for the Cannes experience. Sure, we packed plenty of Cerise business and post cards, lots of personal cards, but never once did I think to bring the poster or multiple copies of the film. I didn’t think to have new promotional materials printed that brandished the SFC rectangle on it, plus the laurels for all the other festivals we’d been “Official Selections” at. The bottom line is that when you’re about to embark on a festival experience of this magnitude, “research” and “prepare” are two words you must spell out correctly before you take the journey.
As far as experiences go, I’m of the belief that every experience is not only an important one but a good one simply because it enhances us as people and as professionals and prepares us for the road ahead. That said, I think next year I’ll save the $200 registration fee for the Cannes SFC and put it towards a half dozen or so film festivals that might invite Cerise to screen before an audience on the big screen, but I’ll keep the Festival du Cannes in mind for when I’m ready to shop A Beautiful Unlife or Caput around to buyers at the Marché du Film.