Industry Insights

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2024 

“So, where is the Cannes Film Festival being held this year?”

Christina Aguilera

 

Cannes Film Festival – playground of the rich and famous, most prestigious film festival in the world, kingmaker for some (hello Tarantino and Soderbergh) and breaker of others (goodbye von Trier and, weirdly, Tarantino again) – returns for its 77th edition at the famous Palais des Festivals et des Congrès in Cannes (I couldn’t find a postcode for you Christina but if you turn left at the Paps you’ll be golden).

For movie fans, anyone in the film industry, or if you’re just looking for somewhere nice to moor your super-yacht in Spring, Cannes Film festival is the cultural centerpiece of world cinema, and it’s curtains open once more on 14th May 2024.

This year’s programme includes the now traditional mix of Hollywood heavyweights (Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, and Paul Schrader), homegrown French titles (Beating Hearts, The Most Precious of Cargoes, and Wild Diamond) and International Auteurs (Payal Kapadia).

For many people in the film industry, as well as those striving to get into the film industry, Cannes is the essential, must-attend (must-be-seen-at) film festival of the year. So, you may ask, what makes Cannes so special?

Cannes film festival 2024

WHAT MAKES CANNES SO SPECIAL?

Thanks for asking. Here, in no particular order, is a rundown of why everyone should go to Cannes if they can(nes).

 

The French Riviera

There’s no dressing this down, a huge part of what makes Cannes so special is where it is held and, some would argue, when it is held.

Located at the heart of the glorious French Riviera, an Oliver Stone’s throw from Antibes, Nice and Monaco, Cannes is every bit as glamourous, fashionable and exclusive as you would imagine. White sandy beaches, palm trees and crystal-clear waters surround the supercars, boutiques, and 5* Hotels along the main strip which are frequented by the impossibly fashionable, indescribably beautiful and undoubtably wealthy residents and visitors.

This alone would be enough for most Stars, Producers, and Sales Agents to ensure their diaries were clear for May each year, but when you combine this with being able to immediately roll into Formula 1’s most glamourous and exclusive event of the year – the Monaco Grand Prix – it becomes hard to resist.

This year, Cannes Film festival is due to wrap up on 25th May, just enough time to take the superyacht down the coast for race day at Monaco on the 26th May. This is truly one of the most impressive examples of scheduling ever seen. Instead of competing against each other for the world’s focus, these two heavyweight events become an inseparable two-act structure (like Full Metal Jacket without the shouting and snipers) that guarantees international press attention, and the rich and famous’ attendance.

Cannes Film Festival 2024

 

Red Carpet Star appeal

Although originally designed as the antithesis of commercial Hollywood films, over the years Cannes has – if not fully embraced Hollywood celebrity – at least opened the doors to its perfectly chiseled and instantly-recognisable face. The Red Carpet at Cannes has in recent years – certainly to English and American onlookers – become a key talking and focal point of the Festival. Who can forget the countless memes of ‘that’ photo of Timotee Chalomet, Bill Murray, Wes Anderson and Tilda Swinton walking the red (OK, it was actually blue) carpet whilst promoting The French Dispatch. For many of us watching from afar, seeing the great and good of the cinema world stroll down the carpet and into the Palais is a voyeuristic fascination. For those attending (or attempting to attend) the festival, it seems to have even more pull.

Having first attended Cannes in 2012, it was staggering to see the masses of fans queueing up for hours for the right to queue up for more hours for the chance of seeing over the shoulders of the ranks of papparazzi who are queueing up to take photos of the likes of Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Scarlett Johansson. It is safe to say you do not get this type of buzz going to the local Odeon.

red carpet at Cannes Film Festival 2024

 

The Big Screen

Speaking of which, if you are lucky enough to get tickets to a screening at Cannes (which is not easy to do), the sight that greets you as you enter the auditorium is every film lover’s dream. The Grand Theatre Lumiere is a mighty fine cinema. The first thing that hits you is the scale of it. It seats 2309 people, has a 383 m2 stage, a 56m2 Orchestra Pit, and a screen so big you could comfortably watch two films at the same time. The sound experience is out of this world – obviously from a technological perspective, it has all of the latest generation audio systems and Dolby Atmos technology – but the design of the room is simply perfect acoustically. In a cavernous room of this size, you may be forgiven for thinking those seated in the back rows of the top balcony may feel a little disconnected or removed from the experience, but fear not. The viewing experience is as compelling and consuming wherever you are seated.

But the most memorable thing about it, is the one thing that can never be seen, heard or articulated accurately. It just has that special, magical, x-factor that all the world’s great venues have. From Glastonbury Festival, to Madison Square Garden and the Maracana. You can feel it from the second you walk in until the second you (sadly) leave. Everyone in the auditorium can feel it and is energized by it. Which leads us nicely onto..

 

Active Audiences

The prevailing theory in Film and Production degrees around the world, is that there are two types of audiences – Passive and Active.

Passive audiences are those of us who are happy to be led by the messages and stories in the film, we are happy to simply come along for the ride, and do not actively challenge what we are seeing or hearing. This type of audience can often be seen half-watching a Netflix series whilst simultaneously doom-scrolling through Insta.

Active audiences are those of us who are fully engaged with the movie and are actively challenging and responding to what’s in front of us – quite often externally through verbal/physical reactions. This type of audience can often be seen rage-screaming at Crime Drama’s for predictable plot holes and unnecessary red herrings.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say that Cannes audiences are possibly the most active in the World. Every year the horror stories of films, Directors or even distributors (Netflix, I’m looking at you) being savagely and mercilessly booed grows and becomes part of Cannes folklore. Just for balance, from a personal point of view, my experiences of Cannes screenings has included the full spectrum of active responses. Yes, some booing, but plenty of laughter, cheering, and spontaneous standing ovations also.

At its worst, this level of instant judgment/karma can feel unnecessarily cruel and fueled by an idealistic and, dare I say, grandiose worldview of what cinema should be – or perhaps, what it is used to be.

At its best, it is an overwhelmingly joyous and shared communal expression of love for film and cinema. A 2309-strong tribal celebration of a filmmakers ambition, achievement and storytelling.

Without meaning to sound mean, whichever way it goes it is fun! And let’s be honest, it is as much a part of the DNA of Cannes as anything else on this list. Most crucially, there is no guarantee that the judges agree with the audiences anyway. Several filmmakers have gone away with pride intact after a savage booing.

 

Dancer in the Dark, 2000, Lars von Trier

This Bjork-led dark musical was not a hit with audiences. It was relentlessly booed, and rumors swirled about the number of walkouts during the screening. Von Triers standing amongst the Cannes crowd never recovered. The judges promptly rewarded it with the Palm D’or. If you were Lars, which would you prefer?

 

Okja, 2017, Boon Joon-Ho

As the first Netflix financed feature to be included in the Official Selection, the appearance of the Netflix logo caused apoplectic rage amongst the Cannes faithful. However, by the end of the film, the audience was completely won over by the large, cute pig and it received a standing ovation. It seems like a classic case of ‘firm but fair’ feedback.

 

Taxi Driver, 1976, Martin Scorsese

With hindsight, it is hard to believe that Scorsese’s masterpiece would be met with anything but positivity and awe. But at the time, the combination of graphic violence and overtly US sensibilities was too much for the Cannes audience and booing ensued*. The judges disagreed, and Scorsese walked away with the Palm D’or.

*Can I please get some credit for avoiding the temptation to use the ‘Are you booing at me? I don’t see anyone else here’ option?

 

The Marche du Film

For film fans and cultural observers, the official selection and glamour of Cannes is where the bulk of the appeal lies. But for anyone in the industry and – just as importantly – those desperately trying to break into the industry, the real star attraction of the festival is the Film Market. The Marche du Film is where the deals are done, the relationships forged, and the parties attended that make the cogs of the film industry continue to turn.

Sales agents are here to sell territories, Producers are here to raise finance, Countries are here to sell their unique landscapes (and tax breaks) and Filmmakers are here to get their next project off the ground. From the biggest fish in the pond, to the youngest independent director desperate for their breakthrough. It is a heady mix of power, pitching, and party invites. The story goes that more deals are done at night on the private yachts and hotel suites as the parties get jumping than in a week of scheduled meetings at the Market.

It is a unique experience to be in a room where both sides of the industry are represented. The public perception of industry – the glamour, big name casts, and Oscar winning Producers – and the cold hard truth of the industry – the hustlers, the rejections and the “I’ll pass”es. For those attempting to break into the industry (and, to be fair, even for the most established filmmakers) it is VERY hard to get a film of any kind financed, produced and distributed. And it is within the walls of the Marche du Film that countless dreams are shattered, and the occasional one comes true.

 

Anything else?

Yes! There are a million other things we could say about the wonder of Cannes (believe me, I could write 10,000 words on the war that rages between French cinema and Hollywood and how the frontline battles happen at Cannes, but one day I may decide to do a Masters so I’ll keep it in my back pocket for now), but I’m out of word count and you’re nearly out of time to book tickets. So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself down there.

 

 

Share