I am a firm believer in the idea that if you are going somewhere you should already be there by ten pm. If you are just getting on the road at ten then you can be guaranteed of a forty-eight hour day with no sleep, dodgy airport bathrooms and the possibility of humorless German flight attendants. So began Reel to Real’s Cannes Film Festival trip 2005.
Here is my travel itinerary: Get to the airport at eight pm and try to get upgraded to business class. Explain to Canada Customs and then security why we are traveling with bags of electronic equipment. Board the plane and sit in a too-small seat for almost eight hours. Eat twice. Occasionally allow my eyes to dip to an almost closed position while Oceans Eleven and Nurse Betty play on screens around me.
Disembark in Frankfurt—is it the home of the hot dog? I’ll have to check—and wait. And wait. With typical German efficiency the Frankfurt airport is built to move people from one connecting flight to another with great ease, but not to keep them entertained. Bring a book. It is a very dull place. Then get on another airplane to Nice. Sit for an hour before trying to explain to the French Customs agent why we have bags of electronic equipment that we are trying to bring into his country. Once he begrudgingly lets us into the country we try and find a cab big enough for our luggage, bags of television equipment and three large tired men for the drive to Cannes. We find someone who is up for the task—it’s like playing Tetris trying to fit everything in the small car and we’re off. Imagine one of those little cars you see at the circus stuffed with dozens of circus clowns.
By the time we get into the cab I’m tired of sitting, and as much as I like my cameraman Dean, I very quickly grow bored of him almost sitting in my lap for the cramped drive to Cannes. We are going to our rented apartment on Avenue de Lerins, but unfortunately our cab driver feels compelled to take us somewhere else. Where, I’m not sure, and I don’t think he is either. Eventually, just seconds before I think I will go completely mad, we pull up in front of Maison de Reel to Real. We have stayed in the same place for the last few trips, but this time we wanted to try something different. The new place is a little more upscale than our last place—marble floors, a kitchen with a view of the ocean (I can already count ten yachts and the festival hasn’t even started yet), nice rooms and a big balcony overlooking a park. I’m so happy I could weep. I want to lie down on the nice cold marble floor and cool off my burning, tired skin, but decide it might give the wrong impression to my crew.
Even though I am tired to point of hallucinating I hold it together. I’m beginning to feel like feel like Toronto’s Oldest Living Man on vacation. It’s too early to go to sleep. I know if I do I’ll wake up at a strange hour and won’t get accustomed to the time change. I gather the crew and we walk the Croisette—the main drag of Cannes. It’s a long street, but for the purposes of the festival it is really only about a quarter mile centered on the Paliase. That’s where all the action is. For the next two weeks hundreds of movies, dozens of movie stars and more journalists than you could shake a pen at will be converged on this strip. Right now, however, it is relatively calm. Billboards for War of the Worlds, Elizabethtown and something called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are being erected, staging is being set up and the famous red carpet in front of the grand theatre hasn’t even been laid yet. It’s the calm before the storm, the prelude to madness. As a nice cool ocean breeze blows over me I soak it in. There will be few of these relaxing moments in the days ahead.
Drained, I stagger back to the apartment around 9 pm, unpack and sleep the sleep of the dead.
On Tuesday morning I wake up at 8:45. I feel pretty good, but for an instant I can’t remember where I am, or why I am there. I look around and still can’t put it together. It’s nice, but almost completely unfamiliar to me. I give my head a shake and slowly the synapses start to click and I start to consider the day.
The festival actually starts on Wednesday, so today will be a light day of getting reacquainted with the lay of the land, meeting with whatever publicists are in town, and picking up our press passes and cell phones. All goes smoothly. I get a good press pass. There are different levels of passes ranging from limited access to one that apparently grants you the title of King of Cannes. I get one somewhere in between—the white and pink one.
At the publicity office of DDA at the Majestic Hotel I arrange to go to a photo-call with Paris Hilton and several other things. It is too early to confirm interviews but I leave feeling that we’ll get some good items out of them. Next I meet with a publicist who is repping several interesting foreign films. Are they still considered foreign if I’m in France and the movies are French? Either way I walk into the bar of the Grand Hotel and he is in an animated discussion—in North America we would call it a fight, over here it is the way of doing business—with a journalist who is trying to book interviews, but only wants the stars, not the directors.
“Who do you think makes the movies!!?” shouted the publicist. “I’ll try and do what I can, but I am too aggravated to talk to you now.” When the journalist leaves the publicist tears up his media request form. “He gets nothing, Philistine.”
He has interesting point. Years ago the directors where held in high regard here. They were the engine that drove the Cannes machine. Now, unless you are Woody Allen or David Cronenberg—two of the “name” directors here this year—most of the press doesn’t seem interested. Most of the media here is only interested in starlets and big names. Natalie Portman is a hot item here his year. Hiner Saleem, the Kurdish director of Kilometre Zero, one of the films in competition, is not.
I am intimidated to say the least. I have dealt with many publicists—some irate, some not—but this guy was in a class by himself. We negotiate and I agree to interview several of his directors and he agrees to give me time with one of his stars—the French actress Juliette Binoche. I’m happy, and he’s not yelling, so I assume he’s happy too.
Freaked out from my encounter with publicistzilla I spend the rest of the day working the phones and shooting a couple of stand-ups on the beach which will be used in the first show.
I spend the rest of the day with a friend who has just flown in from Toronto. Her bumpy ride into Cannes makes mine rip look like a luxury cruise on the Queen Elizabeth. She arrived late, without luggage and once she got here a myriad of problems arose—including no press mailbox and a rented cell phone that wouldn’t make outgoing calls. They were little things, but over here it is the little details that kill you. She is in for a living hello of standing in lines pleading with soulless paper pushers who will look at her quizzically when she tries to explain why she needs a press mailbox. Eventually they will give her one, but it will be a long, ugly process ripe with phrases like, “I’m sorry, it’s not possible,” and “You are standing in the wrong line, please move.”
After my visit with her I had back to Maison de Reel to Real, grab a bite to eat and make notes for Wednesday. It all really starts tomorrow and I have just two days to produce and shoot two shows before we have to send our first load of tapes back to Toronto for editing. I’m feeling a little anxious, but I think we can do it.
I went to bed late hoping that I would be tired enough to sleep and not lay there and think about the massive amount of work coming in the days ahead. I was wrong. After twisting and turning for several hours I finally fell into a light anxiety dream ridden sleep.
CANNES YOU HELP ME?
WEDNESDAY MAY 11, 2005
As son as the light hits my eyes I start to feel a sense of dread. I didn’t sleep well on Tuesday night—plagued by anxiety dreams and flop sweat I was up all night. The festival hasn’t even begun and already I am wound up tight as a spring.
My plan was to get up early and work on my notes before going downtown to try and scrounge up some interviews, but since I barely slept, there was no “early” just “later” than I went to bed. When I crawl out of bed I’m too agitated to sit still and write o I get on the road in hopes of catching the publicists before the crowds move in. Everyone is arriving today and as the day wears on it will get hellishly busy everywhere I go.
On my first stop I try to arrange some interviews for the Robert Downey Jr film Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Not doing any Canadian press, I’m told. Then I try and confirm my interview with Atom Egoyan. Still no exact time. I feel the dark clouds of demoralization moving in. Several more negative phone calls later and I’m ready to call it a day, and it is only 9:15 am. I still haven’t booked anything and I beginning to think that the two shows I have to have ready for Friday at noon for shipping aren’t going to be ready.
There is a break in the bad karma weather when a Canadian publicist calls me back regarding an interview for the Midnight Movies, a documentary about 70s cult films. The director, Stuart Samuels is tired, and would prefer not to do any interviews today, but I convince him to meet me at the Canadian Pavilion and do the interview.
Samuels is an interesting guy. He was a film teacher for many years, and in 1983 he wrote a book titled Midnight Movies which profiled three seminal 70s cult films, El Topo, Night of the Living Dead, Pink Flamingos, The Harder They Come, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead. Twenty years later he was commissioned to turn the book into a documentary for television but it turned out so well that it got picked up as an Official Selection Out of Competition in Cannes.
He shows up and is passionate about the movies, interesting and well spoken and gives me a terrific interview. When we are done I feel as though the wheels are starting to turn—slowly—but at least there is some motion. From there I head over to the market to check it out and scout any potential interviews. The market is for films that are looking for distributors. There are thousands of films and hundreds of companies represented in this massive convention space. Booth after booth is overflowing with movies that represent the true spirit of Cannes—everything from high art to low trash.
I usually come here with an eye towards locating the most outrageous movies the market has to offer, and today I wasn’t disappointed. Did you know that Wilmer Valderama—Fez on That 70s Show and the man who broke Lindsey Lohan’s heart—is starring in a film called El Muerto? Based on a comic book this film gives us Fez as a zombie mariachi, and looks like it cost about $0.25 to produce. Another real find was Disaster! a “funny as hell spoof of big-budget disaster films” featuring puppets with names like Harry Bottoms and VD Johnson. Possibly the only movie to try and cash-in on last year’s flop Team America. My favorite, however, is Ketchup vs. Mustard: The Ultimate Condiment Showdown. Here’s what the press bumpf says: “Eating competition—two men, two gallons of condiments, one hour to devour them! Doug Sakkman (Ketchup) and James Brown (Mustard) go head to head to see which the superior condiment is! With live color commentary, flashy graphics and lots of ed and yellow vomit, this competition is far more exciting than anything you’d see on ESPN or the Sports Channel.” I’ll just have to take their word on that last claim because I don’t think I’ll ever be seeing this movie.
From there I head over to the screening of Kilometer Zero, the first Kurdish film ever in competition at the Cannes Film Fest and the first movie I will see on this visit. I am interviewing the director, Hiner Saleem later in the week so I have to see the movie tonight. There are three or four lines to get into the theatre—one line for each different kind of pass. I stand in the line with the white and pink passes. I wait for twenty minutes or so before getting to the head of the line. A woman in front of me says, to no one in particular, “I hate Cannes…” I don’t really understand how she can be so negative when it is still the first day, but I nod and smile. Two minutes later when a security has turned me away because I don’t have a mysterious yellow dot on my pass and makes me go to the end of another very long line—with people like me who just have the pink and white pass with no yellow dot—I completely understand that woman’s pain. It made me wish I had gone to Grand and Toy before the festival and bought some yellow stickers…
The movie is interesting. Director Saleem has lived in Paris for the past ten years, but returned to Kurdistan to shoot this movie, and his love of the country shows. The film’s brutal landscapes have been beautifully shot and really help to bring the story to life. For more on the film check out Reel to Real’s review.
The screening ended around nine. It was too late to call any publicists and book any more interviews, so I headed off to the one party that I make sure to attend every year I come to Cannes-the annual TIFF party. It is thrown by the Toronto International Film Festival people and is a fun gathering of all the Canadians who are here. It features stimulating movie talk, great food and plenty of cold beer and wine. I got caught up with many of my colleagues, most of whom I will only see again in passing during the festival.
After some pasta and a spirited discussion with several film critics about the merits of Kilometer Zero I headed back to the apartment and my bed. Gotta get revved up for Thursday.
THURSDAY MAY 12, 2005
What is that ringing? It’s my phone. Not the best way to wake up, but that annoying noise can only mean one thing—someone has finally decided to call me back. I don’t even care who it is. Right about now with a two show deadline staring me in the face I am prepared to book almost anything. Last night as I was falling asleep I even considered called the Punk Rock Holocaust guy who has been handing me DVDs and press releases everyday.
I answer the phone. It’s a publicist that I have been trying to track down for days. For now, I am spared having to cover Punk Rock Holocaust, but I’m not out of the water yet.
I have sent the guys down to set up for a photo opportunity with the creator of Wallace and Gromit. Photo Ops are one of the great traditions here in Cannes. They have been doing them since the 1950s and basically what happens is that beautiful actors and actresses wear very little and pose on the beach while throngs of photographers try and grab a provocative shot. The actors get publicity and the photographers get paid for the photos—everyone walks away happy.
The Wallace and Gromit affair is much more family oriented. They are unveiling a massive 35-foot likeness of Gromit, the famous clay dog from the movies. Nick Park, the creator and director of the series and Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the big hoo-haws from Dreamworks will be on hand to answer questions. The guys have to go down early to get us a good spot to shoot from, and I’ll join them at 8:30 or so.
I felt badly about sending them ahead, until I arrived at the event. There they were, sitting at a table on the beach, drinking fresh squeezed juices and noshing from the huge breakfast buffet. I wrestle a slice of ham away from one of them and before pushing my way into the scrum to interview Parks and Katzenberg. Parks is a nice fellow who I have interviewed before. One gets the impression that he would much rather be in his studio working with his clay creations than standing on the beach at Cannes in front of a crazed group of international journalists, but he is game and gives nice answers. Katzenberg, however, is a little more used to the spotlight. In that way that only big shot Hollywood producers have, he is controlling the event with arm gestures, nods and a few quietly whispered words to his aides. It’s nothing flashy, but you can feel the power oozing off of him. I get a couple of questions in, stay for the unveiling of the big Gromit, eat another slice of cheese and rush over to the beach behind British Pavilion. I have sent a cameraman over there to cover another photo op—this one with Kiera Chaplin, the grand daughter of legendary comic Charlie Chaplin. When I arrive it is already in full swing. This one amps up the sex appeal—it’s a regular glitzkrieg compared to the Wallace and Gromit event as she is poses and blows kisses to the assembled crowd.
The story here is that she is promoting a movie that isn’t even made yet. It is an updated Lady Godiva story, and the planned stunt today was to have her ride onto the beach on a white stallion. Apparently the Cannes officials got wind of this, and since the film isn’t even a film yet, hey pulled the plug and refused to allow it to happen during the festival. It would have made a nice picture, but Chaplin is very beautiful and I didn’t hear any of the photogs complaining about the lack of a horse.
Inside they staged a brief press conference before I grabbed the soon-to-be movie’s two stars Chaplin and actor Nick “the Big Dollop” Holder. He tells me that he is a sensation in Britain as the result of a series of Hellman’s Mayonaise commercials in which he appears as The Big Dollop. He’s very funny and very British. He sprinkles the interview with jokes about Coventry that I don’t really understand, but he seems to find hilarious. He explains the plot of the as yet unmade movie—the story revolves around the controversial building of an American style gambling Casino on hallowed ground in Coventry, England where the original Lady Godiva famously rode naked through the streets in 1048 in a protest over taxes. Chaos ensues when an Indian tribe of Billionaire Casino operators from Arizona shows up to run the place. He also tells me it will be the funniest British comedy since A Fish Called Wanda.
Next up is Kiera Chaplin—the granddaughter of Oona Chaplin (nee O’Neill), fourth wife of Charles Chaplin and great-granddaughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. She is lovely, with long blonde hair and a California girl complexion, and a smile that echoes her famous grandfather’s. We chat about the film and she tells me that she won the role when one of the producers saw her photo on the cover of a magazine. Since the film hasn’t even started production yet, our conversation drifts into other topics. She tells me that although she never met her legendary grandfather she is very proud of her last name and her family connection to him. She grew up in Switzerland, but now makes her home in Los Angeles, a city filled with images and statues of her famous relative.
I rush from there to a screening of a film called Crossing the Bridge. I don’t know anything about this movie, other than I have already booked an interview with its director Fatih Akin. I am less than enthusiastic when I arrive and am told it is a film about pop music in Istanbul, but decide to stay. I’m glad I did. I often find music travelogues a little dicey, but this one boasts such great music—everything from traditional Turkish music to hip-hop and gypsy music. Much of this music doesn’t sound like anything I have ever heard before, and as I sit listening, I wonder if people felt this way the first time they heard Jimi Hendrix or John Coltrane. By the end of the screening I’m excited to meet the director.
After the movie I wander the Market searching for a story idea. I don’t find anything I can turn into a story for the show, but I do come across the best poster, so far, in the festival. It is an ad for Saw Two, the sequel to the cheapo horror flick of last year. That one made $100,000,000 worldwide, so it was inevitable that part two would come along sooner rather than later. The poster is really eye catching with the word Saw in black against a white background, and two severed fingers for the “2.”
Today we have to figure out what will be on the first two shows, shoot the intros and extros and package up the tapes to be sent back to Canada. The shooting part is easy—I have recruited Jason Anderson of eye Magazine to do the reviews with me—the trouble is that I don’t think I have enough content for both shows. One interview that I was counting on fell through at the last minute and now I am short one segment.
My camera guys agree to meet me at the Grand Hotel on the Croisette and start shooting. While I am waiting for the whole crew to show up I wander into the bar and see Richard E. Grant sitting at a table in the corner. He’s instantly recognizable from the leading role as an unemployed actor in the chamber comedy Withnail and I and as the two headed executive in How to Get Ahead in Advertising. He was paired with Sandra Bernhard in the megabomb Hudson Hawk and was very funny in L.A. Story and The Player. He also appeared as Dr. Seward in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and played a society gadfly in The Age of Innocence among other roles.
I wonder what he is doing here and if he would like to talk about whatever project he is involved in. I need another segment, and hopefully he needs publicity. It all works out nicely and I get a nice five minute interview with him about a film he wrote and directed, but does not appear in, called Wah-Wah which was filmed in his home country of Swaziland.
Now I have a show!
We quickly shoot the intros and extros on the streets surrounding the Grand Hotel. I nearly get hit by speeding cars and motorcycles several times as we try and do some tricky shots of me crossing the street.
I emerged unscathed and made it on time to the screening of Gus Van Sant’s new film Last Days. It’s gettinga lot of buzz over here because it is Van Sant’s first film since the Palm d’Or winning Elephant of a couple of years ago. I get in, find a good seat and settle in. Twenty minutes into the film I feel like running out of the theatre. Last Days follows the nontraditional, elliptical kind of filmmaking that Van Sant has been experimenting with in his last two films, but takes it to another level in this one. The opening shots of this film show Michael Pitt, the talented young actor from Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Dreamers in a pastoral setting—walking through a forest, swimming in a stream, sitting by a campfire—with virtually no dialogue… for almost twenty minutes. I don’t know whether it is beautiful or just self indulgent, but I’m leaning toward the latter.
The film details—without ever naming—the last days of Kurt Cobain before he committed suicide. One reviewer over here noted that he wished instead of Last Days this would have been only the last hours. It seems a little slow, a little long but is strangely hypnotic. Ultimately though, when you know how it ends—badly for Cobain—some of the drama gets sucked away and replaced with tension as the viewer waits for the guitarist to pull the trigger and end not only his life, but the film. It may not be Van Sant’s best film but it is a movie that will inspire conversation.
Near the end of the movie I can hear my stomach growling and I’m pretty sure that everyone else can as well. I think back and realize that I haven’t eaten since my slices of cheese in the early morning. I find a restaurant; eat a sandwich named after comedian Roberto Begnigni before going back to Maison de Reel to Real and collapsing.
FRIDAY MAY 13, 2005
Up early to make an 8:30 screening of the new Atom Egoyan film Where the Truth Lies. Based on a Rupert Holmes novel in which a female journalist tries to uncover the truth behind the breakup, years earlier, of a celebrated comedy team after the duo found a girl dead in their hotel room. The movie stars Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon as the Martin and Lewisesque comedy team and Alison Lohman as the young writer. Novelist Holmes is also known as the writer and performer of the hit song, Escape/ The Pina Coloda Song.
The theatre, which seats 1900 people, is jammed. I get a seat on an aisle and spend half and hour getting knocked around by people who try and squeeze past, sit for a moment and then decide to move to another seat, so they squeeze by again. It’s annoying, but apparently seat position is very important to these people.
The movie is a departure of sorts for Egoyan, although it contains many of his signature motifs—a search for the truth, obsessive behavior, voyeurism and commodified sexuality, but the form of the story telling is much different than in the past. This is a sumptuous looking murder mystery—sort of like a high brow episode of Murder She Wrote. There are plenty of twists and turns and it will keep you guessing until the end. The reaction in Cannes has been mixed—up and down the scale from enthusiastic to indifferent. Watch Reel to Real to find out what we think.
My first interview of the day is at 11 am with Toby Rose, the co-creator and jury chairman (with his dog Mutley) of The Palm Dog Awards. The prize, for best canine performance in a film, has become a regular feature at the festival as a humorous antidote to the festival’s big prize, Palm d’Or which some call the Palme Bore or Palm Snore.
Last year the coveted prize, voted on by five British and French journalists, went to the bulldogs owned by renowned American wine critic Robert Parker, as seen in the documentary Mondovino. “The winners were two flatulent bulldogs called Edgar and Hoover,” said Rose. “It is very amusing as Parker is the world’s leading nose. Does it have an effect on the sensitivity of his nostrils one wonders?”
The year before the prize had been awarded to the chalk outline of the dog in the Lars Von Trier film Dogville. The award itself is a black leather Palm Dog collar with gold lettering, which Rose tells me is being manufactured as we speak, ready to grace the neck of the lucky winner.
Later I see a movie poster for something called Rakinshka, which has the greatest tag line ever: “What could be more hermetic than a shell, which once opened and before the enigma is solved is already dead!” Clearly the translator needs to be fired.
I grab a bit of food and hen head over to a television satellite station located on the Croisette across from the press office, I’m scheduled to do a live broadcast for my other TV gig, Canada AM. They set up the shot so we get a good look at me, the ocean and the Palaise building, unfortunately that means the midday sun is shining directly in my eyes and while we do the spot—four or five minutes about the hot movies at the festival—I do my best Clint Eastwood impression, squinting to avoid having my corneas burned away by the sun. I wear an earpiece so I can hear what the hosts, Bev Thompson and Seamus O’Regan are saying, and I realize that it is the first time I have heard any news from Canada in days. When you are covering a festival it’s almost like being in a submarine—you feel completely closed off from the rest of the world. The only thing that anyone is talking about is what interviews they are doing, how tired they are or what they have been seeing. Giant lizards could have invaded Canada and I probably wouldn’t have heard about it.
After the satellite the day gets a little more complicated. I have several interviews scheduled back to back, but in different parts of town. It will all work out if everyone is on time, but if just one of them is off schedule then I run the risk of being late for, and possibly losing, the subsequent interviews.
I’m on time for Terence Stamp who is here promoting a film called These Foolish Things. We are shooting the interview in a beautiful restaurant that fronts on to the beach. It is all white with huge—6 foot by 6 foot—pillows, overstuffed sofas and elegant lighting. I could get very comfortable here, but there is no time.
I am told that we are only to talk about that movie, and that Mr. Stamp doesn’t wish to discuss his other films. Often over here journalists will ask only one or two questions about the current film and then try and get quotes and info about the star’s personal life or older movies that they can use after the festival is over in profiles. Publicists, who are paid to get stories published and aired about the current movies, generally frown on this practice. Occasionally though, there isn’t much to talk about regarding the new picture. In this case I haven’t seen the film—it isn’t part of the festival per se, it is in the Market and the filmmakers are trying to find a buyer for it. His is common over here, but it can make it difficult to have a meaningful conversation about a movie that you know little about.
Stamp, however, makes it easy. I tell him that we met once before, in an elevator at The Four Seasons in Toronto. I was drinking a Chai Tea Latte from Starbucks and he commented on how good it smelled and asked what it was. I told him, and he asked if it could be made with soy milk—he doesn’t eat dairy and has written a lactose free cookbook—and I tell him that it could. Today he tells me that he has been drinking them ever since that day.
When I ask him a question about the film, in which he plays the all-knowing butler to a family that is falling apart, he gives me a great answer that mentions William Wyler, the great director of Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur and the film that won Stamp a best actor award in Cannes in 1965, The Collector. This is a great film about a man who kidnaps a woman and holds her hostage just for the pleasure of having her there. It’s creepy and Stamp is terrific. Since he opened the door, as they say on Court TV, I felt it was OK to ask him about Wyler and that film. It made him famous, and brought him awards, he said, but it might have been the worst thing to ever happen to him because after that he was typecast as a heavy.
From that point on we talked generally about his career, the highs and lows in an interview that may have broken the publicists rule, but was one of the most honest and charming chats I have ever had with an actor.
As I am leaving Stamp asks me if I will see Atom Egoyan any time soon. I tell him that I’ll be interviewing the director in the next few days. Stamp said, “Tell him I’m mad at him because he doesn’t use me in any of his films…” We laugh, but as I walked away I can’t help but think how perfect Stamp would have been in the role of Rueben, the shady butler in Where the Truth Lies.
Next up I speak with Julia Taylor-Stanley, the former composer and music arranger—she’s worked with everyone from Meatloaf to Diana Ross—who is now the first time director of These Foolish Things. We discuss the long process of adapting the story from its source material and raising the money to make the film and how she as a newbie was able to gather a cast of heavy weights like Lauren Bacall, Angelica Huston and Terrence Stamp.
The interview goes on a bit long and I am now late for my next one, which is a ten minute walk away at the Grand Hotel. I run over there and meet my second cameraman who is already set up and ready to go. I’m literally panting as I run to the location—it’s hot and I haven’t actually run anywhere since the mid-1980s—only to discover that the interview has been moved by twenty minutes. This is good in the short term—I can catch my breath and have a drink—but bad in the long term as it will throw off the rest of the day.
We have been told that Hineer Saleem, the director of Kilometer Zero and my next interview doesn’t speak English and will be using a translator. Usually that’s fine, but we are shooting on location and only have enough jacks on the camera for two microphones. My techies consult and decide that the best thing to do is put mics on me and the translator and not one on the director since we will not be using his voice when we air the interview. We put a wireless microphone on him, but don’t hook it up. When we start to talk it becomes plain that he is going to answer in English and the translator isn’t going to say a word. I lean in close in hopes that my microphone will pick him up, and we’ll just have to hope for the best.
We talk about the statue of Saddam that is seen through out the movie. The statue is crucial to capturing the right atmosphere about 1980’s Iraq. He spent weeks trying to find a sculptor who would make the statue. He finally found someone, but they had to work in private, hidden in a walled garden to make the giant piece. When a security guard caught a glimpse of the Butcher of Baghdad’s effigy, the statue was confiscated and the sculptor was arrested. Saleem told me he had to spend a full day explaining why he commissioned the statue before the sculptor was released.
Next, at the same location, is the director of Crossing the Bridge, a young filmmaker named Fatih Akin. Born in 1973 in Hamburg to Turkish parents he wrote and directed his first short feature, Sensin – You’re The One! in 1995 which received the Audience Award at the Hamburg International Short Film Festival. He made headlines at Cannes a couple of years ago when it was revealed that the lead actress in his movie Head-On had been a porno actress. I’m short on time so I make a deal with a Russian crew to allow me to go before them in return for shortening my interview time and letting them use my extra minutes. The film is about discovering the wealth of pop music in Istanbul, so I ask if he has ever heard of American folklorist Alan Lomax who recorded hundreds of hours of America’s indigenous music for the Smithsonian. He hasn’t heard of Lomax, but tells me that he isn’t trying to create a historical document with this film, but simply make a film that will expose the world to the great music of Istanbul.
By the time the Russian crew is setting their camera for their interview with Akin I’m already on the run to the next location, the British Pavilion, to chat with the stars of the movie Stoned. It is the story of Brian Jones the doomed founder and guitar player of The Rolling Stones. I saw an ad for the film in The Hollywood Reporter with photos that I thought were old publicity stills of Jones, but actually turned out to be of lead actor Leo Gregory.
Jones was one of the founders of the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” cliché—on one hand a talented and sensitive musician, on the other a lout who got five different women pregnant while spiraling into a drug and alcohol induced haze. By June 1969 Jones had become such a liability that he was fired by the band he helped create. Just weeks later on July 3rd, 1969 Brian was found by his girlfriend Anna Wolen and friend Frank Thourogood dead at the bottom of his own swimming pool. Speculation swirled that the guitarist had been accidentally murdered by Thourogood in an alcohol induced argument but nothing was ever proven. It was also suggested that perhaps he had an asthma attack while swimming. One thing is for sure, Barbiturates were found in his blood, which were prescribed to help Brian sleep, but to this day the real circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery.
The story of Jones has always fascinated me, so I tracked the publicist for this—it’s not actually part of the festival—and booked the interviews. In person Leo Gregory doesn’t look like Brian Jones—he could maybe pass for his long-lost cousin—but he was chosen for his acting ability and not his looks. We chat about the character and how Jones was a study in dualism—sensitive one moment, abusive and tyrannical the next.
Next I speak with Tuva Novotny who plays girlfriend Anna Wolen in the film and was voted Sweden’s most beautiful woman in Café magazine and Sweden’s sexiest woman by the readers of Slitz. To see Tuva and hear what she has to say, check out the Reel to Real Cannes Specials in May.
The director of Stoned is Stephen Woolley, a first time director, but very experienced producer. Among his credits are films like Backbeat, Scandal, Michael Collins, Interview with a Vampire and The Good Thief. He looks the part of a sixties rock star with long hair tied back in a pony tail and a white linen suit. He tells me that he hired a private investigator to try and get to the bottom of what happened on the fateful night that Jones drowned. We went on to discuss the music in the film, and I mentioned that two of the soundtracks from his films—Backbeat and Scandal—are favorites of mine.
From there I have just a few minutes to make it top a screening of the new Ed Norton film Down in the Valley. I arrive just a couple of minutes before it is scheduled to start and end up sitting in the front row. Not only do I have to sit at a strange angle to see all of the enormous screen, but the stage is only about a foot and a half away so I am forced to tie myself up like a pretzel to sit in the chair. Maybe it was my discomfort, or maybe I was just tired, but this movie, set in the present-day San Fernando Valley, about a delusional man who believes he’s a cowboy and the relationship that he starts with a rebellious young woman seemed to drag on f-o-r-e-v-e-r despite great work from actors Ed Norton, Evan Rachel Wood and David Morse. The filmmakers are looking for a buyer here at the festival, and I hope who ever antes up for it insists that they cut twenty minutes or so of the flab off the story.
Once again I haven’t eaten and now it is quite late. I grab a chocolately bit of goodness from a kiosk on the beach and head over to the party for Where the Truth Lies. We’re covering the red carpet and it will be our only chance to talk to the stars of the film Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth. There is a junket planned for the film, but for some reason Canadian press aren’t invited to participate even though it is a Canadian film. Whatever. I have long since given up trying to figure out how the minds of the people who make up these schedules works. I guess they figure that if we do the interviews and run them on our Cannes shows we won’t be interested when the film is released. I don’t think that is true, but who am I to argue with the evil two headed pubzillas that are running this thing. I’ll make do with the short red carpet interviews and a full length interview I am doing with director Atom Egoyan later in the week.
Colin Firth is first. He is dressed in a tux and seems quite pleased that the film earned a standing ovation at the screening. When I ask Kevin Bacon how it feels to get a standing ovation at Cannes he said, “It feels better than a sitting ovation.” Bacon is a funny guy. Later I read that he was joked with a reporter about Egoyan’s huge vocabulary. After the press conference for Where the Truth Lies he said, “It was like, whew, right over my head. He used like six words I’d never heard before.”
Canadian actress Rachel Blanchard looked beautiful in her turquoise gown, but seemed a little shell shocked by the attention the movie was receiving and Cannes.
By the time we finished our interviews the party was already well under way. I saw Roger Ebert in the buffet line and French superstar Vincent Cassel lurking in the shadows. Overall it was a good party, but it did represent a first for my trip to Cannes—really average food. There was a buffet of dried out pasta, mystery meatballs, chicken skewers and some kind of weird half moon shaped thing that tasted like minced insects wrapped in an onion. The French love their food and I imagine that somewhere Julia Child was rolling over in her grave. Later I hear that the party for Star Wars was also marred by bad food. One reporter wrote, “Next time, the advice for Lucas must be, “Use the forks, Luke,” leaving people’s Hans Solo for wine.”
Home a little too late for my own good…
SATURDAY MAY 14, 2005
The morning comes way to fast. I’m up at 7 am to make it to an 8:30 screening of the new Juliette Binoche film Cache about a family who is terrorized by someone who leaves them anonymous videotapes of their every move. On the walk to the theatre I notice that one of my shoes is squeaking.
On every second step I hear a kind of wheezing sound coming from my foot. Oh no, I think, the small stuff is starting to really get on my nerves.
I’m relieved that while sitting my shoe is quiet. The movie is a front runner for the Palme D’Or and I can se why… but only up to a point. The director, Michael Haneke is a festival favorite and has crafted a film about a family terrorized by anonymously made videotapes about their daily life that reveals the ugly side of humanity that exists in all of us. The film ends rather abruptly and the open ended nature of the final sequence has become a hot topic of discussion here at Cannes. Everyone I talk to has a slightly different idea of what the ending as supposed to mean, and while it makes for a great chat over a drink, the suddenness of the ending left me unsatisfied. Not wanting more, exactly, but wanting something else.
The weather here has been beautiful, but it has been threatening to rain all day today. What starts as a sprinkle soon ends up in a full-on rainstorm as I walk to a photo-cal for George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead. I’m hoping to pick up an interview with Romero, and given the rain I doubt that there will be many people there so my chances should be pretty good.
It is pouring as I walk, and from out of nowhere street vendors appear selling umbrellas. I discovered that the price of the umbrellas was directly linked to the intensity of the downpour. At the height of the storm they cost anywhere from 10-15E, as the rain tapered off the price came down. I arrive at the photo call soaked through, but on time.
I begin to ask the publicist if there is any chance to speak to Mr. Romero. Here’s how it went:
“Hi, I’m with a show called Reel to Real from Can…”
“No,” he said waving his hand in my face.
“You don’t even know what I am asking yet,” I said.
“The answer is still no.”
I look around and notice that only three still photographers and no other TV crews have shown up to the photo call. “You have more talent here than reporters,” I said. “Don’t you want the publicity that an interview could bring?”
Not exactly sure why the guy was so adamant. Clearly he was not doing his job well. There was virtually no mention of Romero or the movie in the daily press and I didn’t see any photos from the event anywhere. Next time, I would suggest that Romero hire a publicist who knows what he is doing.
Later I hear that a 20 minute teaser of Land of the Dead was shown before a screening of the Stuart Samuel’s film Midnight Movies and once it was over all the people connected with the zombie film stood up and left, not bothering to stay for the main feature. That’s really bad manners, but when I met the guy in charge I understood why it happened.
A History of Violence is one of the buzz films at the festival. Directed by David Cronenberg—a festival favorite—word has it that it is his best, and most accessible movie in years.
New Line has arranged what they are calling a “super secret screening” at a theatre a few blocks off the Croistette. I have been sworn to secrecy. Apparently I will have to face a history of violence from them if I tell anyone the details of the screening.
It starts at two, and unfortunately I have an interview scheduled with Michael Pitt of Last Days at 3:20. I can watch enough of the Cronenberg film to do the interview later today, but nonetheless I hate walking out on movies.
I’m not going to write about the movie until I have seen the whole thing—I had to leave at a pivotal moment—but I will say that I didn’t want to leave and considered blowing off the Pitt interview so I could stay until the end.
When I left the theatre I called Pitt’s publicist to see if they were running on schedule. If they were late I was hoping to be able to go back into the theatre and catch the end of the Cronenberg film. No such luck. I’m told that they are running exactly on time. I doubt that this is true. Even the best run press days never run on time. There are always delays and being off sched by twenty minutes or so isn’t uncommon.
I take her word for it and run over to the interview site only to find out that they are not running on time and I’ll have to wait about half an hour—just enough time that I could have caught the end of A History of Violence.
I wait, imagining what I am missing at the theatre until it is my turn to speak to Pitt. He’s not a great interview. A couple of years ago he made the rounds at the Toronto Film Festival mumbling and burping his way through a series of interviews for a movie ironically directed by David Cronenberg’s nephew Aaron Woodley called Rhinoceros Eyes. It’s a good little movie that, for some reason, has not yet been released theatrically.
Pitt remembers me from Toronto and seems a little more responsive than the last time, and didn’t burp once during the interview. He’s an interesting and unusual actor. He resembles Leo DiCaprio, but save for a stint on the teen soap Dawson’s Creek he has never really played off his pretty boy good looks. Indeed he seems to be taking pains to avoid being typecast as a good looking movie star. In Rhinoceros Eyes he wears a mask for a good chunk of the movie and in his latest, Last Days his hair hangs in front of his face, obscuring his handsome mug like a Halloween mask.
In his choice of projects he appears to be courting interesting rather than commercial work. That is certainly the case with Last Days, the fictionalized last moments in the life of Kurt Cobain. There is no story at all in this Gus Van Sant film, just a series of moments strung together that illuminate the troubled character of a rock star just hours away from his end.
We discuss the loose form of the film, and Pitt tells me that they didn’t start with a traditional script, but a list of things that should go into the film.
After Pitt I was scheduled to interview David Cronenberg on the beach by the Canadian Pavilion. Once again there were only limited spots for the Canadian press to speak to this Canadian mainstay—only two outlets were approved for the full cast interviews. I was told I was third on the list, but I may as well have been 303 on the list because at the last minute it was decided that two Canadian spots was enough. Anyway, with the assistance of a very helpful Canadian publicist we were able to get Cronenberg for a few minutes during a reception for Telefilm.
It was interesting to speak to Canada’s Prince of Darkness on a sun-drenched Cote D’Azur beach. The waves, the sand and sun seemed inappropriate for this interview, but hey, I’ll take what I can get. Just as we are about to start a squadron of jet planes fly over head leaving a trail of red, white and blue smoke behind them. Again, this seems a little inappropriate for a Telefilm Canada party.
Cronenberg is always a great interview. Today he had just gotten off the plane from Toronto and even though he was exhausted he was still sharp gracious, thoughtful and much funnier than you would expect from someone who specializes in creeping people out. To see the interview check out the Reel to Real Cannes Specials in May.
With that interview wrapped we’re done with the daylight portion of Saturday. We still have two events to go—a yacht party for The LA Film Festival and a late night red carpet for the film Down in the Valley.
The yacht is a sixty-foot boat moored at the Port of Cannes and it is quite spectacular. We interview the LA Film Festival organizers and then tuck into a buffet of seafood with shrimps the size of my fist and scallops the size of hockey pucks and lamb on the upper deck. Later we discover a third level with a Jacuzzi and a beautiful view of the harbor. Somehow I manage to drink about seventeen gallons of champagne. Edward Norton and Javier Bardem are both on board, but aren’t doing interviews. Instead of speaking to them, I drink more champagne.
We leave the yacht around 11 pm and make our way over to the last stop of the day—the red carpet for Down in the Valley at the Palm Beach Club VIP Room. I have never been here and aren’t quite ready for what happens when I do arrive. There are Ferrari Diablos and Porsches parked everywhere and a throng of well dressed people are pressed up against metal barriers, waiting to be let in. We stroll past the crowd and get set up inside. More champagne. We have to wait about an hour for the talent to arrive and by the time they get there my area on the red carpet is littered with empty champagne flutes, but I am able to hole it together to do the interviews.
Evan Rachel Wood, the young star of 13 and The Upside of Anger arrives first. Her publicists “helpfully” reminds us of the obvious—that it is late, by this time it is after 1 am—and asks us to be brief. Wood is really good in the movie, and I think she could be a superstar. There is something that is very compelling about her and when she is on-screen even if she isn’t the focus of the action your eye still drifts to her. I hope she continues to pick interesting projects. We talk about a difficult scene in the film in which she is swimming with Edward Norton. She tells me that she isn’t a strong swimmer, and was convinced she was going to get bitten by a shark while shooting the scene. It also didn’t help that her director was seasick during while they were shooting.
Ed Norton is next. He is someone who looks like a movie star—charismatic and handsome. He stops at my spot on the red carpet and I tell him that I think Down in the Valley is the third part of a trilogy in which he plays characters who have alter egos. First was Primal Fear, then came Fight Club and now this movie. He responds well, and to hear his answer tune in to Reel to Real.
We finish off with the director David Jacobson. He tells me about work shopping this script at the Sundance Screenwriters Clinic and how that experience helped shape the film. Whew… it’s now over and it is about 1:50.
I try to gather up the crew to make a hasty retreat, but the two cameramen have disappeared. Apparently one of them discovered the other side of the club which was cordoned off. I went to have a look for them and accidentally walked into Sodom and Gomorrah. Cages with Go-Go dancers in them hung from the ceiling. Thousands of people were bumping and grinding to pounding music supplied by a half naked DJ. I take three steps into the club and get two drinks spilled on me. A cloud of cigarette smoke hung in the air, like the morning smog over Los Angeles. This was going to be hopeless.
I try and call one of the guys, hoping that his phone is on vibrate. No luck. I get bumped another hundred times on the way out while women swing on poles around me. I see one of the camera guys and make sure he has keys to the apartment and tell him that I am leaving and will take the camera with me. Then it was like someone turned on a giant vacuum and he was sucked back into the club as I walked out the front door. Outside was pandemonium. Hundreds of people were desperately trying to get in the club that I was trying so desperately to get out of. It was a sea of black cocktail dresses, hair mousse and expensive shoes.
My head was pounding when I hit the fresh air—from the loud music, not the twenty-two gallons of champagne I had finished off—and I was glad to call it a night.
Not so for the two cameramen who went AWOL until 5:30 am.
SUNDAY MAY 15, 2005
I have an interview scheduled for 10 and I’m not sure whether I will have a cameraman to shoot it for me or not. I didn’t hear them come in last night, and when I left the house at 9 neither of them had shown their faces.
I arrive at the Martinez Hotel around 9:30 with no cameraman, but I have time, and I’m sure neither of them wants me hassling them just yet. I’ll give them till 9:45 before I start making phone calls and yelling.
Luckily they show up just as I am dialing their number and preparing to curse them out. I don’t ask a lot of questions about what happened the night before, but they both say, “It was unbelievable,” and tell me unprintable stories about their exploits.
As it turns out I don’t need them just yet—the publicist is providing a camera set up for this interview. The guys look relieved and use the time to graze from the breakfast buffet in the interview suite. After some much needed food and coffee they head out to shoot b-roll while I sit to chat with Michael Haneke the German director of Cache.
I speak in English to an interpreter who translates for the director, who answers in German. It’s an around about way to do an interview, but Cache has been tipped to win the Palme D’Or and Haneke is pumped so the interview comes off with enthusiasm if nothing else.
From there I head over to the Market. I stop at the Thailand booth and pick up a flyer for a horror movie called Rahtree Returns. The flyer caught me eye because it features a full color—and quite graphic—picture of a woman sewing a man’s mouth shut. The tagline for the film reads: “LOVE… JEALOUSY… HATRED… in the mood of horror and humor, are about to begin!” One of the people in the booth sees me pick up the flyer he hands me their promotional item—a needle and thread with a diagram on how to sew someone’s mouth shut.
I continue wandering around and bump into Lloyd Kaufman who in a fit of European glee kisses me on both cheeks. Lloyd runs Troma films and has been coming to Cannes for over twenty years. He gives me a copy of the new 5 DVD set titled Make Your Own Damn Movie! the companion piece to Lloyd’s best selling how-to book, and according to the front cover, a “film school in a box.” I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m sure it is as informative as it is outrageous. We make plans to meet later in the festival for a drink.
From there I find a photo kiosk to develop some of the digital photos I have been taking. These do-it-yourself photo kiosks are everywhere and they are free. You can develop up to ten pictures at a time, and the quality is quite good. I have been using them to print out my souvenir photos, but have noticed that other people are using them for slightly different purposes. A guy next to me is trying to cover the screen as he caresses the touch screen. I catch a peek at one of the photos as it is spit out of the machine, and I see why he is so secretive. Hard core amateur porn—clearly the kind of pictures that you can’t develop at the one hour photo place in your neighborhood.
I pick up one of the several trade papers that are printed daily in Cannes and see the headline Beauty and the Breast. It refers to French actress Sophie Marceau’s wardrobe malfunction of the night before. Apparently one of her breast fell out of her dress on the red carpet for Where the Truth Lies. Over here it wasn’t a scandal, a la the Janet Jackson debacle of last year. No, despite the torrent of photographer’s flashes that were so intense that they could probably seen from space when it happened, it was just seen as an amusing incident.
My next interview was with Atom Egoyan. We weren’t invited on the junket—again an example of Canadian press ignored when it comes time to dole out interviews for a Canadian movie—but Egoyan has graciously agreed to do some interviews on his own time. We are to meet him in his hotel at 6 and will be given some one-on-one time.
When we meet in the lobby I notice that he isn’t wearing his pass. You don’t go anywhere here without your pass around your neck, even if you have one of the films in competition. He runs back upstairs to get it. When he gets back he says that when he was on the jury he had a gold pass that got him priority seating and the check paid at any restaurant in Cannes, and use of any official Cannes Festival cars. His filmmaker’s pass doesn’t have any of those perks, but I do hear that once you get a film in competition you are given a lifetime pass to the festival.
We step outside to do the interview after being told we couldn’t shoot in the lobby. As we are getting the cameras ready I show Egoyan some of the press stuff I had picked up at the Market. One is a very fancy hand silk screened kit for a zombie movie that he is quite fascinated by. I also tell him that Terence Stamp is annoyed with him. When Stamp found out that I was from Toronto he asked if I ever spoke to Atom Egoyan. I told him that I would be seeing the director later in the week. “Well tell him that I’m mad at him because he hasn’t cast me in any of his movies.” Apparently they have a mutual admiration because when I tell Egoyan this he laughs and says, “I have a Terence Stamp fixation.” He then tells me about finding a rare DVD copy of the 1968 Stamp oddity Teorema, a film in which there are only 923 words spoken.
When the camera starts to roll we discuss his film, Where the Truth Lies. I ask him about his decision to use voice over extensively. He says that usually he hates voice overs, and finds it a lazy way of telling a story, but for this project it seemed to work. Watch the full interview on Reel to Real.
That’s it for shooting today, so I head back to the press office and get caught up on e-mails and study the schedule for the next few days until it is time to head to the town of Mougins for the Telefilm Party. They have arranged shuttle busses for everyone, and despite my general anti-shuttle bus attitude I decide to take one rather than try and get a cab. During the festival cabs are as rare as chicken’s teeth. The ride is fairly quick, only about fifteen minutes, and I pass the time eavesdropping on the couple in front of me. Apparently they have just met. He’s older, she’s at least twenty years his junior. He spends the trip asking her questions about herself which she is more than happy to answer. She says things like, “I may not be the most beautiful person in the room, but I have more charisma than anyone I know,” and generally blows her own horn for the entire ride. Later at the party I keep bumping into her having the same kind of conversation with different men.
We are going to a place called Le Park, a large estate that is now a very fancy restaurant. It is like stepping into another world. The torch lit entrance way lead into a large room that looked like the main chamber in a Gallic castle. Several passage ways branched off to different areas, some inside, some out. I followed one passageway down to a giant reflecting pool, complete with swans and a statue of a horse. The place was so big I didn’t get to see it all, but all night I heard reports. “Did you see the duck pond?” “Have you been to the downstairs bar?” It was a nice party, except for one thing. There was hardly any food.
When you are covering a film festival often you are running from one screening to another, and there often isn’t that much time to eat. Many of the people at this party had done just that, expecting there to be food. When the food did come out people were incredulous. It all looked beautiful—exquisite little bowls of crudités with a personal sized dipping sauce, and some shot glass sized gelatin looking things, and nothing else. People attacked the food table like sharks in a feeding frenzy. One reporter said to me, “I’m so hungry my stomach is eating itself.” The food was gone in sixty seconds, and hopes were high that there would be a second course. Nope. An hour or so later some desserts were set out and they too disappeared in seconds. For the rest of the party you could see drunk people with icing sugar on their faces. There are few things more terrifying than a group of juiced up and hungry movie critics.
When the party was over we all boarded the shuttle busses which took us back to Cannes. Luckily they dropped us off downtown in an area that had several restaurants that stayed open late. We dashed for the nearest McDonalds—in tribute to Pulp Fiction I had a Royal with cheese—and saw a few dozen hungry people dressed in tuxedos from the party lined up behind us. I chose to walk home to burn off some of the McGrease floating around in my system and got in at 2:30. By 2:31 I was in bed and sound asleep.
MONDAY MAY 16, 2005
While I am on the way to my first interview of the morning—the director and cast of a Korean film called A Bittersweet Life—my phone rings and it is a frazzled publicist for the Koreans who wants to reschedule. I’m not available for the time they suggest and decline. Now my morning is largely free and I have time to prepare for my 11:30 interviews for the new Gael Garcia Bernal film The King. It’s about a troubled young man, recently discharged from the Navy, who returns to his childhood home of Corpus Christi, Texas to reunite with his father.
Bernal, who was the heart throb of the most recent Toronto International Film Festival, isn’t doing interviews today but I am speaking to several others involved with the movie. We’re doing the interviews on the grounds of a pretty little hotel called The Resideal just off the Croisette. When we arrive several other crews are getting set up, so we pick a quiet spot and get ready. The first person to come through is Milo Addica the screenwriter. We usually don’t get the chance to speak to writers. They are often at the bottom of the food chain publicity wise, but Addica is hot right now having penned Monster’s Ball and the controversial Nicole Kidman movie Birth.
He comes off as a bit of a curmudgeon at first—funny, but kind of crusty. We chat for fifteen minutes about the film, and he tells me that he can’t watch his own work on the screen. He’s too sensitive about it and constantly wants to go back and make revisions. When I suggest that he view the work as a time capsule of his life, almost like snapshots of where he was personally when the movies were made he says he would consider that, but only after some time has passed—like maybe 100 years.
Next is Pell James the pretty blonde actress who plays the love interest in the film. She has two films at Cannes this year—The King and Broken Flowers. We touch on Broken Flowers, the Jim Jarmusch film, but she can’t say much about it because she hasn’t seen it yet. From there she tells me about the audition for The King, and how she got a leg up on the other people trying out for the role by dying her hair and creating her own wardrobe for the part.
Last up was Laura Harring the bombshell from Mulholland Drive and former Miss USA. The crew were flipping coins and arguing over who would get to clip the microphone on her.
She tells me that this was her most demanding role to date, particularly in one scene where she has a breakdown in the street. To see the interviews for The King, tune into Reel to Real’s Cannes Specials in May.
From there it’s back to the press office to get some clerical work done—make up show runs and prepare to shoot the intros and extros for the final two shows we have to do here. On the way over I pass some of the street performers and vendors along the Croisette. First I see a man who carves and sells large wooden sculptures. He’s been here in the same spot every year that I have come to the festival, and I wonder if he actually sells anything. The sculptures are large, kind of ugly and must weigh a ton. I never see anyone with one of them tucked under their arm, but someone must pay him for them or he wouldn’t be here every year.
Then I see my favorite street performer—the cat juggler. He is legendary in Cannes but this is the first time I have seen him this year. He is dressed like Louis the 14th with a white painted face, a powdered wig and heavy brocade suit. He doesn’t actually juggle the cats, it’s more like balancing them on his outstretched arms while they do tricks with balls and string. He has a sign, written in French, which I’m told explains that he isn’t a hooligan, just a simple street performer who makes his living with his pets. It goes on to explain that the animals are never injured, nor are they drugged. “They are simply well loved.” PETA doesn’t need to target this guy.
At three I am scheduled to do some interviews on top of the Noga Hilton for a movie called Room. I haven’t seen this movie—it was screening at a time when I wasn’t available, but I looked it up on IMDB and one of the user reviews said, “Watch it if you’re looking for a reason to cry or commit suicide.” It is the story of Julia Barker, an over-worked, middle-aged Texas woman is haunted by psychic visions which drive her to New York in search of the Room.
When I arrive it is pouring rain, and I’m concerned the interviews might get cancelled. Luckily there is an indoor area we can use.
As we’re getting ready to shoot the rain lets up so we move to the balcony. It is one of the best views in Cannes—you can see the Croisette, the ocean and the beautiful old part of the city—and I really wanted all of that in the shot. I speak with actress Cyndi Williams first—not the Lavern and Shirley Williams, but a Texas stage actress who makes her big screen debut in Room. I ask the Texas native about shooting Room in New York City and she tells me horror stories about run-ins with giant rats and dealing with the crowds as they shot the outdoor scenes. I don’t think she’ll be moving to NYC anytime soon.
Next is Room director Kyle Henry who based the film, in part, on his experiences of living in NYC for several years prior to 9/11.
At four o’clock I have to see a documentary called James Dean: Forever Young. It is a companion piece to the Warner Brothers reissue of the three classic James Dean movies of the 1950’s—East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. It is screening in a hotel ballroom on a small screen, but I’m interested in seeing the “never-before-seen” archival footage.
The film—if you can call it that—is just a series of old clips strung together with a voice over from President Bartlett of The West Wing, Martin Sheen. It is interesting to see the old scenes of Dean’s television work, but there are too many clips. A typical voice-over from Sheen would be, “On October 14, 1953 Dean appeared in Keep Our Honor Bright on Kraft Television Theatre.” Roll clip. “Then just two days later on October 16, 1953 Dean played Hank Bradon in a teleplay called Life Sentence on the Campbell Playhouse.” And so it goes for an hour-and-a-half. There is no insight into what made him a great actor, no talking heads, just clip after clip after clip.
To describe James Dean: Forever Young as fawning would be an understatement. Any rough edges that Dean may have had—and apparently there were a few—are smoothed and polished to a high gloss here. It seems more like an infomercial for the new DVDs than a film. Twenty minutes in I’m fighting to keep my eyes open, but those around me seem to be losing the battle. I count four people who have dropped off sitting near me.
Afterwards I stay for the cocktail reception thrown by the filmmakers. I may not have enjoyed the film that much, but that won’t stop me from eating their food. I snack on a few sandwiches and order a coke from the bar.
“I’m sorry but the bar is closed,” I’m told by the bartender.
“But the party just started ten minutes ago,” I said, looking at the dozens of pre-poured glasses of wine and chilled bottles of soda and beer.
Several other people try in vain to get drinks, as I find someone to complain to. I find the publicist who thinks I am joking when I tell her that the bar is refusing to serve anyone. She speaks to the bartender, telling him that she is in charge and the bar is to be open for the next hour or so. Still he refuses to pour a drink. Thirsty journalists are starting to circle the bar, and gesture threateningly at the stubborn bartender.
A few minutes later a man in a black suit shows up, presumably the bartender’s boss and has a few curt words with him. “The bar is now open,” says the bartender who is nearly trampled by the rush of journos trying to get a drink. I take a sip of my coke, eat another sandwich and leave.
I’m starting to feel a little frayed around the edges—we have been out quite late the last few nights, the champagne has been flowing and sleep has been scarce. I kill the evening by catching up on some paper work, preparing for my interview with Carlos Reygadas, the Mexican director of Battle in Heaven and watching Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones in French on television before turning in early.
TUESDAY MAY 17, 2005
I sleep in and miss the 8:30 screening of the Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers. In fact I would have missed it if it screened at 9:30, 10:30 or even 11:30. I haven’t slept that late for a long time.
The trip is winding down. If the weather holds out we’ll shoot the intros and extros for the 3rd and 4th shows we’re doing from here and I have an interview scheduled with Carlos Reygadas at 3:55 on the roof of the Noga Hilton. I saw Reygadas the other day on the street and he approached me and said, “Do you remember me?” He was one of the first interviews I ever did in Cannes when I spoke with him for his movie Japon, and I think I was one of his first interviews. We say hello and I tell him that I will be seeing him at the press day.
The weather looks threatening, but it is still hot and there are patches of blue sky. When we arrive at the suite we are offered and outside set or a much drabber looking set-up inside. Because there are bits of blue in the sky we choose to stay outside and set up under a large wooden umbrella. There are two large HMI lights—like movie lights; big and powerful—focused on us and other bits of electronic equipment strewn about.
As we start the interview I can feel a drop or two of rain, but am not concerned. By the second question it has actually started to rain, but we’re covered by the umbrella so we’re fine. At question three I hear a popping sound and one of the HMIs blows, but we continue. I see lightening in the sky over Carlos’s shoulder and the back of my jacket is starting to get wet. We continue as Carlos zips up his jacket and looks around nervously. A loud clap of thunder makes us both jump.
I pause before asking a question about the religious symbolism in the film. He begins to answer as the umbrella unleashes a gallon or two of water right down my back. Later the publicist would say that my reaction, or lack of reaction, was one of the greatest things she’d ever seen at Cannes. Despite having a bucket of water poured on me I didn’t flinch and continued the interview. We spoke until the pounding of the rain on the umbrella and claps of thunder were drowning out our words. When the soaked power box on my cordless microphone started to spark I called it quits. Carlos was a great sport about it, and it was definitely one of the more risky interview situations that I have ever been in.
Soaked, we tear down the equipment and head for a dry place. The guys return to the apartment to towel off while I dry out in the press office.
We close off the night, and the trip with a dinner at Gavrouche in the old part of Cannes. It is a tradition with the Reel to Real crew to have dinner there on the last night of our stay each year. It’s a beautiful little restaurant with only ten tables and attentive service from the chef’s wife who doubles as waitress. It is really the first proper sit down meal we have had since we’ve been here, and I’m determined to enjoy myself.
I order a Heineken mull over the menu. The server comes over to explain the house dishes to us. When I point to one that I can’t read in French, she simply says, “You don’t want that one.” When I ask why, her one word reply is, “Kidneys.”
I take a pass on the organs and order a foie gras appetizer (I know, I know, but it so good) and a filet mignon. When I order another beer she frowns and hands me a wine list. I politely tell her that I don’t want wine, but I would like another Heineken.
“We have lots of Heineken,” she says, “but not for drinking.”
I’m not exactly sure what she means. Eventually a beer arrives, but she doesn’t seem overly happy about my barbarian taste for beer vs. wine.
With my dessert I order a cognac and that seems to restore her faith in me.
Tired we load all the equipment into a cab and head back to apartment. It is our last night there, but I have scheduled several interviews for the next day before we have to leave. After packing, then sitting on our balcony—which I haven’t stepped foot on since the first day we got here—I call it a night.
WEDNESDAY MAY 18, 2005
It feels over, but actually the day is kind of busy. Because of the poor weather over the last couple of days we have to shoot the links—intros and extros—for two shows and do a series of interviews before hopping in a cab and beginning the long trek home.
We meet Christi Puiu on the beach by the British Pavilion at 10. He is the Romanian director of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and our first interview of the day. I show him a positive review of his film in the Daily Variety and as he reads it he asks me what certain words mean. When he is done reading he asks me if it was a good review. I tell him it was.
We do the interview on the beach, and despite needing to be coached through the written portion of the day—the review—he did very well on the oral part. He explained to me that he wrote The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, a dour take on the dehumanizing process of medical treatment because he is a hypochrondriac and is obsessed with death.
On that happy note we end the interview and hustle over to the Carlton Hotel for the final interviews of the trip. I’m scheduled to speak to Phil Stern and Marcus Winslow, James Dean’s photographe rand cousin. We arrive on time but there is no one there. A large poster with one of Phil Stern’s photos of Dean is propped up against the door, so I know we’re in the right place, but there isn’t a soul around.
We wait around, and the camera guys are getting antsy. It’s our last day and they want to go out and do some shopping, hit the beach, anything but hang around this hotel waiting for people who may or may not show up.
Eventually they arrive and it seems like things are running out of control. Mr. Stern is an older man with an oxygen tank, a walker and an outrageous sense of humor. “I like you,” he says when we meet. “Let’s go to San Francisco and get married.”
Unfortunately the scheduling gods were not working on our side. Today was supposed to be a print press only day, but I had made arrangements to bring a camera and grab a couple of interviews. Yesterday the publicist assured me that it would work out. Today, however, she seems flustered and it looks unlikely that the interviews are going to happen. After killing time for almost an hour I make the call to cancel the whole thing. The camera guys disappear into the bright sunshine and I do one last round of Cannes before heading back to the apartment to get ready to leave.
The guys come back at 5:30 and we’re off at six, once again the three of us and all our equipment jammed into one small cab that takes us to Nice. At Nice we bump into Julia Taylor-Stanley, the director of These Foolish Things. She’s very friendly and we talk for an hour or so before boarding the plane to London. She tells me that Terence Stamp told her that I was his favorite interviewer of his Cannes press day. I’m glad to hear that, as I enjoyed talking to him so much.
From there on the trip is a bit of a blur. We arrive in London at 10:30 pm but by the time we deal with customs it is approaching midnight and we have an early flight. We take a cab to a local hotel and grab a few hours sleep before heading back to Heathrow for our 8:20 am flight.
On the plane ride home I think about how I always look forward to going to Cannes, but ten days later when it is time to leave I can’t wait to get home. The festival was successful for us again this year, despite the slow start. We grabbed loads of interviews and have more than enough material for the four shows we have to do. Right now I’m over the moon to be leaving, missing my girlfriend and my bed, but in a few months, I’m sure I’ll be excited about going back into the fray next year.
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