Some days it would be better just to stay in bed. Even before I left my
house I had the uncanny feeling that today was only going to bring heartache and misery. I had heard part of a news story about a government strike in France, but didn’t get all the details. Even thought I was about to leave for Paris, I thought, who cares if the mail isn’t getting delivered? Next time I won’t be so smug.
To be safe I looked on the internet for details, and there was nothing about a strike, so I called a cab. Thirty-five minutes later I begin to think that maybe it’s the Toronto cabs that are on strike, and not some postal workers in Europe. When the cabbie finally pulled up in front of my house I was running quite late. He guaranteed me he could get me to the airport on time, and then drove down a one-way street (which I didn’t even know existed, despite living in the neighborhood for six years), running into a dead end. We have to back out, and narrowly miss hitting another parked car. “No problem,” he says as we idle in traffic. Thirty five minutes later I arrive at the airport, forty dollars poorer and twenty-five minutes late.
The Air France people are helpful and despite my late arrival take good care of me. For the first time in my traveling life I have to fill out a Sars form. I give them my name and address and promise not to spread Sars in Europe. OK, off to the plane.
The flight is good. Air France’s Business Class is lovely, with large seats, lots of leg room and good food — dinner was a hors d’oeuvre of lobster accompanied with a mango salad, followed by tournedos of beef with sun dried tomato butter, artichoke bottom filled with ratatouille, Parisian potatoes and French green beans with a chocolate mousse for dessert – and several movies to choose from. I watched a bit of Frida and parts of Just Married before catching a few minutes sleep. I was woken by a loud yelp. Apparently the woman in the next aisle screams in her sleep. After that I was too unnerved to nap. Later I have breakfast — fresh fruit, yogurt, pastries and freshly squeezed orange juice — and finish reading my notes for the
There is always much to do. I tend to over prepare because I find the first couple of days at Cannes always leave me unsettled. In my heart I know that no matter how much I plan, in the end it is up to the cinema gods (and some really tired publicists) to dictate what is going to happen to me over the next ten or twelve days.
As we are landing in Paris I do one last check of my ticket for the connecting flight to Nice. It says I don’t leave until 9:25 pm. Must be a mistake. My itinerary says I am scheduled to fly out at 10:30 am. I stay calm and figure I can sort it out once we’re on the ground.
Nope. It’s chaos in the airport. Flights are cancelled. People are confused.
There are long wait lists for flights that will probably never happen.
You see, there is a strike. A general one day strike was called in Paris on
Tuesday to protest the government’s plan to change the state pension plan.
After some tussling with the ticket agents we opt to take the confirmed
9:25 pm flight — a full twelve hours after we landed — rather than wait around for waitlisted flights that are likely going to be cancelled.
A number of us rent a room at the closest Hilton to drop off our equipment and luggage and head for Paris. If you have to be stranded somewhere
Paris is not a bad choice. At this point I’ve been awake (with the exception of my interrupted nap) for about twenty hours, but I am excited at the chance to see one of the great cities of the world. By the time we get to Paris it is actually cold. Not a big deal, except that I am dressed for the South of France which is hot and steamy. I have to buy some clothes. Not a bad way to kill a day — shopping in Paris — but not what I had in mind.
Paris is a bit of a blur. We start at the Trockadero, which is the perfect vantage point to see the Eiffel Tower, which is much larger than I imagined it would be. Next we made our way to the Arc d’Triumph and walked down the Champs d’ellysee, stopping every now and again to check out a cafe or a store. We also went to Notre Dame. I was blown away by the gothic architecture and the fact that I was standing in a building that was over 700 years old, but something that happened outside the cathedral was quite strange. As we walked down the street enjoying the sun I noticed that it had started raining — on the other side of the street! If we had moved just a few feet to our left we would have been soaked. I’ve never seen such a thing. I was either hallucinating, or that was an omen of some kind.
We head back to the airport to confirm our 9:25 pm flight at 6:30. We wait.
And wait. All seems to be going well. Then at 9:00 pm there is an announcement. The flight has been cancelled. Up until that point I was fairly good natured about this whole thing. It was a large inconvience, but I got to spend some time in Paris, and although I was very tired (32 hours, no sleep) I wanted to support the workers who just wanted the pension they had worked for. Power to the people! But after the plane was cancelled, after I had waited thirteen hours for a flight that wasn’t going to happen, after I had been snubbed by a Parisian cab driver, a surly shuttle bus attendant and a host of others, I begin to think there is a wide-ranging Gallic plot to make me unhappy and uncomfortable. I really need to sleep.
We find a hotel nearby, although the shuttle bus driver doesn’t stop the first time around and our five minute drive turns into a forty-five minute sight seeing tour. We arrive at the Ibis Gare around 11:30 pm. Here’s a
French travel tip: Never stay at the Ibis Gare!
I set the alarm clock on my cell phone for 7:30 and fall into a fitful, but coma-like sleep.
WEDNESDAY MAY 14
The strike is over, although I later hear from Katrina Onstad that she had travel trouble on Wednesday because one train engineer decided to wage a personal strike and not drive the train she was one. Our plane to Nice leaves on time, and although it is crowded and the seats are small, I don’t care. I just want to get this trip properly started.
I realize I’m still feeling the residual tired / grumpy feeling from yesterday. Five or six hours of sleep isn’t enough to compensate for pulling a thirty-six hour all nighter. I know I’m out of sorts when I note that it isn’t even nine am and I have already yelled at two people.
That feeling fades when we get in the cab to take us to Cannes. The weather is beautiful, the scenery spectacular and while it doesn’t make up for the lack of sleep and inconvience it sure makes me feel a lot better.
We arrive by mid-day and get settled into Casa Reel to Real, which is a large apartment close to downtown. We have stayed in this building for the past two years, but this is the first time in this flat. It’s very spacious, with a large balcony and two bathrooms and multiple rooms, but feels like it was decorated by Cheech and Chong. There is definitely a 1970s den vibe going on here. Who am I to complain. It’s got a bed!!!
We shop for some groceries, get our press passes and cell phones before shooting some beauty shots of Cannes. I’m too tired to hunt down any interviews today, but not too tired to go the Toronto International Film Festival Party. I go to this every year. It’s a lovely event in an apartment off the Croisette, with good home cooked food and lots of wine. It is a good chance to hang out with all the Canadians who are covering the event and trade gossip and movie reviews. This year Roger Ebert and his wife showed up. Mr. Ebert told a fascinating story about Japanese “benti” performers who, in the pre-sound days would act out movies alongside the screen. He recently uncovered a troupe of benti performers in Mexico and hired them to perform at his annual film festival. You could see his enthusiasm as he described their work. Part performance art, part cinema history. I wish I could have seen it.
I must be getting old because I wasn’t the last person to leave the party. I called it quits and checked out the bed at Casa Reel to Real. Tomorrow we start in earnest…
THURSDAY MAY 15, 2003
My day started off with a bang. Literally. I went to an 8:30 am screening of The Matrix Reloaded at the Lumier Theatre. I kept an eye open for Katrina who said she would be there, but the theatre seats 2700 people – the population of the town I grew up in – and somehow I missed her.
I must admit, I didn’t really understand the original Matrix, so it stands to reason that I’m not really in tune with the sequel. I’m not a big fan of science fiction, but I AM a big fan of good looking women who kick butt and blow things up, so I enjoyed Reloaded. After an initial big bang in the opening scene the first hour drags slightly, with long talky sequences involving Oracles, alternate worlds and other things I didn’t really understand. But when it picks up, man look out. There is a wild sequence in which Neo battles hundreds of clones of the evil Mr. Smith and a twenty minute car chase that’ll blow the back of your head off. The little boy that I keep hidden away deep in my subconscious loved that scene.
Then it ends. Suddenly. Abruptly. It’s a cliffhanger that will either drive you to drink, or wet your appetite for part three of the series.
We have a deadline of 3:30 pm to shoot the entire show, package it and send it back to our editor in Toronto. Trouble was, with the strike and the general lethargy after our long trip we didn’t have anything prepared. All the interviews I had set up from Toronto had been cancelled because some of the talent wasn’t able to get to Cannes, or, by us arriving a day-and-a-half later than we had planned we had missed them.
I called Katrina and she was able to spare an hour between screenings, so we met at the Cadadian Pavillion to shoot the show open and reviews for The Matrix Reloaded and The Barbarian Invasions.
As Katrina left we bumped into Kelly Alexander from the Toronto International Film Festival. She is very knowledgable about the Marched u Film – the market where the business of Cannes happens – so I grab her and do a quick interview about how films are bought and sold.
Next we go into the market. It’s a vast maze of hundreds of cubicles with music blaring out of each one. Everyone here is trying to grab your attention, and spending too much time here wouldn’t be good for your health… sensory overload. We’re here looking for interesting filmmakers to interview to round out the Marche du Film piece. Almost immediately we come across Menahem Golan, who like so many others in the film business got his start working with Roger Corman in 1963. Since then he has produced or directed hundreds of films, discovered talents like Jean Claude Van Damme and Sharon Stone and ran Canon films in the 80s. He now lives in Isreal and still proudly produces low budget action films for the international market. We discuss the Cannes Marche, which he has attended for forty years, and he still displays an incredible love for the business and movie making. “If you make good movies with a beginning, a middle and an end for less than 3 million dollars,” he tells me, “you have to be an idiot to loose money.” He’s a character – part player, part carny sideshow barker. When we first meet I notice that everyone in his booth are wearing t-shirts silk screened with the posters of his movies — titles like Death Game and Speedway Junky – except for one guy. Just before the cameras roll, Mr. Golan barks at the guy, “Where’s your t-shirt? Don’t you have any sense of public relations?”
Just down the aisle from Golan we bumped into one of my favorite people – Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Films. He greets me warmly and thanks me for writing a complimentary review of his latest book, Make Your Own Damn Movie on the Reel to Real website. As usual Lloyd has surrounded himself with chaos — people dressed as the Toxic Avenger and other characters from his films — and is wearing emerald green pants, florescent yellow socks and a rather (for Lloyd, anyway) conservative suit jacket. I make plans to sit down for an on-camera chat later in the day.
I still freaking out because we don’t have quite enough for our first show, and the deadline is quickly approaching. Then, shortly after bumping into Lloyd I see another familiar face – Brian O’Halloran. He’s one of the Kevin Smith ensemble of actors, appearing in Clerks (the goateed guy behind the counter), Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. He’s in Cannes promoting his new film, the Toronto-shot Drop Dead Roses, a comedy about a store that specializes in sending dead roses or “slightly abused candy” to someone you have just broken up with. Funny idea. Again I dragged him over the Canadian Pavillion where my camera guy was waiting. We did a quick interview and discussed the movie, why he chooses to live in New Jersey as opposed to where all the other movie actors live, Los Angeles and his impressions of Cannes. He’s very funny, and you can see the whole thing on the first Reel to Real Cannes show.
We shoot the stand-ups (all the introduction etc) on the beach, and by 3:15 we have a show! Just in time to make the courier… I run over to the American Pavillion to grab some lunch. They have the best food on the grounds, and it’s pretty cheap. I have some gazpacho and a grilled cheese sandwich, before calling the Rogers show Daytime for the first of several live reports I’ll be doing for them this week. I like doing the reports, but just as I started to speak I got some interference on my phone and I couldn’t hear what the hosts, Anthony and Natalie were saying to me. So I just kept talking until they cut me off. Don’t know what it sounded like…
Afterwards I go to a screening of American Splendor, one of the “buzz” films of the festival. It’s an odd mix of documentary and fiction that chronicles the life of American Splendor author Harvey Pekar. You might remember him from his legendary appearances on the Letterman show in the mid-eighties. He was a regular guest until one night when he melted down and verbally attacked Dave and NBC. He wasn’t invited back for almost ten years. This is a strange, audatious movie that doesn’t work all the time, but takes interesting chances and should be seen by people who want something a little different. As Pekar Paul Giamatti (Man in the Moon, Planet of the Apes) does a great job as the sad sack curmudgeon.
I’m very tired after the movie, so I shove some pizza in my face and go home to bed. On Friday I have to set up interviews for the rest of the trip…
FRIDAY MAY 16, 2003
Today starts off slowly. With no appointments first thing in the morning I actually have time to have breakfast at Casa Reel to Real. When I get up our cameraman Frank has already assembled breakfast – fruit, juice, pastries and get this, he even pre-peeled the banana. If he wasn’t such a good cameraman I would hire him as my cabana boy. (I would, however, be hestitant to let him shop for us again. On the first day we picked up some groceries, and put him in charge of getting some cold cuts. Instead of buying some prepackaged meats, he decided to order hand sliced ham in his very limited French. Instead of a few slices to last us a couple of days, we ended up with enough ham to feed everyone in our apartment building for the rest of the Festival. In all about $30 USD worth of thinly sliced jambon…)
Now I have to make the rounds of the publicists. I should have done this days ago, but because of the strike everything has been delayed. At the first place I go I book interviews for the Animatrix, a collection of several animated short films, detailing the backstory of the “Matrix” universe, and the original war between man and machines which led to the creation of the Matrix. I’ve already seen them, and they are very cool, so we’re off to a good start.
I also hear a funny story about how one person got around the total shutdown of all transportation in France on Tuesday and made it to Cannes on time. Sensing there would be delays and trouble in France, this person flew to Spain instead, and then TOOK A CAB from Barcelona to Cannes. One can only imagine how much that cost.
I continue going from office to office. Many of the publicists are the same form last year, so I already feel I have a pretty good rapport with them. As the day wears on I book interviews with Gus Van Sant for his new movie Elephant, Harvey Pekar and the writers and directors of American Splendor, the director and cast of a quirky Norweigan movie called Kitchen Stories and the cast of a British film called The Mother, directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill and Changing Lanes).
I also book several interviews that fall into the “just for me” category. I’m a pop culture junky, so given the chance to interview Cassandra Peterson AKA Elvira and Jerry Springer is an opportunity too good to pass up. Peterson is here to promote her self financed film Elvira’s Haunted Hills (!) and Springer is making his acting debut as a sleazy television producer in Citizen Verdict with Armand Assante and Roy Scheider. Too good to pass up. Then I book Jean Claude Van Damme. It’s the cult figure trifecta. My day is looking up.
To cap a pretty good day of scrounging for interviews I book a spot on the red carpet for a retrospective screening of the 1956 film Giant. Dame Elizabeth Taylor will be in attendance and I’m told I’ll have a good shot at speaking to hear. Next Wednesday is going to be an interesting day with Gus Van Sant, Jerry Springer and Liz Taylor on the docket…
I bump into Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson and have a brief off-camera chat. She’s lovely. Very nice and very funny. I think the interview will be a blast.
I hook up with Katrina and take in a 7:30 pm screening of The Mother. Elvis Mitchell (the coolest name in journalism) from the New York Times is there, so we figure we’ve hit on one of the hot movies of the festival. We were right. The Mother is a subtlily humorous piece about an older woman who falls for her daughter’s boyfriend. It’s a study of dysfunctional families, but without all the psycho babble. Great performances from Anne Reid as the Mother and Daniel Craig as her younger lover. It’s a sometimes shocking, sometimes heart wrenching story. It’s the best thing I’ve seen since I’ve been here.
We grab a bite to eat after the movie and head over to the Petite Majestic, an open air frequented by journalists during the festival. It is packed, as it is most nights with people standing on the streets and sidewalks. Everytime a car comes along the sea of people part to let the traffic through, then move right back into the street. Meeet up with Lloyd Kaufman, who introduces me to one of his newest interns, a guy named Daniel from Los Angeles. Daniel won the chance to hang out with the Troma crew in Cannes by winning the top spot of the Comedy Central quiz show Beat the Geeks. It’s an incredibly tough show to win, but Daniel tells me he had a leg up because he used to write trivia for a website.
We stay for an hour or so, until the beer kegs are drained dry… Home by 1:30 am and in bed seconds later…
SATURDAY MAY 17, 2003
I’ve seen many strange things in my travels. Today I found a new thing to add to the list of “things I never thought I’d see on the street” – CAT JUGGLING! Before anyone gets upset and reports me to PETA I should add that no cats were harmed in the making of this on-line diary. The juggler, dressed like seventeenth century royalty had two cats and a table of stuffed animals. As he held out his outstretched arms the cats would kind of dance on him, pausing every now and again to stand on their haunches or catch a stuffed ball thrown at them by an audience member. I’ve always had cats and have never been able to train them to do anything except sleep and take frequent naps, so I was rather impressed by this amusing, but deeply weird display.
From there, with visions of glissading cats dancing in my head I headed off to the Garden Terrace of the Grand Hotel. It’s a lovely, quiet open-air restaurant with lots of green space and shade, which is remarkable because it is located on the Croisette. I was set to interview the cast of Kitchen Stories, a quirky Norwegian film about Swedish scientists who studied the movements of housewives in order to design more ergonomically efficient kitchens. First up was the director with the unlikely name of Bent Hamer. He spoke English very well and when I asked him if he enjoyed being interviewed (he was just beginning his day, in all he’d do 40 – 50 interview today) he cryptically said, “I’d rather be interviewed than not be interviewed,” which I guess means that he was pleased that so many people wanted to discuss his movie with him.
Next were the two leads, Tomas Nortrom and Joachim Calmeyer. They are both veterans of the Norwegian stage and screen and were engaging, funny men to speak with. Joachim was recently made a member of the Knights of Odin, one of Norway’s highest honors. They smoked cigarettes and drank strong coffee while joking their way through the interview.
It is very warm but slightly overcast today, so it is the perfect weather for running around and finalizing some of the details for the next couple of shows. Spent the afternoon tracking down stories and in the process got a sunburn that later earned me the nickname “Lobster Boy.”
Took a detour into the Marche to speak to Lloyd Kaufman. He wasn’t in, but I did stumble across some unusual movies that people are trying to sell here. From Israel comes “Wisdom of the Pretzel,” “I’m Tired of Killing Your Lovers” is a new one from Greece, while the French / Italian co-production of “It’s Easier For A Camel” made me laugh. The plot synopsis for the Japanese film “Bright Future” stopped me dead in my tracks: “The enigmatic Mamoru lives alone with his poisonous but hauntingly luminous jellyfish…” That’s a must see. I think, however, that I’ll take a pass on Nursie – apparently she’s “losing her patients…” Funny tagline, but terrible poster. I’ll take a pass.
At 5:30 I line up for Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” and in doing so learned a nasty lesson about the press passes. I have a “carte rouge” pass, which means that it is pink, but with no yellow dot. I have had this pass for the past three years and have never had a problem gaining access to any event or screening — until today. I line up inside the Palais building with a group of other journalists, all of who had the pink, pink with a yellow dot, or white passes (there are other passes – blue, grey and orange – which are handed out to technicians and photographers and do not allow access to screenings). I wait for half and hour or so before the line starts to move. I flash my pass at the guy at the door and am turned away. “Blue carpet,” he says. “I don’t understand,” I say. “Blue carpet,” he says again, as though saying it twice in a slightly louder voice will help me decipher what he means. Eventually after some back and forth I begin to understand that I have to go outside and re-line-up on the blue carpet. The people with the yellow dots and white passes smirk at me as they go by… you see anyone with a white pass (Roger Ebert, Elvis Mitchell other VIPs) has total freedom to do whatever they like. I think they can even run for President of France if they like… Anyway, I go outside and it is chaos. There are hundreds of people lined up in behind barricades that snake around and around like a giant maze. At this point I want to give up, go up stairs punch the security guard and get on the next flight back to Toronto, but since I’m a reasonable man I get in line. I get pushed, have smoke blown in my face and soak up more and more sun until I finally make my way up the stairs to the theatre. On the way I pass the guy who kicked me out before. I have to control myself, because I don’t want to get banned from the festival… When I get to the theatre I get the last seat in the last row of the balcony. This movie better be good.
“Elephant” was worth the trouble it took for me to see it. I don’t want to give too much away because I think this movie should be seen with as few preconceptions as possible, but I will tell you it is set in a high school and involves a Columbine-like shooting. The sudden ending of the film (after a long, slow start) shocked people, but the reaction was generally very good. I can’t wait to interview the director, Gus Van Sant on Wednesday.
On my way to an Alliance Atlantic party check out a Ewan McGreggor photo-op. These are photo calls open to any journalists attending the festival and basically what happens is the stars stand in one spot and dozens of photographers yell their names, trying to get them to look at the camera. The competition among the photographers is intense, and I have seen fist fights break out when one guy thinks another guy has gotten a better picture. This one was a little more exciting than usual. No fights, but Ewan drove up on a motorcycle and spun his wheels, filling the whole area with smoke. When the fog cleared he was posed perfectly astride his motorcycle… At the party I saw Randy Quaid (who was wearing very dark shades, despite it being midnight) and spoke to Troy Garrity, who is Jane Fonda’s son and is starring in “Milwaukee, Minnesota” with Quaid.
When that party broke up a bunch of us went to the Petite Majestic and stayed out a little too late. It was fun, but seriously overcrowded. Got home far too late.
SUNDAY MAY 18, 2003
Up early despite being out late the night before. As I’m getting ready to leave the phone rings — the first interview of the day has been cancelled. Apparently the interviewee was out late as well… We reschedule, and I use the time to grab something to eat at the American Pavilion. I had the Cobb Salad wrap, and it made me happy. So happy, in fact, that I lost track of the time and was a couple of minutes late for my next interviews.
The afternoon is jam packed, and my late arrival for this interview means there will be a domino effect, and I’ll likely be behind schedule all day, with my carefully planned timetable falling to pieces.
In fact, I can feel my schedule crumbling into dust and blowing away as we start the first of two interviews for the film “American Splendor” twenty minutes late. I have two camera crews here, and on days like this when we have back-to-back interviews in different locations, I send one to location A while the other is setting up at location B. When I am done at A he tears down while I run to B and we flip flops crews all day. It’s a good plan when the timing works out, but I have a feeling the camera guys are going to be doing a lot of waiting around today.
Bob Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman are the writers and directors of “American Splendor.” It’s a really audacious film that blurs the line between fact and fiction while telling the true-to-life story of comic book character (and real guy) Harvey Pekar. We had to cut this one a little short because of time considerations, but we did discuss how the real-life Harvey likes to break rules, and it was that attitude that helped form the unusual structure of the film.
Next was Harvey and his wife Joyce Babner. Hilarious. Despite being a cult figure with an award winning comic book based on his life, many appearances on the David Letterman show, and a stage show and a movie based on him, Harvey always kept a full time job as a file clerk in a hospital. He just recently retired and Joyce tells me that she hopes the movie will attract enough attention for Harvey so he gets some more freelance work and keeps busy and out of her hair. Apparently he doesn’t know what to do with himself now that he is retired. Before the cameras rolled I asked about how they were enjoying Cannes. Joyce told me the best thing about being there was that their undergarments came back from the cleaners starched and “hermetically sealed in plastic.” She was very impressed by that. Harvey seemed kind of indifferent to the attention of having a major motion picture based on your life might bring. He doesn’t think he’s a celebrity, and just hopes that he can make enough off this movie to pay for his daughter’s education.
From there I ran to the Resideal Gardens around the corner to do another series of interviews for the film The Mother. I was a bit late, but my camera guy was there and ready to go so we made up a few minutes on my decaying schedule. The first pair I spoke to was Daniel Craig and Anne Reid. They play lovers in the film, with a huge age difference. She’s a grandmother; he’s her daughter’s boyfriend. Daniel told me he was feeling a little rough from the night before, but was in good spirits because the film had been received so well at the Director’s Fortnight screening. Anne was lovely, with a slightly bewildered air about her, like she had never done publicity before. The interview was very spontaneous and both were very funny. Next up was the pairing of writer Hanif Kureshi (The Buddah of Suburbia and My Beautiful Launderette) and director Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Notting Hill). These men have worked together several times and have known one another for a very long time. Unfortunately I can’t repeat most of the interview here, but suffice to say we are trying to figure out a way to air it on Reel to Real so the bleeps don’t over power the interview. Hanif remarked at one point that he might possibly have intimate knowledge of Michell’s wife. Michell pretended to be outraged and said, “You’re telling me this on Canadian television! I have to text message my wife right now,” and pretended to storm off set.
From there we hurried to the rooftop of the Savoy Hotel to interview the Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme. He’s in town promoting a movie that hasn’t been shot yet, but should start filming in August in Montreal. We positioned him by the pool overlooking the beach and the Carlton Hotel. Nice shot. To see everything in the background though, we would have to stand. He wasn’t thrilled at the idea because I towered over him, but agreed to do it anyway. Then he complained that the camera man was wearing a white shirt which he found distracting. I’m not sure if he was joking or not. Then he pretended to kick the camera man in the stomach. Again, I’m not sure if was kidding or not. We finally started the interview. My first question was about how he learned to speak English by watching The Flintstones. Ten weird, rambling minutes later when I was able to ask another question I was so shell-shocked I could barely think of anything else to ask, but managed to get a useable answer out of him about the role the Cannes Film Festival has played in his career.
After it was back to Casa Reel to Real to plan the next couple of shows while the guys logged the tapes we had shot over the last few days. We grabbed a pizza (Mexican pizza with fist-sized chunks of chicken on it) for diner on the way to Telefilm’s party on the beach. I knew we were at the right place when I walked down the stairs and saw a giant stuffed moose — only in Canada. Spent the party mingling, and talked to a number of people, including the managing editor of the greatest website in the world IMDB.com, while cramming as many of their delicious prawns into my face as I could.
It feels like I have been up for days… time for bed.
MONDAY MAY 19, 2003
Up early to shoot the stand-ups for the second of the shows we’re doing from here. We’ve arranged to shoot them on the Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machine’s promotional set in front of the Carlton hotel. Arnold Schwarzenegger did a photo-op there the other day and it is pretty cool. They have the fully operational robots, fake Arnolds and the Terminatrix statue. The nice people at Columbia also give Arnold’s jacket and gloves form the movie to wear while I am shooting. Sounds like a great idea, but the jacket weighs about 30 pounds, and while it is ventilated with bullet holes, it is still really, really super hot. Quite a crowd gathers while we shoot. They’re not there to see me, everyone is checking out the robot, which kind of looks like a streamlined tank with a face. Oh, it also comes equipped with machines guns that are pointed at me while I am taping the intros for the show. I wear the jacket, hoping to sweat off a few pounds…
Next we are off to the Savoy Hotel to interview Cassandra Peterson. You may not know her by that name, but you most certainly are familiar with her alter-ego, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. For twenty years she has worn the black wig, flimsy dresses and hosted her own television show; appeared on “The Simpsons;” sold a lot of merchandise, including pinball and slot machines; pitched for Coors Lite and appeared in two movies. She’s in Cannes promoting her second film, the self-financed “Elvira’s Haunted Hills.”
She was great. We chatted for quite a while as the camera man got everything into place and she is very funny, very nice and very normal. She tells me she has been able to maintain a normal life because people don’t know her, they only know Elvira. It’s the best of both worlds. She gets to be famous, but not get bothered at the grocery store. We had a grand time talking… you’ll see that interview on the second Reel to Real show from Cannes.
From there wee ran to the Canadian Pavilion to meet Katrina to shoot some reviews. She only had an hour to spare between movies so we had to be quick. She’s a trooper. Despite seeing four movies a day — and writing about each one of them — she’s still making time to shoot with us. I appreciate it, as I couldn’t do this alone. We shoot on the beach, and discuss “Elephant,” “The Mother” and “Dogville.”
When she runs off to a screening I stay at the Canadian Pavilion for a press conference and grab a few interviews with Canadian directors Bernard Emond (20 h 17, Rue Darling) and Jean-Francois Pouliot, whose first feature film, Le Grande Seduction is closing the Director’s Fortnight.
At 9 pm we are invited to a party at The Cat Club. I’ve never heard of the place, but we decide to check it our anyway. The club itself is very cool, and quite packed. Should be a good party, except that I don’t think the owners of the club were ready for how many people were going to show up. There was a constant line-up at the bar as the ONE bartender tried to get drinks for the 300 or so people in attendance. And you know when the drinks are free people can get demanding. Then they ran out of beer just half an hour after the party began. We left before the crowd turned ugly.
Troma kingpin Lloyd Kaufman called and invited me to join him for a drink at the Carlton Terrace. I find my over there, and as usual, Lloyd is surrounded by Tromettes (the young women who follow Lloyd the world over) and an array of interesting people, including the English actor Max Ryan who plays Dante in the up-coming “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” One of the Tromettes was wearing very dark sunglasses, even though it was quite late at night. When I asked why she said, “I got kicked out of here earlier and I don’t want them to recognize me.” I think the revealing outfit and the pink hair might give it away… We also meet a man who comes over to ask Lloyd if he would put him in the movies. He is six feet tall, around sixty years of age and kind of looks like an aging matinee idol. Oh yeah, did I mention he’s also crazy? Harmless crazy, but crazy nonetheless. He talks everyone’s ear off, and refuses to leave, even though no one is paying any attention to him, and Lloyd is calling him Frederico Fellini. At one point he asks what I do for a living. I tell him that I review movies and interview movie stars. “Perhaps then, you have met the love of my life,” he says with a flourish. “Michele Pfeiffer.” I tell him I haven’t, but that doesn’t stop him from asking me a dozen questions about her.
When it starts to rain, I take that as my cue to leave. I’m sorry to stick Lloyd and the Tromettes with the Frederico Fellini wanabe, but it was time to go. As I was leaving Lloyd pulled out the little digital camera he takes everywhere with him and go some shots of our new friend. “I think you’re about to miss a great Troma moment,” he said.
TUESDAY MAY 20, 2003
We finally get a day to sleep in. I thought the crew were about to mutiny if I didn’t ease up on the early mornings so I haven’t scheduled anything until one o’clock. What I haven’t told them is that while they are sleeping in, I’m going to be booking more interviews to keep them busy right until the end of the trip. While they sawed logs, I booked the cast of the Denys Arcand film “The Barbarian Invasions.” Denys doesn’t want to do any television interviews and the rumor is that he was so bothered by the bad reviews his last film, “Stardom,” received that he isn’t going to do interviews. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know.
First up today is Dale Heslip, a Toronto filmmaker who has brought his short film “The Truth About Head” to the festival. I recognize him, but can’t place his face. He is a commercial and video director, so it is unlikely that I would have interviewed him before. Before we start the interview he asks me if I used to work at Southern Accent Restaurant in Toronto. I tell I did, many years ago and he tells me he used to be a regular there. Good, that’s one mystery solved.
We discuss the film, which is a surreal 12 minute short about Ed, a man without a body. He has a body surgically attached only to discover he was happier before. It’s an interesting, funny bit of work, which reminded me Tim Burton’s “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.” It has a timeless quality about it, with one foot in reality and the other dangling somewhere over the Twilight Zone. Dale tells me he’s using this short as a calling card to try and get a gig directing a feature.
We pack up and move to the Savoy Hotel rooftop to speak to Armand Assante, who is here promoting “Citizen Verdict,” a film co-starring Jerry Springer. I ask him about his character in the film and get a fairly standard answer. I sense that maybe even he’s a little bored. He’s been answering questions all day, and I think he might be on auto-pilot, so I decide to change things up. We discuss the anti-landmine movement, a cause he is very involved in. and a documentary called “Blind Dragon” about the global landmine crisis that he is trying to get off the ground. You could see him get more interested, and by the end of the interview he was very chatty. After it was done he congratulated me on the interview, gave me his home address and asked if I would send a copy of it to him.
Next stop was the Variety Magazine Village, a compound set up on the Croisette for journalists to take a break and have a drink or a bite to eat. We’re here to interview Variety Managing Editor Tim Grey about how to survive the Cannes Film Festival. He turns out to be a funny guy who describes not only the best drinks, massages, and restaurants in the city, but also where all the best restrooms are. He described three different kinds: The Magic Toilet which “with just a wave of the hand over an electronic eye, the toilet seat lowers, complete with a lining of fresh paper.” Next was The Spin Cycle: “Push the button and the toilet seat does a 360 degree rotation, and what emerges is a seat with a clean plastic lining.” I was so excited the first time I saw this one I made everyone I was with come to the bathroom and check it out. The third kind was the Objet d’Art: “This is a reminder that lavatories are not only about technology, but about aesthetics.” There is a restaurant in town called L’Athenee which has hand-painted toilet seats. Grey says the restaurant boasts “great Greek food, a charming staff and a beautiful commode.”
It’s a beautiful day, so we take the chance to shoot a piece that will eventually be called “A Day in the Life of the Festival.” The camera guys followed me through the crowds on the Croisette over to the famous red carpet, into the Palais building to the media lounge and back out through to the International Village. It’s a quick tour of Festival grounds, and what goes on behind the scenes.
We next poked our heads into the Ontario at Cannes party at the Grey d”Albion beach. Nice party, but as with most of these events, if you aren’t situated right by the kitchen door you don’t get a chance to eat. Katrina and I bolt and grab a quick bite before seeing a 7:30 movie – my first of the day, her third.
The Fog of War is documentarian Errol Morris’ film about Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, who subsequently became president of the World Bank. It combines an interview with Mr. McNamara discussing some of the tragedies and glories of the 20th Century, archival footage, documents, and an original score by Philip Glass.
McNamara is a fascinating character who has walked the corridors of power his entire life, and has the insight to be able to look back at his long career (he’s 85 years-old now) and reflect. Twice during the movie he says that decisions he made in his military career could have been considered war crimes, and makes the point that some of these decisions may have been the result of bad information. “Belief and seeing are often wrong,” he says. The film is basically one long interview with him, broken up with archival footage, and it is interesting to note that at one point he says, “Answer the question you wished had been asked to you,” not the question you were asked. I think it would have been a challenge to interview him, but Morris manages nicely.
I am very far behind in my clerical work for this trip, so I spend the next couple of hours after the movie returning e-mails, up-dating the on-line diary and printing out schedules before meeting a large group of Canadians at one of the large hotels for a nightcap. I had a nice time, which is good because I don’t think I’ll ever go back there. You hear many stories about how expensive Cannes is. I have been lucky, and haven’t ever been burned too badly. Until last night. Two Heinekens cost 20E, which is about $30 US. I like Heineken, but not that much.
Off to bed…
WEDNESDAY MAY 21, 2003
I really, really hate having technical difficulties when we are on the road. Today we had two early interviews and had problems at both of them. First up was Jerry Springer… yes, that Jerry Springer. He’s in Cannes to promote a new movie called “Citizen Verdict,” in which he plays a sleazy television producer. I’m not going to make the obvious jokes here. He turned out to be a nice guy – very jet lagged – not at all what you would imagine. He’s thoughtful, insightful and has a good sense of humor. He was very tired, having flown in from the States the night before, hosted a party after his screening and now was up early to talk to the press. We were speaking to him on the rooftop of the Savoy Hotel with the sun blazing down and absolutely no breeze. It must have been 1,000,000 degrees, and Jerry was wearing a black suit.
We position him where we want him to be, wire him up with a microphone and… nothing. There’s no sound. It’s super hot, he sweating and we can’t get it together to have equipment that works. It only takes a couple of minutes to discover the problem, but it was embarrassing.
Next was Gus Van Sant who was scheduled to discuss his experimental new film Elephant with me. We set up on the Noga Hotel Beach in a very hip restaurant called Studio 5. The latest model BMW is parked kin the middle of the restaurant, and I take a few minutes to sit inside and play with the high tech radio. A young woman asks me if I would like to arrange a test drive. I have to decline because I don’t have a drivers license, but I arrange for one of the camera guys to take it for a spin. Van Sant arrives and we begin the interview. No audio problems this time, but he is coughing constantly. The first couple of answers probably won’t be usable because of his rasp. We get him some tea and continue the interview. The second bit of the interview is going much better until I hear a strange clicking sound behind me from the general direction of the camera man. I ignore it and continue on with the questions. I ask a long question based on a quote I had read from Ken Kesey. Kesey said: “When people go see a movie by, let’s say, Gus Van Sant they’re doing it not just to be entertained; they’re doing it because they want to become better warriors.” I was curious how he would react, and we got a very articulate, interesting answer that I’m sure would make great television… except that the clicking sound I heard behind me earlier in the interview was the sound of a camera breaking down. We didn’t get the best answer of the interview. I’m not happy, so I take a little walk to shake off the evil mood I’m now in.
Now for the glamorous part of the job. I sit at the computer for the next three hours e-mailing scripts to our editor in Toronto and researching tomorrow’s interviews.
At 4 o’clock I meet the crew at the Olympia theatre just off the main drag. It is a smaller theatre that is not part of the festival per se, but often distributors rent the place to showcase movies they are trying to sell. Today there is a screening of Giant, the 1956 film starring Rock Hudson, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor. We have been invited to join the scrum on the red carpet, and try and grab interviews with the celebrities who will be attending. We don’t normally cover events like this, but I am told that Liz herself will be speaking to the press, and I don’t want to miss the chance to speak to a film legend.
We line up at four pm and are crammed into a small fenced-in area on the left side of the red carpet. The plan is that Elizabeth will walk up one side, stopping every few feet and chatting, then continue down the other side. Everyone should get a chance to grab and interview. She will, however, be quite late. The film starts at six pm, and we are told not to expect her until at least 5:30 or 5:45. These things never go as planned, and I’m fairly convinced that we won’t get to speak with her, but I’m willing to wait in the sun, pressed up against other reporters on the off chance that we can get her.
At 5:05 a black limo pulls up and Liz gets out. She’s on time. People are stunned. She’s never on time for anything. I later hear from a publicist that they told her the event was at 2 pm. By telling her the call time was three hours earlier than it actually was they figured they could get her to the appearance on time. In her mind she was arriving fashionably late – three hours late.
The photographers go crazy. “Leez! Leez!,” they’re yelling. There is a push forward as she stops to pose for photos. He’s wearing Fort Knox – enough jewels to pay the debt of several small countries, but look frail. She’s escorted by two men, one on each arm who usher her along. She stops at the reporter next to me. That probably means I won’t et her, as I’m sure they’ll try and move through the line fairly quickly.
But no! She stops in front of me. I ask her one question. Then another and another after that. I actually get her attention for a few minutes. I’M THE KING OF CANNES!
After I speak to her the rush her along to one more reporter, then hustle her inside. They missed one whole of side of the red carpet, including the reporter from Entertainment Tonight. For once, I think to myself, I get an interview that not even ET could get. A few minutes later a car pulls up to the front door of the theatre and Liz is helped inside. We hear later that she isn’t up to staying and had to be taken back to her hotel. As the car was pulling out I heard the woman from ET desperately yelling, “Hey Liz! Got a minute of ET!!!!”
After the red carpet we go down to the docks and shoot the tops and tails for the third Cannes show in front of the ocean and the huge yachts. Some of these things ae so large they have helicopter ports on them. One of them actually had two spots for helicopters to land… unreal. I heard that it costs $50,000 US to fill one of these up with gas.
We have a bite to eat and listen to a live jazz band before heading back to Casa Reel to Real to get ready for Thursday. I have many notes to read. It’s the last full day we’re here, and of course it’s also the busiest.
THURSDAY MAY 22, 2003
I’m up and out of Casa Reel to Real before anyone on the crew has even thought about waking up. While they lay dreaming in their beds I’ll be interviewing documentarian Errol Morris, director of “Fog of War” at the Carlton Hotel. Roger Ebert called him “a magician, and as great a filmmaker as Hitchcock or Fellini.” He has developed a new camera called the “Interrotron” which is basically a modified teleprompter which allows Morris to project his image on a monitor while looking directly at the camera, which allows both Morris and audience to achieve eye contact with the subject.
We discuss this new technology and the difference it makes to the viewer’s perception of the subject. Mr. Morris is a fascinating guy, but speaks v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. I had lots to ask him, but at the rate he was speaking we ran out of time before I had asked half my questions. I hope to have the chance to speak to him again at the Toronto Film Festival.
It was at this interview that I really noticed the difference between British and American publicists. I hadn’t met the British publicist who was looking after Mr. Morris. She came up to me and pleasantly asked, “Could you remind me of your name?” Whereas the Americans are more likely to stare you down and bark, “Who are you?”
From there I met the crew at the Majestic Beach to interview George Stevens Jr. – son of “Giant” director George Stevens. I had spoken to him briefly the night before on the red carpet, but this was my chance to have a full length chat. We discusses his father, and his meticulous casting process. He was so fussy about casting, he would actually cast the personally cast the animals in his films. We also discussed James Dean, who died when his Porsche was blindsided by another car after leaving the “Giant” set. Stevens Jr. – who was close to Dean – told me how his father had forbidden Dean to drive during the shooting of the film in case he hurt himself in a crash. When Dean told the elder Stevens that he was going to race his Porsche the director made him promise he would ship the car on a flatbed to the race. Dean promised he would, but changed his mind at the last moment. When the news filtered back to the set of “Giant” Stevens Jr. says everyone was “terribly, terribly shaken.”
Since we are leaving tomorrow I have a few odds and ends to tie up – including getting caught up with this on-line diary. While at the press lounge I hear about the Vincent Gallo press conference for “The Brown Bunny.” Nobody that I have spoken to enjoyed this film, and I read today that, so far, it is the lowest rated film ever by a Cannes jury. Anyway, there was a press conference yesterday for the film, which Gallo directed, that sounded pretty entertaining. He told the gathered reporters that he had fired Winona Ryder because “she takes tablets which seem to have a bad impact on her behavior,” and said Kirsten Dunst had “a lunatic nasty woman as an agent.” The press conference sounds more entertaining than the movie…
The site of our next interview probably offers the best view I have seen of the city of Cannes – too bad it’s so windy we can’t take advantage of it. We’re on top of the Grand Hotel (home of the $15 Heineken) with a view of the ocean, the yachts and the beautiful old hotels of the Croisette.
We’re hear to speak to Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickle, who has just directed the documentary “Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin,” and Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine. Schickle is passionate about Chaplin’s films, although he will admit that for most of his life he preferred Abbott and Costello. He tells me he hopes this documentary, and the recently digitally remastered versions of Chaplin’s films will make people “turn off the rock music” and pay attention to these classic films.
He’s also kind of a crusty guy. When a Brazilian crew makes a ruckus next to us he scolds them, loudly telling them to keep it down. He took the words right out of my mouth…
Next was Geraldine Chaplin. This woman has lived a life that I can’t even imagine. I ask her about the challenges and benefits of being the daughter of arguably the world’s most famous man – certainly the most widely recognizable pop culture figure next to Mickey Mouse – and she smiled broadly and answered my question with a question. “What could be wrong with having a father that everybody knew and loved?”
Our next set of interviews is to be the last of the trip, and have been the biggest problem to arrange. Every year it seems that the most difficult interviews to set up are those with Canadians. This year the scheduling of the interviews for the Denys Arcand film “The Barbarian Invasions” has been nothing but trouble. The European publicist wasn’t returning phone calls, and it was frustrating not only for me, but for many of the other Canadians I spoke to. Finally the other day I managed to book interviews with the film’s three leads. Great. Well, not so great. I arrive at the location to find out that one of the interviews was cancelled, one was never scheduled in the first place and the third was delayed. Even though we can gone a fair bit of trouble to arrange the interviews I felt that it just wasn’t worth it. The camera guys wanted to catch some rays before our long trip home tomorrow, and I thought that if they want to make it that hard for us to publicize their film, I just won’t bother. We left.
I’m off to our traditional last night of the festival dinner in just a few minutes. It’s the one night we really treat ourselves and go out and spend some serious money on dinner. Covering the festival was a bit of a grind this year. I saw a t-shirt that read “Life is Short… Cannes Is Long” and it certainly felt long this year. I know that I’m looking forward to going home, but I also know that next year around April I’ll be just as excited about coming back to the long line-ups, the rude security guards and the long hours.