France

The glitzy Cannes festival, through the eyes of a small-town cinema owner

 Despite the rain, this year’s Cannes Film Festival is shaping up to be a magical event. Steven Spielberg, Leonardo Di Caprio, Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes… all are in attendance. Among these world-famous Hollywood stars, a small-town cinema owner from southwestern France tells us about his festival experience.

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Arnaud Vialle and his wife Florence at the“Great Gatsby” party.

 

 

Despite the rain, this year’s Cannes Film Festival is shaping up to be a magical event. Steven Spielberg, Leonardo Di Caprio, Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes… all are in attendance. Among these world-famous Hollywood stars, a small-town cinema owner from southwestern France tells us about his festival experience.

 

The Cannes Film Festival celebrates its 66th birthday this year. Each year for twelve days, international celebrities meet and mingle on the seaside esplanade, trailed by admirers and journalists, causing the small city to temporarily double or even triple in population.

 

This time, festivalgoers have been able to catch glimpses of Leonardo Di Caprio walking the red carpet for the “Great Gatsby” screening, Sofia Coppola and Emma Watson introducing “The Bling Ring” in glamorous gowns, and one-hit-wonders from reality shows mingling at fancy parties. But at the same time, movie industry professionals have been networking behind the scenes, trying to promote their lesser-known films.

 

Because, beyond the glitter and media buzz, the Cannes Festival is above all an opportunity for film professionals to network, whether they are Hollywood producers, rising actors, young directors, or, as is the case for our Observer, owners of small provincial cinemas.

“There aren’t only stars in Cannes - there are also people who work tremendously hard behind the scenes and aren’t necessarily recognized for it”

Arnaud Vialle is the owner of a cinema in Sarlat, a small city of 10,000 people in the heart of Périgord, in southwestern France. He has been attending the Cannes Film Festival annually for more than 16 years.

 

The Cannes Film Festival is the ideal occasion to network, meet distributors, and of course see films. I have seen nine already, including “Young and Pretty” by director François Ozon, which I really liked.

 

For 12 days, we eat, drink, and breathe cinema. Distributors present their films that will come out during the year. It allows us, as cinema owners, to prepare our film calendar for the coming year. As soon as I get home, I review the notes I took on all the movies I saw and begin to brainstorm possible themes or events that I could organize in partnership with organisations. In rural areas, you really have to target people with particular types of movies or events that might interest them to get them to come out to the theatre.

 

Between the film screenings and the meetings with distributors, the days at Cannes are jam-packed. They start at 8:30 am and often go late into the night, depending on fatigue and opportunities to go to parties. But we’re not here for a relaxing vacation!

 

“Cinema owners swap tips and passes with one another”

 

If I had one complaint, it would be the difficulty of getting into screenings. It’s hard to get passes. We have badges with which to reserve seats, but there’s a specific window of time in which to reserve, so you have to be careful not to miss it. The hardest seats to get are those for the movies in the official competition. I don’t think it’s this difficult for everyone – some people have all-access passes. But there aren’t only stars in Cannes, there are also people who work tremendously behind the scenes and aren’t necessarily recognized for it.

 

So, between cinema owners, we swap tips and passes with one another. There’s a sort of initiation process for newcomers. We tell where they should go, which queues to select and which to avoid so that they can have a good festival experience. Because if you just show up at Cannes without understanding the intricacy of how it works, you could lose two days trying to learn the ropes. It’s the jungle, it’s totally nuts!

 

Getting into the parties is also very hard. It’s pretty rare to get one invitation per person. So we show up with four people but three tickets, or sometimes even six with only one ticket, and we try to talk our way in. Once inside, we’re usually awed. We rarely mingle with celebrities, who tend to stay at their VIP tables, flanked by their bodyguards. We don’t try to go talk to them and ask them for an autograph or a picture, unlike some groupies that have no qualms about it. We try to be respectful. The world of cinema is very closed and highly codified.

 

But there are still some pretty exceptional moments. On Wednesday, at the “Great Gatsby” party, we ended up dancing with Baz Luhrmann, the producer. We also were able to speak a bit with [French actor] Daniel Auteuil, who was very friendly.

 

Florence Vialle, Arnaud’s wife, poses with the French actor Daniel Auteuil during the “Great Gatsby” party.

 

My best memory, though, is from the Marie-Antoinette party in 2006 with Francis Ford Coppola and Tim Burton. I ended up in a conversation with them, totally by accident. It was magical.

 

 

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist François-Damien Bourgery.