Like a Virgin: Losing your Cannes Virginity, By Kate Shenton

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Filmmaker Kate Shenton writes on the LSFF Projections blog about her first Cannes experience, and we felt she has a lot of honesty lost in some of the more experienced and official Cannes reports we’ve read. Kate has screened shorts at LSFF for a number of years, and at the last Festival we previewed her debut feature documentary “On Tender Hooks” about the art of human suspension. Kate was in Cannes looking for distribution for her film, following a successful crowdfunding campaign to get there. Here’s her report:

Kate Shenton (above left) in Cannes Film Festival mode!

Losing your Cannes virginity on your first visit to the Film Festival is, in many ways, exactly the same as losing your actual virginity! You start out lost and confused, have no idea what goes where and what to do, you’re not sure whether you like it or not, but by the end of the experience you’re already planning your next attempt!

Day 1: Arrive in Cannes. Grab a taxi with a group of people I meet at the bus stop (which had the longest queue ever!). Give the taxi driver the address of where I was staying. He couldn’t find it! I feel bad that the meter was running for the poor people who were sharing the taxi with me, so I said for him to leave me on the road the villa was meant to be on and I will find it. Then I found out that I was not on the right road. I also found that Orange didn’t get signal up in the hills. After wandering around for an hour with my two big suitcases, I finally got helped by a lovely French gardener who didn’t speak a word of English. He spent an hour driving me around until we finally found the place. What a little angel! The villa was amazing. It really was the lap of luxury! There were more toilets than there were bedrooms, a swimming pool and the most amazing view of all of Cannes. The down side was that we had to get Taxis in and out of Cannes, most of which got lost trying to find the place. One time a taxi drive tried to charge us 70 euros until he discovered that two of our party could speak fluent French. It quickly went down to 30 euro. That night we all cooked a meal and made the most of the alcohol which had been left by the owner (If you don’t lock it up then it’s a free for all!)

Day 2: There was only one small job I had forgotten to do in London. I needed to get labels printed so that I could pop them on flyers for my film, for the date and the time of the screening. I had brought the labels and just needed a printer.  A printer in Cannes: How hard could one be to find? Very hard! After been asked to meet all the interns (there where about 10 of them) at the international village, I ended up waiting for them for about three hours. I tried to call someone but my Orange phone decided it didn’t want to work in France at all. I was once again lost in Cannes, with a phone that did not work and it was raining. After sitting at a coffee van for a while, mildly panicking about what to do, I get chatting to a man who has brought a coffee. I tell him about my film and he asked who is representing. “Zach? Zachary Millar! Why he one of my friends! I have invested in his film. I will take you to his office.” We were then joined by two other filmmakers, one of whom was a lady with blue hair who I want to be like when I am older. She has made a documentary about the underground burlesque scene. We went over to the Majestic Hotel (I pour coffee all down myself while trying to hold it and 1500 flyers at the same time!) and I finally found my group of people. It took me and 5 interns to find a printer for the labels. If you don’t know where thing are in Cannes it takes forever to find even the most basic things. Flyers all done, we went out to party that night. I tried breaking into a party but was kicked out by the security just before we got in. One of my group tried to go around the back of the venue but got chased by security dogs! Cannes is very strict with their parties. I then meet a very dirty old man who pressed himself against me in a crowded lift and invited me to visit him in his apartment in Berlin. I politely declined! After that we went to the JW Marriot hotel and got into Sofia Coppola’s after-film screening party. I drank about 16 glasses of pink champagne and had a rather wonderful night! 

Day 3. Nothing exciting to report other than I managed to spend most of the day getting lost, losing people, and generally feeling a bit confused and overwhelmed. I was at one point sitting 3ft away from Steven Spielberg! I also sat in hotel bar in the evening when I saw one of a party pay £120 euro for a round of 4 drinks!

Day 4: I went around the film market ‘cold calling’ at all the booths to see which distribution companies would give me a meeting to talk about my film. The first company I spoke to was fantastic and definitely a contender to buy the film (if they watch it and like it); it’s the same company that distributed A Serbian Film and they were looking for films that had a strong edge to them. I then went around and spoke to all kind of companies; I didn’t know who did what so I decided to speak to them all. There was a mixture of responses:  â€œIt sounds fantastic, but it is too extreme for us to market”, “you really had two hooks in your back, are you crazy”, “is it a 3D fantasy film?”… 

After a hard day, I started to drink some free cocktails that that the stalls were offering in the evening. I then went to a South African party where I ate lots of food and drank lot of free wine and champagne. I saw the same dirty old man from the lift groping the bum of a young lady. She seemed a more willing victim than I was.  Later in the evening everything got to me and I had a full scale panic attack. I’ve had them before but never to this level. All the people, bright lights and just the general madness got to me and I ended up curled up in a corner in a back room too scared to leave. I was calmed down by one of the women hosting the party who later told me that every year she sees at least one person have a panic attack or a breakdown in Cannes. “It’s a high pressured, crazy environment…. and at its heart it’s a horrible place.”

Day 5: Rain! There was so much rain! I went into Cannes in a small summer dress and flip flops thinking that it would go away in an hour. It did not; it rained ALL DAY AND NIGHT! My flips flops had no grip on them, so once again I fell over and split coffee all down myself. I went around the market with my representative Zach. We had three fantastic meeting with strong companies that seemed VERY interested in my film. Now all we have to do is wait to see what they think when they watch it. Fingers crossed! I also got very excited that I found a place that sold paninis for under 5 euros. Sadly the queuing took 30 minutes. Cheap food is rare during the festival. A Caesar salad can easily be sold for 30 euros. Even McDonalds had raised there prices. I decided to have a quiet early night in. But this plan changed when I spent half the night chatting to the lovely Natalie about art, music, the world and everything! When I decided at 3 in the morning to go to bed, one of the people at the villa plonked some pink champagne on the table and said “I’m not travelling home with it, do you want a glass?” He ended up being the most business, money minded twat I’ve ever met. He only came to Cannes for the parties and to seduce Russian models, but i did enjoy the champagne though…

Day 6: My screening! All the interns went flyering for the screening and I spent the morning sitting nervously in the free expresso bar in the main Cannes building. The screening went very well. We had a good turn out and the audience response was fantastic. Market screenings are very brutal. People stay in for as long as they feel they need to (sometimes just a few minutes if they don’t like the film) but all our audience stayed until the end and there was a big around of applause at the finish. A festival programmer came up to me and invited it to screen in his festival. In the evening we had a villa party to celebrate the screening. We had a fantastic turn out. Good food and lots of booze. There was a Bollywood dancing flash mob and I was given a gift of expensive tea from the delegation from China because of my “warm energy and energetic personality”.  Zach, you really know how to throw a fucking good party.

Day 7: Had a lie in. I’d only had 14 hours sleep until this point. I really need a lie in! Had a random man buy me a drink at the Majestic Hotel after I ordered a glass of tap water at the bar. He was rich and interested in films, but after he got a little too friendly I made the excuse of “my stomach has gone a bit funny, I’ll be back in a minute.” I never returned. The drink cost him 30 euros. I then met the wonderful model Rebecca Ayoko, who was one of the first black models to become the muse of YSL. She has just written a book about her life called ‘When the Stars Became Black’ and Zach has optioned it to be turned into a film. She is a very inspiring person and I loved chatting with her. We had quieter day, as I think we all needed a little down time.

Day 8: Met with a French film festival who are interested in screening On Tender Hooks. I found out from them that they had heard of the film from another film festival that I had submitted to who have also decided to screen it (which was rather nice news to hear on the grapevine).  We went to V.I.P which was the poshest, most crazy club I have ever been to. There was a rope performance, fire breathers and the bottles of champagne started at 250 euros. If people ordered large amounts of it there was an announcement and it would have massive sparklers attached to  it! I have never seen so much money spent on alcohol in my life. I stuck to a couple of tequila shots as they were the only thing I could just about afford. I went up to a fire performer and put my hand out, and she rubbed her fire stick all over my arms, and then licked and kissed my hand. Her lipstick is the strongest lipstick in the world; after 4 showers it has still hasn’t come off!

Day 9: Zombie party! I help organise the zombie party. I made lot of fake blood, brought lots of booze and wear nothing more than a bikini and covered myself in blood. Sadly the zombie party wasn’t very busy. There were a lot of parties going on that night and the villa is a little out the way. Also I’m not sure that people are over keen on the idea of getting covered in blood in Cannes; however I had one of my fave nights here. Had a wonderful conversation with the lovely Melissa, then covered some people in fake blood and drank a lot of cheap wine! At 3 in the morning I had a swim in the pool with a bottle of bubbly and a rather nice young chap. It was a perfect ending to a mad 9 days. 

Day 10. Time to go home. I said farewell to my 24 hour romance. Such a wonderful guy; shame about the girlfriend! I nearly missed my flight by a few minutes. Even on the plane back people were still networking, handing out business cards, shaking hands, “Tom, why didn’t you return my call, I’ve been trying to meet with you all festival!” I decided to close my eyes and pretend to be asleep. There’s  only so much networking I can do

So that’s it, the loss of my Cannes virginity. Of course, there are so many things I haven’t mentioned as it really was a mad 10 days. Cannes is its own crazy surreal world. I feel very lucky to have gone with people who have been there for so many years; if I had gone on my own I would’ve been wandering around lost and confused. Thanks to everyone who I met. You have all been wonderful! Now I need to catch up on some sleep and finally watch the last two episodes of Doctor Who!