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Thursday, May 16, 2024

At RogerEbert.com, Scott Dummler writes about his visits to the Cannes Film Festival, with mention of Femme Fatale:
I was fortunate enough to meet Roger and Chaz Ebert in 2010 as they interviewed directors to pilot their upcoming public television review program. But as I mentioned to Roger, even though we were meeting for the first time, I felt like he had already been a mentor of mine for many years. I had read his writing in the Chicago Sun-Times and watched his reviews on television all the way back to the Sneak Previews days. His perspective was invaluable. At some point after film school, I picked up a copy of his book Two Weeks in the Midday Sun. I can’t quite recall, but I probably bought it in the early days of eBay. It still has a sticker with the Dewey Decimal number 791.43 and the pocket where a checkout card would go for the San Diego Public Library.

If anyone reading this has not read Two Weeks in the Midday Sun, I strongly encourage you to do so immediately. It’s a fascinating look at the world’s most prestigious film festival, the wide variety of characters that inhabit it each year, and Roger’s unique first-person relationship to all of the above. And unlike my old library copy, the latest version features a wonderful prologue from Martin Scorsese.

In 2011, while the new TV show was in production and May of that year approached, Roger was unfortunately not feeling up to making the journey and fighting the crowds in Cannes. Knowing how much the festival meant to him, I’m sure this was a tough decision but an understandable one. He asked Chaz to represent him at the festival, and Chaz tapped me to travel to Cannes with her to produce some segments for the television show and the Chicago Sun-Times. I was absolutely thrilled.

The show has been off the air for years now, but Chaz and I have continued to cover the festival along with my right-hand cameraman, Bob Long, ever since. And each year before we head to the South of France, I read Roger’s book to remind me of his perspective on the festival and the spirit in which we cover it. In reading the book this year, it struck me that Roger mentions he’s writing it during his 12th visit to Cannes. In counting up the years I’ve attended and a couple that I missed, I realized that this will be my 12th visit to Cannes. Of course, my experiences in Cannes are much different than Roger’s experiences. But by now, I do know my way around the festival well enough. So I thought it would be fun to take a look at what’s different and what’s remained the same at the Cannes Film Festival since Roger wrote his book in 1987.

One of the first things Roger describes is the great difficulty he has with sending dispatches of his writing back to the United States for publication. How quaint! But nearly 40 years later, this is still a problem! Well, perhaps not for the writers in Cannes. Modern-day internet in hotels, cafes, and festival locations is generally stable and speedy enough to send off written reports easily. But for those of us working with video and specifically much larger video files, our hotel internet continues to be a problem even in 2024. Sometimes, just trying to log on to reserve tickets for a film screening is impossible because the internet is overloaded or just plain down for the count. “Does the WiFi work for you?” is a frequent question overheard in the hotel breakfast room each year. I’ve even found myself standing on the street in front of a closed festival building at 3 am holding a laptop over my head in the hope it connects with the WiFi in the press lounge a floor above in order to get our latest report uploaded. In recent years, I’ve abandoned the attempt to upload large video files from our hotel altogether and now only do it in festival buildings during normal operating hours.

The aforementioned Palais is the central hub of the Cannes Film Festival. It was fairly new when Roger wrote about it, just three years old at the time. Its imposing structure was described as the Death Star back then due to its imposing size and design. Certainly, you’ve seen pictures of its red carpet and multiple terraces. Perhaps you’ll recall it in the opening of Brian De Palma’s movie “Femme Fatale” (2002), although I can confidently tell you that the bathrooms of the Palais are not nearly as large as they are depicted in that film. Today, the Palais remains the center of everything. It holds giant market and convention spaces, multiple theaters, lounges, offices, and, of course, the main press conference room where Chaz can be found front and center with a thoughtful question at the ready.

The Palais’ main theater, The Grand Lumiére, remains one of, if not the absolute best, places in the world to watch a film. The French take all aspects of the theatrical experience very seriously. And seeing a world premiere in that room, with 2300 other film lovers, is a magical experience. Perhaps a little less magical if you’re up in the corner of the very last row, but still memorable.

Perhaps more famous than the Palais itself are the famous red-carpeted stairs that lead to the Grand Lumiere Theater. But the steps were not always red. In the first few years of the festival, the carpet was blue. And it wasn’t until the new Palais opened in 1984 that the red carpet welcomed guests every day and evening to the next prestigious screening. Roger mentions that a number of French celebrities would make appearances on the carpet every year without fail whether they had a film to support or not. That remains the case today, but it isn’t limited to just French stars. In fact, a number of international models attend annually and walk the red carpet just for the photo op, without even bothering to climb the steps or attend the film. And I can’t remember the last year when American actress Eva Longoria didn’t appear on the famous red carpet.

Posted by Geoff at 11:42 PM CDT
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