Cannes Film Festival 2023: Wrap up
Adventures in the Festival Trade
As I hinted at in my newsletter, I have plans of going on a trip. Well, it was a tremendous trip. I was selected as part of Unifrance’s Critics Lab for Cannes Film Festival. It allowed me to attend the festival—free of charge—with the proviso that us critics put special emphasis on French cinema by watching fresh, contemporary voices and doing video reviews for them (I’ve never done a video review, so it was a new challenge!!).
For some time, I’ve heard how difficult Cannes can be to cover: There are several badge levels that provide varying amounts of access (though that didn’t loom as large this year as it did in years past); ticket selection requires using the online system, which is glitchy—if you miss out on tickets you can still pick them up if someone drops theirs, but that requires a lot of refreshing your phone throughout the day—you can also rush line it. With most festivals, I have my assignments lined up well ahead of time. I didn’t have that with Cannes. I barely knew what movies I was going to see! The festival was made even more difficult by the unseasonable rain, learning the festival’s physical layout, and navigating what is a daily onslaught of people trying to get at celebrities and people pretending they could be celebrities, even if only for a day.
You know what did work out during Cannes? The films. As part of this iteration, I watched 20 films, including out of competition, in competition, un certain regard, director’s fortnight, critics week, and acid. I also watched a television series. The only components I didn’t get to do were shorts and restorations (two disappointments on my part). In that time, I did video reviews of six French films for Unifrance; I spoke with RogerEbert about three other films; I reviewed a film for OkayAfrica (a new byline) and did an interview for them while reviewing four films for The Playlist. So, for having no assignments coming into the festival, I feel like I maximized my time at Cannes.
The feeling while there was mixed: There was certainly a high-level of excitement propelled by the red carpet, the buzzy titles, the sense that this time, everything was finally back to “normal.” But a fair bit of anxieties also crept in: With the WGA strike raging, and DGA and SAG-AFRTA hinting that they might follow in the same footsteps, there was a fair bit of unknowability. While film deals were being struck at the market, the end product was just as quickly being put on hold. Also, there was a sense of worry: How can international film festivals, regional festival, and specialty festivals get their films the necessary amount of coverage? Even at Cannes, it’s not a guarantee every film will be reviewed enough: Cutbacks at publications have rendered the prospects of placing coverage to smaller, less heralded voices—but no less imperative—far more difficult if it’s not a big-out-competition title or even a competition title. What happens when film coverage barely extends beyond the ever-expanding, seemingly infinite awards bubble? It’s a conversation I heard very often at the festival, and one that I couldn’t shake even as the films playing demanded total attention.