Monday 4 June 2012

Cannes Film Festival: A Handbook - Part 1

Do you get that nagging feeling every year when following the coverage of the Cannes Film Festival, made even worse since the advent of Twitter, that, as a film fan, you should be part of it? I certainly did, a feeling made even worse as I did attend the festival from 1992 to 1998 when I lived nearby, as a teenager then a student, and dreamed of going back every since. After all this time however, I finally made the plunge and went back this year. It was an amazing, at times infuriating, but incredibly rewarding and exciting experience, one that every film fan should experience it at least once in their life.

It is also VERY different from any other film festivals in the world, so I just thought I would share some tips and advice if you are considering it for next year, so that you know what you are getting yourself into! This handbook is meant for first timers and casual bloggers/film fans in particular. Part one below is about the logistics of attending the festival, and part two will be about what really matters, the films!

Getting there:

The nearest airport to Cannes is Nice, from where you can catch a coach. Flying will be your more likely way of getting there but be warned, seats get booked up really early so book as early as you can. Another option from London is the Eurostar to Paris which takes just over 2 hours, connecting to a fast train to Cannes, which takes about 5 hours. It is a long day of travelling altogether but is pleasant enough and is likely to be cheaper than flying. The only issue with both options however is that you will have to book before knowing if your accreditation request has been successful. I will cover this in the "Getting accredited" section but it is a big of a gamble. You are likely to hear back by February/March, by which time prices will have gone up a fair bit if you leave it that late to book, so a bit of a catch 22 scenario.


Probably the biggest obstacle to the casual festival goer however is the price of the accommodation. Cannes is a rather sedate seaside town the rest of the year, which has nowhere near enough capacity to accommodate all of those coming down for the festival. It is the second most covered event in the world after the Olympics with about 4000 accredited journalists attending, and a lot more members of the industry. And there is a massive film market alongside the actual festival, meaning hotel rooms are at a premium. Most hotel rooms are blocked booked by the city to begin with. And all hotels which offer rooms on direct sale crank up the rates to a ridiculous level, plus they usually impose a 10 days, or even 14 days minimum stay, and full and non-refundable payment at the time of booking, which again, will be an issue as you will have to book well in advance, without knowing if your accreditation will be successful. It is not unusual for some pokey 2 star hotel to charge well over 300 euros a night so it will be a case of damage limitation.

So what to do? Renting a flat is an option we did not explore at the time but most certainly will for next year. Obviously expect rates to be high, and I have heard horror stories of ridiculously high deposit being required upfront. But I have been given some names of agencies through a local contact, I shall look into this and  update this post once I know more, as I am already planning my visit for next year. And so should you!

Being my first visit after a while and unwilling to spend a fortune without knowing what to expect, we decided to stay in Nice instead. It was not ideal for many reasons but was so much cheaper, so for a first visit it is worth considering. Not that Nice is that cheap, and it certainly needs to be booked early too, but hotels there will not have the same draconian booking conditions as Cannes hotels do.

There are some fast trains from Nice to Cannes that take about 30 minutes, and non fast ones which take 50 minutes, both options cost the same, 6 euros one way. The Cannes train station is a mere 5 minutes walk from the Grand Palais. Trains are not that frequent however, being twice hourly for the fast ones, so you need to time that well. While they start early enough to catch the 830am screenings, the last one back is at 2315 on week ends, and at 2115 week days! Which makes most evening screenings out of your reach, not to mention parties. And make sure you do not miss the last train, a taxi from Cannes to Nice is 100 euros! Also, bear in mind that if you want to catch a 830am screening, even if you already have a ticket, the need to queue and be there an hour prior to the screening means a 5am wake up call!

Other have suggested staying in Antibes but I cannot really see the advantage of it. It is closer (a mere 10 minutes on the fast trains) but you are still at the mercy of the early trains back, and there is not much to do in there with few restaurants and bars, whereas at least Nice is a livelier place to spend your evenings at. Other options include Mandelieu La Napoule, which is closer to Cannes than Antibes, and which offer a whole range of budget hotels. But there really is very little to do there, and there are buses to Cannes every thirty minutes only, with a taxi to/from Cannes costing you a good 30 euros at night.

Ironically, while we were originally booked for 8 nights in a hotel in Nice, we realised a mere four days before going that several hotels in Cannes had some last minute deals on offer, trying to unload the rooms they had not sold. And the rates were cheaper as you got closer to the end of the festival. So we managed to book a lovely, modern and centrally 4 star hotel for our last 3 nights for 130 euros a night, a steal compared to the 500 euros a night it normally costs for the festival.

So that it is it for the logistics. On part 2 I shall write about the films and how to watch them!

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