Welcome to this very non-professional article about how I went to the Cannes Festival and how you can do that, too! You can expect all the best tips and tricks on what not to do, how it all works and why you should even bother going.
You know that feeling when you’re trying to travel on a budget, so you make stupid decisions while planning and then the trip starts and you suffer? That was our Cannes experience.
But let’s start with some context.
A little background (but only a little)
In 2018, Le Festival de Cannes introduced the 3 Days in Cannes (3DIC) program that grants three-day (surprise!) free festival accreditation for film lovers aged 18-28. With the pass, you can access the Official Selection screenings. To apply, you just need to write a one-page motivation letter about your passion for cinema. Is it hard to get accepted? No idea. I got in, everyone I know got in, but I have heard stories about people who weren’t granted the accreditation. I guess there is no secret formula, just apply and hope for the best.
There are two slots to attend: the first three days of the festival or the final three. Each session has its advantages and disadvantages. During the first slot, you’re one of the very first people in the world to watch the movie, there are no reviews, no expectations, you just go in blind. You can also meet more famous people as they start coming to the city. During the second slot, the festival offers a 2-day program with the biggest hits of this year’s Cannes exclusively for 3DIC people at the Les Arcades cinema. It’s also less busy since the film markets are closed. Most people say the second session is better and thus there are more applications for that one. We went to the first three days simply because that’s when we had time. (When I write us, I mean my friend Ola and I. I find repeatedly writing “my friend” annoying, so dear readers, meet Ola – you’ll see pictures of her later).
The initial confusion
We arrived in Cannes a day before the start of the festival. It was perfect sunny weather, just as you’d imagine on the Côte d’Azur. After a very sweaty journey from the Nice airport to Cannes, we finally reached the festival area to get our accreditations. First impression? It all looks much less fancy than expected. Sure, you can see the famous Cannes stairs but you don’t actually realize it’s the stairs, because all of the stairs look huge and are covered in red carpets. There are a lot of people standing in lines and looking lost a lot of hostesses who are supposed to help you but can’t really speak English, and a general atmosphere of chaos.
The second line we stood in turned out to be the right one, so we quickly registered in a dodgy-looking basement and got our accreditations along with tote bags which were not as cool as the backpacks people with other accreditations got. Still, it said Cannes, had the Palme d’Or logo on it and made us feel important. We were a part of the festival now. The lowest in the hierarchy but still – part of the festival.
With our accreditations hanging proudly around our necks, we made our way to the hotel. As we applied for Cannes fairly late, most affordable hotels or Airbnbs were already booked. After a very long search, we found a strange hotel complex a 30-minute walk outside of Cannes on a French website called pierreetvacances.com. The walk was pretty nice with a beautiful panoramic view of the bay, but the last part was super steep resulting in sweat and sore calves. (Would love to show you the view but I don’t have any pictures of that, so have one of the tennis courts instead!)
The cheapest apartment in the hotel was for seven people, so we somehow managed to find 5 others on Facebook and booked the place together (safety first, right?). Thankfully, they all turned out to be real people. And nice, although we didn’t bond too much. Maybe because we got there first and took the biggest room and they secretly hated us for that? The point being, look for accommodation early, because things get booked quickly. But if you are late anyway, trust me that there are other people in your situation, and it’s time to make some friends!
Cold beginnings and something about the lines
To get to any screening, you need to wait in lines. Each venue has a different system, so the best solution is to just ask security in which line you should stand with your accreditation. Ask more than one person. Seriously. Seeing people who spent 2 hours in line but weren’t let inside because they were in the wrong one was heartbreaking. Don’t be those people. Ask.
Anyway, for Grand Theatre Lumiere (GTL), which is the biggest venue, there’s one line for people with invitations who have numbered seats and supposedly don’t have to stand in line but actually still do (to feel the Cannes pain I guess?), one line for the press, and what I call “the peasant line” for everybody else. It’s actually called “last minute”, which is pretty funny because to see a movie you need to wait in it forever.
Every day around 8.30-9.30AM, depending on how long the movie is, there’s a screening of a movie that premiered at Palais de Festival the night before. A fun thing about morning GTL screenings is that you can take pictures on the red carpet. A few years ago, Cannes introduced a strict no pictures rule, but in the morning security pretends not to see the cameras or phones in people’s hands. (They stop pretending if you’re that one blogger girl who poses for 30 minutes – yeah, after that time they asked her to stop.)
Even though the first day of the festival greeted us with rain (goodbye dreamy Cannes weather), we still decided to start queueing for the morning screening around 8 AM. And we were third in line. Why were there no people in the line? First, the movie premiered in France the same day. Second, it didn’t get the best reviews. Third, it was raining. Fourth, it was the first screening of the first full day of the festival. Fifth and most importantly, it was 8 AM… Yeah, if you want to see the first screening at the GTL, there’s a very high chance you’re going to get in no matter how late you come because people are too tired to do it.
We watched The Dead Don’t Die as our first Cannes movie and as our first GTL movie. This venue is huge. Think big. Yes, it’s bigger than that. 2309 seats. And the screen! Enormous. I’m still amazed. So, yeah, because of that, I can’t really say if the movie was good or bad. The whole experience was so exciting that I’d probably be speechless if we had seen 50 Shades of Grey.
Feeling important (for once)
As I said, you can probably see any morning screening at GTL, so don’t request invitations for those screenings, it’s a waste. What do you mean by requesting an invitation, you ask? Well, each person attending the Festival de Cannes can request an invitation for a gala screening – basically a very fancy premiere – but no one is guaranteed to get it. The more important you are, the more invitations you can get. With 3DIC accreditation you’re nobody, so apply wisely. Especially since that once you get an invitation, your chances of getting a second one are slim to none. We got our invitations on the first day, only 6 hours before the screening, for a movie we knew nothing about. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get the invitation that belonged to someone very important who decided not to show up, so you end up with pretty sweet seats. It wasn’t the case for us, but I’ve heard stories of people with 3DIC accreditations sitting next to the biggest names in the film industry.
There’s also another way to get an invitation. Standing around the Palais de Festival are a number of people in suits or fancy dresses holding cards with the names of the movies premiering that evening. Those are people who did not get an invitation (sometimes they don’t even have accreditation), and are trying to find someone willing to give away theirs. It’s actually a win-win situation: if you get an invitation for a premiere and you don’t use it, you will most likely not get another one. Many people who have different evening plans give their invitations away. We didn’t try that since we had no plans besides watching as many movies as possible, and once we found out about this, we had already been to our gala screening. So I can’t say how effective it is, but since people have been doing it for ages, it must work.
It’s important to note that while planning your daily schedule. You should leave at least 2-hour breaks in between the movies. This is not only because you need to queue, but also because you never know what’s going to happen during the screening. Before our gala screening (which we had invitations for), we went to watch another film with a 30-minute break in between the two. But it turned out that this movie was also a premiere, so the makers of the film gave a long talk, and the movie started 15 minutes later than it was supposed to. That meant we had to leave early to make it for our next screening. Still waiting for the film to get a VOD release to finally know how it ended…
Then we had the premiere. The premiere. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty exciting. The photographers were waiting, the stars were slowly arriving (not that I knew anyone) and then we could go up the red carpet ourselves. We had already done it in the morning, but this felt way more magical. Even though you don’t actually walk on the carpet, you just walk up the stairs – it felt magical. It felt special. Like all eyes are on you even though rationally you know nobody is looking. Ah, what a moment. We were escorted to our seats, waited for all the important people to go inside, and then watched.
It was only the first day, but we were already dead. We just wanted to go home as fast as possible after the movie ended, and we sneaked out as soon as the credits started rolling. While running down the stairs, we almost bumped into the jury members as they were leaving to “jury room”. Another magical moment that felt like it happened in slow motion. It’s very strange to see people you just watched on the screen in real life, especially after a day full of rain, movies and endlessly waiting in line.
The fashion issue
When I first discovered I would be going to Cannes, the first thing I thought about was the outfits. I imagined that no matter what time it was, everybody looked beautifully polished and ready for the big premiere. So I spent a few hours trying to find outfits that would work for both cold mornings, hot afternoons, air-conditioned rooms, and that looked at both kinds of casual and kind of fancy. I found them all in my mom’s closet, not a surprise. And while I was very happy with my choices, the truth is I over thought it all too much.
You don’t have to look fancy, really. Most of the press people are walking around in jeans and hoodies. We passed by Luca Guadagnino wearing black jeans and a hoodie, and later saw him again presenting his newest movie in the exact same outfit standing next to Juliane Moore wearing a sequinned dress (let’s not look at that as gender role issue but as an example that you can wear whatever you feel comfortable in, alright?). Of course, there are some people who dress like it’s their wedding day just to walk the red carpet and take pictures, but the majority take it easy.
The only time you need to pay attention to how you look is when attending an evening premiere at GTL. And I mean it: they look at your shoes, they look at your bags – we saw some people not getting in because they had Cannes backpacks – so be presentable. Since our hotel was quite far away and we never knew what’s going to happen later in the day, we had clutches inside out tote bags, so that we later could put the tote bags inside our clutches. Sure, they could barely close, but as long as you play it cool nobody notices. Then we had semi-fancy shoes and clothing (as you can see in the picture). We only made it to one GTL premiere but I’m pretty sure those outfits would have worked for any of them. So relax, don’t overdo it and try to be comfortable, because the Cannes festival is one wild ride.
The Cannes life
By the second day, we realized Cannes is mostly about waiting in line. Queuing. Lining up. All the synonyms. The queue entertainment program consists of reading books or one of the free magazines you can find lying around the city, checking your emails (but for not too long because you need your phone battery to last many more hours), talking to strangers, overhearing strangers talk or staring dully into the void and rethinking all your life decisions.
Every time we waited in a line for about 2 hours, we got in. We tried queuing only 30 minutes before the movie a few times, and we only succeeded once. So yeah, it’s doable to watch 5 movies a day but with a 3DIC badge, you’d have to be very lucky. We managed to average 4 movies a day – except for day two when we decided to sleep through the morning screening.
Speaking of badges, by day two you really start to hate everyone with a press badge. That moment when you just spent two hours of your life queueing and those reporters or critics storm inside 15 minutes before the movie starts, making your heart beat faster and ask yourself whether they’re taking your seat? Priceless every single time. The worst thing about this is you know they’re actually here to work while you’re just having fun and filling in the empty seats. Still, it hurts. (Will this article get me a press badge? Please?)
Day two, we didn’t get up early enough to go to the morning screening we had planned and ended up watching A White White Day instead. We chose it from all the available options because it had three screenings that day, so we had a higher chance of getting in. This was the screening when my body gave up and I couldn’t stop myself from dozing off a bit (but I can tell you about all the important plot points, so I guess I didn’t miss that much?) It was just a very slow, very white, beautifully shot Scandinavian movie about revenge. Perfect for a nap, right? And to be clear, I condemn sleeping through the movies, but this is an honest article about the Festival de Cannes experience, and I don’t think it’s possible to go through it without a short sleeping session at an unfortunate time. Writing this, I’m quite amazed that it was only day two, and already we missed one-morning screening to sleep longer and then napped through another one. I guess film festivals can be as extreme as marathons. So prepare (although I still haven’t figured out how to).
The last screening of the day was And Then We Danced – one of the very few movies I knew about before coming to Cannes and also the movie we were supposed to see in the morning instead of sleeping in. It’s set in Georgia and revolves around dance and self-discovery, but mostly it’s a beautiful ode to a homeland that’s not perfect but still holds a special place in your heart. It’s a great movie, my favorite of everything I saw during the festival. Even though it wasn’t the first screening of the movie, the crew was there, and when people started clapping after the movie finished you could see that the filmmakers didn’t expect it. They were so touched, some even crying a little, and everybody in the audience was amazed so we kept clapping and clapping and clapping until our hands felt numb. Another magical moment.
I write a lot about magical moments that don’t seem magical at all. Seeing some guy and girl walking next to you, clapping for 10 minutes straight, whatever right? But once you experience it, you get it. Cannes is the celebration of cinema, in moments like that you can truly feel it everywhere.
The last misses
We started our last day in Cannes by ambitiously waking up early. For the past days, we had established a routine of getting ready in a hurry and then eating breakfast while waiting in line, another great form of queue entertainment. Our driver played Antis Remix of La Madrague by Brigitte Bardot, and suddenly it felt like a perfect summer vacation day in France. But it isn’t. It’s hard work. The last day we watched 4 movies again, finally feeling like pros knowing where the best Carrefour is and which venue is which. However…
The last day was full of problems. We had to check out of our hotel in the morning, so we took all our luggage with us. And that’s how the luggage issue started. There are luggage lockers at the festival premises and at the train station, but they all close before midnight and open after 8 AM. And our flight was departing at 9 AM. From Nice. We couldn’t leave our luggage at the hotel because it was a weird place, I won’t go into details but we just had trust issues. So we walked around all the hotels and bars trying our best to be charming and after one very stressful hour – we found a place that would let us leave them there for the day. I really hope I will never have to go through this again.
The second issue to mention: if you think that not booking your last night at a hotel because you have an early flight in the morning is a good idea – it’s not. If you think you can spend the last night at a party – don’t. They all stop at around 3 AM and then move on to private villas (and we weren’t that desperate or lucky, you name it). You also can’t get to Nice by public transportation during the night… So yeah, we spent our last night in Cannes wandering around the city, going from bar to bar, ordering the cheapest drinks. There was even a tear gas accident, but that’s another story. The kind of story you will never tell your parents because you did literally everything they’ve always told you not to. So, I won’t set a bad example, and I’ll just tell you to book a room for your last night or at least spend it at the airport. All I’ll say is this is what we looked like when we finally got to the airport in the morning:
Cannes offers way more than what we experienced. It’s really up to you what you’re going to do with your time there. But it sure does feel (yes, this word is coming up again) magical. So would I go to Cannes again to stand in a line and then sit in the dark for 3 days straight?
Yeah, I already applied for this year’s edition of 3DIC. You can still do it here!
See you there! Let’s find shady accommodation together!
By Katarzyna Romatowska
*All the pictures were taken by Katarzyna unless stated otherwise.
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