My great big Cannes adventure

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South African filmmaker Samantha Gray made her first ever trip to the Cannes Film Festival in May. Here she writes about the experience.

I attended Cannes because a short film I wrote and directed, But We Slept, won Best South African Short Film at the 2012 Cape Winelands Film Festival. This awarded me a place among a team of delegates – brilliant, seasoned business people focused on the growth of the South African film industry. I went into battle armed with a lipstick.

The division of festival and market at Cannes is a palpable one. I saw far too much of the market (an endless labyrinth of movie posters) and not enough films.

Cannes is a dichotomous blend of worker bees and a few, rare queens. There is a measured hierarchy in every sense, as is evident in any industry. More so, it requires tenacity and buckets of hope. Even acquiring a ticket to a screening at Cannes is a hopeful endeavour.

The only premiere I attended, because a dear soul took pity on my unworn designer gown (yes I walked the red carpet, heels sinking into the sludge), was the winner of the Jury Prize, The Angels Share directed by Ken Loach. The context of the film neatly boxed Cannes for me as everyone’s dreams bear the same markings after all. Loach sources his actors from real life and flips their mundane, ordinary budget-light lives to stardom. In retrospect I wondered if their little flames would go out in the most conventional draft?

Amidst a landscape of hustlers, schemers and dreamers, the South African Pavilion – home to the 130-something South Africans attending Cannes – was a haven from the unusually wet weather. The delegates, ranging from actors to directors, producers, business tycoons, distributors and festival curators, represented South Africa well on the whole, with the local daily Cannes press praising our industry and its filmmakers. It was avidly expressed that our creative (as well as our service) industry has advanced magnificently to further encourage international economy.

The festival veterans pioneered a receptive path for all relatively new and unseasoned South African Cannes attendees and filmmakers, of which there were a few. Chatting in “the haven’ to fellow industry peers, there was the definite warmth of international engagement. I was grateful for the even road ahead.

My very first meeting was with internationally renowned British producer, Samm Haillay. He kindly advised me to be gentle with Cannes, because the festival did not respond well to business bombing. And he was right; it seemed rather evident that Cannes is a forum to build relationships for the future of business.

He also shared a gem of advice: “Don’t shoot your budget’. The point here is twofold: don’t be limited by your budget and don’t let your budget dictate to you as a creative. We are so easily (and sometimes out of necessity) swayed by tax incentives, rebates and other provocations that tend to manipulate our dreams. While it is universally agreed that business needs to make financial sense, as creatives we still need to cling to the earnest passion that defines us.

In many ways, Haillay was saying: “Don’t sell out kid. The game is tough, but worth it.’

By Samantha Gray

Screen Africa magazine – July 2012

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