Art and Experience: The Cannes International Film Festival is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, but premiering, screening, and awarding the best feature films isn’t all that Cannes has to offer. Cannes Short Film Corner is an event that allows the creators of short films an opportunity to show their projects to a massive audience, pitch future projects, and hopefully make many important connections as well. However, the festivities can seem quite overwhelming, but Brooklyn-based filmmaker Lit Kilpatrick is here to walk you through Cannes and fill you in on how to make the most out of your visit. Lit describes all of the basics for those who aren’t familiar with the short film corner.
Cannes is one of the most important industry events in the world, a place of much more than photo-op red carpet screenings, where an enormous international film market attracts filmmakers, buyers, distributors, agents, producers, and press en masse to make deals and exchange the latest information on where the industry and consumer market are going.
But the general public cannot attend screenings or enter the marketplace inside the Palais (pronounced ‘pal-ay’) — the center of the festival universe — without official invitations and badges that are created in advance. So, how can a new filmmaker, who is eager to witness and take part in the business of filmmaking, but with little experience and few contacts to draw upon get inside? The Cannes Short Film Corner is one accessible opportunity to dive in and become fully immersed.
I attended last year with a short film that I wrote and directed, An Intimacy, which was accepted into the Cannes Short Film Corner and screened there out of competition. My producer, Sara Jewell (who is also the story originator and lead actress,) paid the €95 ($125) submission fee, and told me about 6 weeks before the festival began that our film had been accepted. We would receive one invitation and badge each as the producer and director.
As an early career filmmaker, I was excited about the opportunity to attend, but a bit concerned about the cost of travel. I did what prudent research I could before deciding to bite the bullet and begin making travel arrangements, but I couldn’t quite find enough information to answer the basic question: “Is the cost of submitting to and attending the Cannes Short Film Corner worth it?”
My answer in a nutshell: yes, it is well worth it. And if you are a new filmmaker making short films you should be aware of this opportunity. But I would also add two very significant caveats: the Cannes Short Film Corner is worth it only if you attend, and only if you have prepared ahead of time to engage in the business of networking and promotion while you are there.
I want to tell you what I wish I knew before I went, so you can attend and benefit from the experience as much as possible. Before I dive into imparting what I’ve learned, here is a breakdown of some basic Cannes Short Film Corner info for the uninitiated:
- The Short Film Corner began in 2004 as a way to recognize short filmmakers as the next generation of feature filmmakers, and to provide them with official access to the Cannes festival and market, along with unique educational and networking opportunities.
- The short films in the SFC include those from various sections in the festival, such as the Official Selection, Cinefoundation, and Director’s Fortnight. About 3,500 shorts were submitted directly to the Official Selection, and an unknown (at least to me) number were submitted to the other festival sections. Of that unknown total, which is clearly somewhere in the thousands, a total of about 2,000 short films are invited to participate in the SFC from all of those sections, including those both in and out of competition. I will tell you this: I am a pretty critical viewer, and I would say that of the dozens of shorts that I saw there, they were all very good, and a several were excellent. I would also mention that my producer and I both met several people whose shorts were rejected. But not to fret, if your film is not accepted, the 95 Euro fee will be refunded.
- Shorts are screened both in 40-some private viewing booths and in three small theaters, all dedicated exclusively to the SFC. These areas are accessible to all Cannes participants, so you are free to invite distributors, producers, festival programmers and whoever else you have met at Cannes to view your films. If you make a good impression, some of your new contacts will take the time to see your short.
- The Short Film Corner space is very well resourced and organized. The SFC includes a ‘bar’ with unlimited free espresso all day and free beer, wine, water, and soda after 5pm. This makes the SFC quite the popular spot as the festival progresses and more people figure this out. Other SFC areas include a distributor’s corner, which set up and staffed to put shorts-specific distributors and buyers in touch with short filmmakers and to provide a meeting space; a poster/postcard area to display your film’s artwork to get it noticed above the din; booths for various organizations who work primarily with short films to set up shop and interact with short filmmakers; and SFC-specific information booths.
- The SFC also offers a variety of classes, workshops, discussions and panels that are exclusive to SFC participants. Jane Campion — writer and director of The Piano, who started out making shorts, led one of the discussions about her career trajectory from short filmmaker to celebrated feature director.
- Outside of the Short Film Corner itself, SFC participants have access to the entire festival and market (outside of press-only areas), including red carpet screenings.
So How does one make attending the Short Film Corner worth the cost? This is what I learned:
Don’t spend too much time watching films.
This might sound counter-intuitive – you’re thinking, “Hey, it’s a film festival,” but Cannes is essentially and aggressively about business. It is business in a positive, inspiring, and friendly sense, but it’s still business. And the business of watching films at Cannes is best left up to groups such as the press – who are paid to watch them in droves – along with the variety of buyers, sales agents, and distributors who are interested in seeing how a film performs with an eye toward buying or selling some portion of its rights or otherwise capitalizing on its momentum or talent. As a filmmaker who is there to promote yourself and your projects, you can screen the films some other time.
Do find ways to relax, including watching films.
Having made the point about business, it is also crucial to remember that Cannes is a marathon. You will need to decompress, and a film screening can be a nice place to relax, escape the weather, and network with a random person sitting next to you. And given that you’ve already absorbed the cost of the trip, it might feel good to take advantage of the fact that all screenings are free. For a bit of fun, you can get close to the glamour and pretend you’re famous by dressing up and attending the red-carpet premiers, which take place in the evenings after the market closes. I would recommend only watching films in the evening, or during the first and last days when the market gets set up and winds down.
Take advantage of opportunities to educate yourself.
The Short Film Corner and other parts of the festival and market provide many opportunities to learn about a variety of filmmaking topics and trends, often directly from people who you admire. Study the SFC emails and online information thoroughly, as soon as you can after being accepted. Several of the classes and discussions have limited seating and will fill up quickly. Even those that are not limited attract lines of attendees well before they begin. Outside of the SFC, check the international pavilions to see which country’s beach-side tents offer panels in areas that interest you. In my experience, these events were very beneficial. To make Cannes and the SFC worth it, I would recommend always prioritizing classes, panels, and other focused networking events over film screenings.
In terms of my own experience at Cannes, I can say that I had a blast, met some truly great new friends, expanded my network of significant contacts, and promoted my own projects. A couple of the producers of Fruitvale Station, who were friendly, great guys, got me into James Franco’s small party for the opening of his film As I Lay Dying. And a French producer who watched our short in the SFC more than once has shown serious interest in expanding it into a feature.
What makes Cannes great for an early career filmmaker, in my opinion, is the presence of the market alongside the festival. It is very worthwhile to see and learn how the business of filmmaking is conducted firsthand, and to find that producers and potential future collaborators are genuinely interested in hearing about your projects, with an eye toward potentially helping you bring them to life. If you have a short film that you are confident is a great display of your abilities as a filmmaker, enter it into the Cannes Short Film Corner and go this year!
Find lodging in Cannes within walking distance of the Palais.
There are many overlapping reasons why it is important to stay in Cannes and not in one of the neighboring towns. All of the action during the day takes place at the enormous ocean-front complex known as the Palais, and all of the action at night takes place in the wider vicinity, including the cafes, hotels, and clubs along the Croisette, as well as on the luxury yachts floating just off shore.
People begin lining up for films at 7:30 am every morning, and parties frequently run until 4 or 5 am every night. In addition, a variety of dress codes are prudent (in many cases required) throughout the day and night, requiring costume changes. And the weather on any given day can vary from chilly, rainy, and windy, to sunny, hot, and humid — all placing a premium on access to your wardrobe and shower — in other words, your place of lodging.
Set up phone and internet access before arriving.
Cannes is huge, intense, and crazy; having constant and reliable access to evolving event information and your ever-growing number of Cannes contacts is important for staying in sync. At least one and probably two of the following are necessary: smart phone, iPad or iPad equivalent, and laptop. Setting up a calling, texting, and internet service plan for your devices before arrival is best, as you will not want to take a timeout to establish these once you’ve arrived and are swept up into the current.
Always be early, even before the festival and market begin.
You can very quickly begin missing out on the many opportunities that Cannes offers by showing up on time. Weeks before the festival begins, attendees begin snapping up hotels rooms and apartments, as well as registering for limited capacity SFC classes, panels, and networking events. During the festival, film screening reservations are often made and filled within minutes or even seconds of opening, and lines to attend non-registration-required events and screenings can form an hour or two beforehand. This is one of the major reasons why it is important to plan your approach ahead of time, and to continue to develop your plans while at the festival.
If you love film, the buzz you get from being at Cannes will alone make it an exciting experience — at first. But there is so much happening that it can become exhausting and overwhelming if you don’t take some strategic time out to relax and enjoy it. As long as you come prepared, you will get a lot out of the experience!
Go and make friends.
This was among the best pieces of advice that I received before attending the festival. The invitation-only stipulation means that all Cannes attendees inside the Palais and International Village are film industry professionals of some kind. Spend a good deal of your time chatting with the wide variety of potential new contacts, such as festival programmers, film producers, distributors, investors, and sales agents, etc.
But before getting trigger-happy and pulling out your business card, be tactful and relaxed. A potential new contact who may be looking for a break from the Cannes madness will likely be happy to shoot the breeze, as long as it is relaxed and casual. The people you meet will be interested in why you are there, so be prepared to talk about your projects in a very clear and concise manner. In other words, have your pitch ready.
The SFC is a great place to meet and make friends with other short filmmakers, swap information, and form an entourage to navigate the terrain, attend events and parties, and generally share and enjoy your experience. But after a certain point, spending too much time in the SFC will provide diminishing returns. Get out beyond the SFC to explore, learn, and network. Many of the contacts who are most likely to take your career further will probably be found elsewhere.
Seek meetings with either shorts distributors or festival programmers.
This will likely depend on how recently you completed your short and what your plans are for putting it in front of an audience. One thing I learned at Cannes is that if your short has promise and has not yet begun its festival run, well-organized and proactive distributors will want to acquire some of its rights in exchange for using their connections to put it in front of top festival programmers with a special emphasis that the normal submissions process does not provide.
If your short is currently enjoying a festival run, distributing it will likely disqualify it from being eligible for festivals, so this might not be the time to look for distribution deals. A film that has successfully ended its festival run will again be attractive to those who are at Cannes actively looking to acquire the rights to short films. In any case, I would recommend recording all of the short buyer and distributer company and contact information that the SFC provides — the names on the list are in the dozens. You can set up meetings as a way to educate yourself about the short film market and the possibilities for the life of your film.
Bring a feature script or other project that you are ready to pitch.
As I mentioned above, the people you talk to at Cannes are interested in what you do and why you are there. You will frequently be asked what it is that you plan to do next. Cannes is a place where professionals who like your short film will want to support, follow, or collaborate with you in the future. One of the most inspirational aspects of being at Cannes as a new filmmaker is seeing that the international industry is very large and diverse, and it is actively looking for new content, new talent, and new opportunities.
Having an attractive script or potential project ready to go at Cannes allows you to “create your own luck” and attract serious production partners. If you don’t have a future project to tell them about, a central motivation for keeping in touch after the festival will be lost. The contacts you have met will all return home to their busy lives and wade through the dozens of business cards they have collected, sorting the most memorable from those that hardly ring a bell.
Approach parties, clubs, hotel bars, etc. intelligently.
While at Cannes, you will hear likely here some version of this saying repeated often, “all of the networking happens at the parties.” This is not entirely false, but it’s also not quite as wise and insightful as it might appear. I would say “some networking, sometimes happens at the parties — maybe half of it.” The parties, beach side clubs, and hotel lobbies might seem like a great place to enjoy the fruits of your acceptance to Cannes, but they should be approached with a bit of level-headed awareness and a grain of salt.
At many of the parties and clubs, alcohol is free and people are happy to hangout until 4 or 5 am. And fueling the party atmosphere, along the Croisette at night you will see more Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys, huge luxury yachts, and ridiculously beautiful people than you would have thought could be crammed into one small beach-side area. But a good number of the people showing off at night are not actually film professionals associated with the festival; some are members of the international party crowd who are simply there to see and be seen. They don’t have to keep their energy up and their heads clear to take advantage of networking opportunities, meetings, and discussions the next day. So, go out and have fun; but be ready to talk and think coherently the next day.
*Lit Kilpatrick is a Brooklyn-based writer, director, and producer and the short film that he wrote and directed that appeared in the 2013 Cannes Short Film Corner. An Intimacy was produced by, based on a story idea by, stars, and was submitted to Cannes by Sara Jewell.