UPDATED: April 2017 – The illustrious Cannes Film Festival takes place every May and has been referred to as the most important film festival in the world. In 2017, the dates are the 17th-28th May. It’s big business – full of industry types, primarily trying to sell distribution rights for their films. They are also there to get films financed, and find films in which to invest. It can be quite an experience, even if you do not have a ticket. There are many opportunities to enjoy the lively festivities, spot celebrities and soak up a unique experience on the French Riviera. Having made the trip twice in one week, I learned a few lessons that may make your voyage easier, and time, more productive.
The city of Cannes has a permanent population of 74,000, and at one point it peaked to 210,000 during the festival. Of that, only about 32,000 are in the film industry with an additional 5,000 press. So that leave 100,000 tourists, extra waiters, security staff, pickpockets and prostitutes! The first weekend is always the busiest, so plan your trip around your aggravation level! In 2013, during the festival, more than €2 million worth of jewels were scarfed up by organized jewel thieves! No joke!
If you fly into Nice Cote d’Azur Airport, the arrival options are by cab, train, bus or helicopter. A cab will cost about €90 for a 30-minute ride; the bus through Ligne d’Azur is €1.50 for an hour and a half journey; the train is €7.50 for a 35-50 minute ride, and a helicopter through Azur Helico takes a mere 10 minutes for a little over €500 for 3 people. If you are looking to do this modestly, take the train. If time is of the essence, then the chopper is the way to go. And don’t forget your sunglasses which furthers the intrigue as you disembark toward the Croissette.
I’m not in the film industry, so I traveled by train. The first voyage was with friends from out of town. We were already in Nice, so we headed to the main station, Nice Ville. There are typically more trains heading to Cannes from the main station than my usual one at Riquier. My friends were on vacation, and there was no telling when they’d wake from their, ‘Cuba-Libre-infused’ coma, and I didn’t want to be running after a schedule, so we sauntered to the station to catch the next available train. We arrived to find each of the manual ticket terminals 6-people deep waiting to book a ticket. Right…, that meant 3-5 minutes per person, per transaction, so somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes, and we’d miss the next train.
Tip Number 1 – For any event on the Cote d’Azur where you anticipate taking the train, buy the ticket online from SNCF. We would have saved a ton of time, and you won’t have the aggravation of waiting in line to buy a ticket. Only caveat is you need to pick a specific train and time.
With tickets in hand heading to the platform, we found the next obstacle – several hundred people waiting for the same train! Right…. the train before this one was cancelled due to strikes, so we were in for a boarding treat. We found ourselves pushing and shoving hundreds of people trying to board the same train. It was like a sad game of musical chairs, except with well-dressed football hooligans all going to a fancy ball. Often times festival-goers will be very well dressed to match the overall celebrity atmosphere of Cannes, and many get all ‘dolled up’ – literally – to be confused with famous people. Once all boarded, the train was packed and we were literally sucking in unhygienic body odor and bad perfume for 20 minutes until people started disembarking.
Tip Number 2 – Grab a table at the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes Terrace – Strolling down the famous ‘Croisette’- the seafront promenade – is quite interesting. There are so many people and you don’t know where to look. Are they famous, aren’t they?, Who’s that?, oh… no one! We walked down to the far end toward the Carlton to get a table at their outdoor cafe. This was actually easy and we had a vantage point to spot all the swanky cars dropping off hotel guests. My friends nearly choked on the prices of their Mojitos, but thought, ‘When in Cannes…’ Three drinks set us back €64! After soaking up the atmosphere for an hour, we went back to the festival grounds toward the red carpet waiting, hoping to get a glimpse of someone remotely famous, but nothing. I kept thinking there had to be a trick to this…
Tip Number 3 – Depart Nice from Nice Riquier Station – I went back the following Saturday, the day before the last day of the festival, and took the train from my usual, tiny Nice Riquier station. It’s one stop BEFORE Nice Ville. There, I found no one in line to buy a ticket, and when the train arrived, there was no mad rush to get on the train to get a seat. I sat on the left side, which faces the sea for the best views. Four minutes later, it arrived at Nice Ville and the train filled up, with people smelling each other’s armpits squished in the corridor like before. Score!
Tip Number 4 – Go during the first week of the Festival – Earlier in the week, you could easily plop down in the hotel cafes and restaurants where the stars stay, like the Carlton or the Hyatt. On Saturday, when I returned, both the Intercontinental Carlton and the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez were closed off to hotel guests only. I was really wishing I still had my Hyatt ID card, but no such luck. I perched at Le 72 Croissette just outside the Hyatt to watch the festival cars arrive with, ‘you never know who!’
Tip Number 5 – Lurch around the area to the left behind the Festival Venue – I returned to the main festival area, where a lot of people with badges were lining up to see films. But off to the left, to the back, was an entire area ‘behind the scenes’ where actors/actresses/producers/directors were being dropped off or scooped up by their Renault Festival cars.
Score! It was there I had the chance to see up close the Festival Judges: Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Paradis, Max Mikkelson, Kirsten Dunst, George Miller, plus others arrive through the back door. Sure, it wasn’t the red carpet, but I could have never gotten that close otherwise. And they appeared more natural, which I loved. And I swear Donald Sutherland was looking straight at me. I wanted to yell out, ‘Mr. Donald Sutherland’ while he was no more than 30 feet away, but I couldn’t. I’m not that type of person. I just thought, ‘shit, I hope these pictures turn out.’ I hope you enjoy them.
Vanessa Paradis was walking extremely fast and I had to zoom the image later to figure out who she was.
Kirsten Dunst looked very natural, and I loved her everyday look. I am not a Hollywood groupie and seriously had to ask friends who these people were, but when I heard others yelling at them, I thought I should snap a photograph.
There is a lot of buzz going on at the Festival, and I was not even in the heart of it, but as an innocent bystander, I had a fabulous time and you can bet I was a happy buddha at the end of the day.