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Scorsese and Haneke holding hands

Replete with celebrities and gregarious crowds, an unforgettable moment is always around the corner at Cannes. Here is our scoop on the French film fest and four Berliners in particular who attended it.

Image for Scorsese and Haneke holding hands
Photo by Chris Yunker (ChrisYunker; Flickr CC)

When you think of film festivals, you might remember icy winter days when half of Berlin seems to wander to Potsdamer Platz. But for four Berliners there is another place to be when it comes to cinema: Cannes, in the south of France.

Beatrice Behn, founder and director of the new International Comedy Film Festival, which premiered last year in Berlin, had been longing to come to what many consider the most important film event in the world for quite some time. Due to lucky circumstances she is now not only picking comedies out of the market for her next lineup in Berlin, but also deciding with two colleagues over the FIPRESCI Award for the best film in the cutting-edge parallel sections Critic’s Week and Director’s Fortnight.

Eicke Bettinga is the only German filmmaker with a movie in the Official Competition. Even though it’s a short, it makes for a stressful stay. He only got to see two feature films in eight days, because the interview requests just keep on piling up and the meetings with producers for his next project, a British-German co- production, don’t stop at night. “It’s all work,” he says, “you never know who you’ll run into at the next buffet.”

It’s not his own story, but he raves about an impromptu meeting his colleague had a few nights ago on a hotel terrace: “He had just ordered his last drink, when he noticed Martin Scorsese at the table next to him.” Eventually they got to talking. “That’s just the kind of Cannes moment you can only have here.”

Behn also got star-struck: she observed filmmaker Michael Haneke, one of the big names of the 2012 lineup with his film Amour, as he walked down the Promenade de la Croisette. “It was a sight to see,” she says, “he was holding hands with his wife, and even though they didn’t come with bodyguards and the walkway was pretty crowded, people just naturally left them their space. It was like a bubble was surrounding them.”

“The names of the director’s in the selection are impressive”, says Thomas Abeltshauser, a Berlin-based freelance critic. “Even after only two or three days you already get the feeling, that you’ll be able to witness here at least half of the most important movies of the year!” Abeltshauser usually goes to film festivals to do interviews with stars and directors to later sell them to different outlets when the films hit the screens in Germany.

In Cannes, multitasking is a must. He writes for the Austrian film magazine Ray and also contributes to their festival blog. “It’s a little bit less stressful than the Berlinale,” he says, “because I only have to write one article every other day. In Berlin the pressure is bigger for me.” When it comes to interviews, it’s getting more difficult every year. This year one of the German distributors even asked of the critics who wanted to attend a press conference with Nicole Kidman (for the competition entry The Paperboy by Lee Daniels) to pay €650. “It’s a scandal!” he exclaims.

Bettinga isn’t quite in the market yet to ask money for getting interviewed, he just wants to get the word out: “Many people don’t stay till the 26th, when my film is shown, but it seems like for most of them it’s enough to know I have a film here, that’s already a sign I’m worth the time for a meet.”

Meeting directors and producers is a big part of Christoph Terhechte’s work. Berlinale’s Forum director has been attending Cannes for 20 years, and who would have thought, he says it’s a must! “For professional contacts from all around the world it’s simply the best place.” It’s also the last moment for him to plan his trips for the fall. Obviously as a festival programmer, he likes the chance to get an overview of the current state of world cinema, but what matters most is to find out what films are in the make, what countries are on the rise. He just decided this year he’ll travel to Georgia. “From all I’ve heard lately, and it was confirmed here, there seems to be an interesting new generation of filmmakers.”

Terhechte, who used to be a film critic before working as a programmer, still visits Cannes as an accredited journalist, a way for him to simply see more films. If he had the choice, he’d go a little more to the sidebars and less to the competition, where he sees almost every film. “It’s my duty,” he says, “but I love my work, so it’s 100 percent fun.”

But the hierarchies in Cannes are tough. There are six different kinds of press accreditations. “Being in the jury this year allows me to enter all the screenings almost without having to queue,” says Behn. “But seeing the system here worries me, what will it look like next year without the priority badge?” Seeing the passion with which the public reacts to the films makes it worth it though: “I never experienced anything like it,” she remembers in awe, “in one screening there were literally standing ovations for 30 minutes. The People just wouldn’t leave. That would be completely unimaginable in Berlin.”

Terhechte is a little more critical of the festival: “Reading the names of Cannes’ lineup is always impressive. But as you can see this year, the crop doesn’t necessarily fulfill the expectations. Even Cannes doesn’t have the power to determine the quality of the films.” Nevertheless he had quite a few good experiences: “To me, seeing the new film by Ken Loach was a surprise. I just didn’t expect this from him. And my favorite so far is Michael Haneke’s movie.”

Haneke (his film Amour has premiered to rave reviews), Seidl, Garrone, Audiard: in Cannes everything is about the last name. And diverging opinions. As Terhechte was glad to read a slandering review of the new Thomas Vinterberg film The Hunt in French paper Libération, Eicke Bettinga loved it: “It was very forceful and dense.” If you roam the streets of Cannes you’ll hear many of those kinds of soundbites. Until the Palme d’Or makes the career of another filmmaker each year, or in this year’s case (Haneke’s Amour won) confirms a pro like Terhechte’s taste.