Boos and Cheers at Cannes
by Travolta Cooper

Cannes, France – It is the best of times and the worst of times for me at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s the best of times because I’m here. Period.  There’s nothing like this film festival.  And it is an absolute must for every filmmaker, actor, production designer and everyone involved in the craft of filmmaking t some point in their creative lives.

Cannes is divided into two main facets. There are the films here that are in competition at the festival (for which you have to be invited) and the films that here that are here in the market of the festival (where anyone can go). The festival itself exists somewhere between a film retreat and trade for all involved.  And whether it’s the unending screenings in competition, the film screening in the market (Marche Du Cinema), the beach screenings at night, the panel talks, the networking, the people on the streets of Cannes begging for film tickets – the energy here does not stop. It is a well oil machine. And it is all driven by a pure love (a French love) of all things cinemas. It is the worst of times because, as you may have read previously, I lament the Caribbean absence at the festival this year. I am hopeful that one day we will have a film from the region in the competition, but while we’re on the way there we can still be here participating in the market. There’s really no excuse for why we’re not here, especially as a collective.

Cheers and applause came after screening the new film “Carol” last night. Cannes is the kind of festival where there are standing ovations and cheers from its audience as the credits roll because the reverence for the art of movies here is astounding. ‘Carol’ is directed by Todd Haynes, a filmmaker I have long admired. It tells the story of two women (played wonderfully by the Oscar winner Cate Blanchett and Oscar nominee Rooney Mara) as they precariously begin to chart a path toward a romantic relationship in 1950’s America. In the hands of Mr. Haynes, the film is a keen eye study into all of the nuances of filmmaking that contribute to a luminous piece of art; its film framing, costume design, production design, and its detailed screenplay written by Phyllis Nagy (Ms. Nagy adapted the script from the book “The Price Of Salt” written by Patricia Highsmith in the 1950s). At the time when Patricia Highsmith wrote the novel it was written anonymously and it was actually categorized as “crime fiction” (homosexuality being illegal in America in the 1950’s). Mr. Haynes spoke at the press conference about his attraction to the material and being interested in the very concept “out love itself as something criminal.”  Carol is one of the best films of the year.

Boos resounded following the screening of Gus Van Sant “The Sea Of Trees,” a movie I almost fell asleep through to be honest. Cannes is unending energy and there’s an adrenaline to the environment that is needed to participate. If not, you’ll collapse because it’s not the body keeping you awake. The mind is. The Sea of Trees tells the tale of two distraught men (played by Matthew Macounahey and Ken Watanabe), an American and a Japanese, who meet while venturing into Japan’s infamous “suicide forest” to kill themselves.  I kept wondering what was Gus Van Sant trying to communicate to us. This is one of his worst efforts and it showed alarmingly at the press conference where the press itself began to boo the filmmaker and actors present. The reverence I mentioned earlier, well, it comes with irreverence for any filmmaker who doesn’t meet the bar of cinema art here at Cannes. I found myself chatting with other journalist and critics here who wondered how and why the film even made it to the competition. Some surmised that it’s just the politics of all film festivals (including Cannes) where big names matter more than art because I’m told that there are more quality films playing in the market. Whether that’s true or not, in the end, Cannes is no respecter of persons.

Since we’ve been here combing the festival for Caribbean life, there is a cheerful note to report.  Members from the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival are here, and we plan to meet, organize, and discuss the absence of the Caribbean presence here. This is particularly interesting because the Trinidad and Tobago Film festival is launching in the Region the first Caribbean Film Database this fall. Will that perhaps translate to the governments of the Region to set up shop here next year? And with all the great work Trinidad has been doing, will we perhaps see a Caribbean film in completion here perhaps next year? Stay tuned.