Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Looking for Cannes

Who knew that the banks were following my web site?

No sooner did I write last week (jokingly, I might add) that I was toying with the idea of trying to increase my credit limit on my American Express credit card—and spending accordingly—in order to qualify for a promotion that would send me to the Festival de Cannes than I got a letter from the bank that issued me that card, informing me that my credit limit was being cut in half. True story.

I suppose they need to tighten up things so that they can be sure to have enough cash on hand to send their really favorite customers to Cannes.

Speaking of Cannes, allow me to say just how much fun I have been having visiting the Festival de Cannes over the past few days and how much I look forward to continuing to visit it through next week. Oh, did I say “visiting the Festival de Cannes”? I’m sorry. I meant “visiting the Festival de Cannes web page.” Needless to say, this is as close to the actual Festival de Cannes as I am likely to get.

I have to say, though, that the current Festival de Cannes web page is very good. I have had occasion to view lots of film festival web sites, and usually their main utility has been to provide early access to the festival schedule and/or program. I tend to judge film fest web sites by how easy it is to print out the schedule (a PDF page or two usually works best) and, more importantly, brief synopses of all of the movies in the festival, presented in a way that it can be printed out easily. The latter thing is hard to come by. It seems to be a standard that film fest web pages put each film description on its own page or in a database from which they have to be retrieved one at a time. I can understand why the web designers do this. It works fairly efficiently as an interactive experience and has the side effect, intended or not, of keeping the user interacting longer with the web site.

This can have benefits in terms of advertising or general statistics. And some film festivals recoup their costs by selling a glossy program book, either as a stand-alone purchase or as part of a partial or full pass, so naturally, they don’t want to cut into that revenue stream. But some of us are short of precious time to be sitting in front of the computer and really need a hard copy to bring around and peruse as moments free up during the day or evening. Not to mention being able to make all sorts of marks on the paper, as one tries to prioritize movies and organize a personal schedule. And we cannot always wait until we get a copy of the official program book in our hand. Some festivals, like Seattle’s, anticipate this need with free inserts in the local newspaper, but most don’t, and these invariably omit the film synopses.

So much for my personal gripes about film fest web sites. I have not worried much about whether I can print out useful schedule and/or synopsis information from the Festival de Cannes web site because, after all, I’m not actually attending the festival and (sigh) I don’t need to pick films to go see or juggle the viewing times so that I can be there. But what is great about this web site is that it seems to cater to people like me who are not actually there in Cannes. And this makes perfect sense. Why target the web site to people attending the festival? When are they going to have time to look at it? Oh, I suppose there are plenty of reporters and industry types (who, come to think of it, make up pretty much the whole population of people who actually get to attend the festival) who catch a few minutes between films, sitting in a café or on the beach with their laptop or PDA or smart phone, checking for updates on the festival web page. But, realistically, they are more likely to be using that time to send emails and IM and text messages to everyone they know, saying, “Hey! I’m here at the Cannes film festival! Ha! Ha! Ha!” At least that’s what I’d be doing. Actually, when I drag my laptop to a film festival, I use any available minutes to write up reviews—not to check the festival web site. If there are last minute schedule changes, I do not find out about them on line but through very low-tech handwritten scraps of paper taped to cinema doors or thumbtacked to bulletin boards in cinema lobbies.

No, it makes perfect sense to target a film festival web site at people like me who are not actually at the film festival but who ardently wish they were. And, at this, the Festival de Cannes web site excels. It succeeds in making me feel, for a few moments anyway, that I am actually there. It does this through the liberal use of streaming video. Each day’s page has embedded video of the major televisual events of the day, i.e. the press conferences and the famous photo sessions on the red carpet. These do not seem to be edited in any way, which only enhances the sense of being there. We watch over long minutes as Ang Lee, Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch (director and stars of Taking Woodstock) and others stand, a bit awkwardly in their formal wear, on the crimson rug while endless cameras flash at them. We hear an explanatory voice-over in French, overpowered by a louder translation in English (on the English language pages of the site anyway). We get the glamor, the celebrity, the excitement. We also get it brought home that all of this fuss over directors and actors is also a bit boring. I mean, how much time can we spend watching people standing around getting their photos taken? Even famous ones?

What is particularly intriguing, however, is that they have the actual movies from the festival embedded on the web site as well. A couple of nights ago I clicked on an embedded object and began watching Ken Loach’s new movie Looking for Eric. As the opening credits rolled, I watched as postman Eric Bishop, played by Steve Evets, drove his car the wrong way into a roundabout and caused an accident, followed by a stay in the hospital and then coming back to his depressing home. Then, after five minutes, it stopped. No, it wasn’t a glitch. You think they were going to put the whole movie on the web to watch for free? Before the prizes were even handed out in Cannes or before the film was released to cinemas? Of course not. But it was a minor miracle that any punter like me sitting at home at his computer (in his pajamas or otherwise) can watch the first five minutes of a brand new, not-yet-released Ken Loach movie. This, more than anything else the festival could have done, makes me feel as though I were really there.

Of course, it is frustrating just to get into watching a movie and then have it stop. But it’s a brilliant gambit because, more than any trailer crammed full of the most exciting bits (okay, I do realize I’m talking about Ken Loach here and not Michael Bay), this makes me want to see the rest of the movie. Is this something that could catch on? Could these five-minute snippets replace the traditional movie trailer? Probably not. Sometimes a movie opens with a surprise or doesn’t exemplify the qualities of the movie that are likely to make people want to see it. Besides, what would become of those voice-over artists (like the late Don LaFontaine), who key up the excitement by intoning, “In a world where…” while car crashes and explosions follow one another in quick succession. Besides, five minutes is quite a big chunk of a film to give away for free. In the case of Looking for Eric, it works out to 4.5 percent of the movie.

I know what you are wondering. Isn’t watching the first five minutes of a movie extremely frustrating? Isn’t it like having the projector break down or having an electricity failure just as the movie gets started? Isn’t it a classic case of, as I once called it, Cinema interruptus? Well, yes. But there is a way to get around this. I carefully watch the little counter showing the number of minutes left on the video object, and just before it counts down to zero, I suddenly stand up and proclaim loudly, “Ce film est vraiment degeulace!” and then proceed to stomp out of the room.

Yes, it’s just like being there.

-S.L., 21 May 2009

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