It begins at Heathrow. The departure lounge is filled with people who know each other and deals are already being discussed, these are deals that probably will not be made. It's more a warm-up exercise, a flexing of muscles, a rehearsal of lines that will be oft repeated in the next 10 days. I spy a face that I know from Hollywood and another face that seems familiar, a woman. Then I realize it's a man who has lost so much weight that he now looks like a woman. It's been 12 years since I went to Cannes last. I remember really hating the experience and wonder if I will feel differently this time as I pick up on the mood of excitement as we board the plane. It feels like a school outing. I'm seated in front of a famous American film critic, Roger Ebert, he asks me if I have a secret film I'm about to screen, (he knows there is nothing listed) and I tell him the truth - “I'm here as a beach photographer”.
A friend who runs a gallery in London has asked me to come and do a photo event in a club, in a tent on the beach - which makes me a beach photographer. In the coming days I will give this answer many times and observe the response. Some think I am taking the piss. What I realize is that Cannes is not really the best place to do a photo installation, Cannes is just about the business of film and the business of film is business and business is wealth and…etc. etc.
Film festivals are highly suspect at the best of times. To me a good film is a piece of magic, the result of a long and elaborate process of tricks and illusions. I'd hate to go to a festival of magic where magicians competed with each other and there was a prize for the best trick and each cheap stall was selling tricks and books on how to do tricks and the press was explaining each trick. Where all the magicians were eyeing each other up hoping that their rival's trick would somehow go wrong. And that is what a film festival is. I've always felt that the less said about film the better but walking down the Croisette, it's obvious that this is naïve. There's just too much money at stake. The film business, like the fashion business is a monster that is out of control and Cannes is now an integral part of the film business.
On the first night I see a dejected man. He looks like a film-maker, middle aged, with a beard. He is shuffling rather than walking, his head is down and there is a sadness about him. And this is the first night. I imagine he must have had a screening of his trick, I mean film. He could be me.
I try to imagine what Cannes must have been like in the 1950s, well certainly a lot more fun. I hope there was better music, for now Cannes sounds like Benidorm. The club next to my hotel pumps out mega bass House music until 5 am, competing with the Hotel's own disco, the bass line slightly out of sync with the high end, something to do with the relative speeds of high and low frequencies.
I create a photo studio in the hotel. Digital technology make all this possible. The cameras are digital, a Hasselblad and a Nikon, both which take superb, high quality images. Those, an Epson printer which makes stunning prints and one window with strong, single source light are all that I need. I'm assisted by my step-daughter, Romany who sets off to find subjects. She immediately spots Chris Doyle in the lobby and he is our first sitter. Chris Doyle is the remarkable cinematographer who filmed IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and countless other films. I'm a big fan of his and have almost met him two times at a Polish festival of cinematography where he was doing a workshop at three in the morning. He is a very good sitter. We agree to do a film together and he introduces me to two stunning Asian women, one his cinematographer (he directed a short film that is screening in the festival) and the other the star of his film. They both agree to sit for me. At this point I begin to enjoy the Cannes film festival. It's because I am working rather than waiting to be praised or insulted for a good or a bad trick.
Every morning at breakfast, before work I read the trades in lieu of a real newspaper. They're all free and full of ads and photographs of the events I missed the night before. I begin collecting the one-liners that accompany the title of each film. For example, try and match the following to a film title - To hell with the friendly skies, they're coming for you, sometimes love is hiding between the seconds of your life, arriving late will be the least of your worries, based on a true story, in prison she found her freedom, be home by midnight…or die at the hands of the girl in the wall, he's so NOT a real priest, pray you only die once, the great story of a brave little horse, you will wish the night never existed, nothing will ever be the same again, based on true events, who will survive? You rock my WORLD, you're my DADDY, they stood together while their world fell apart, there would be no return from where we were heading, the Da Vinci masterpiece disappears - the thriller begins, you can't outride death, at birth he was given 6 years to live…at 34 he takes the journey of a lifetime…etc. etc.
The club (where my photographs live) throws a party for me. I'm beginning to understand this alternative Cannes. Lots of people come to here during the festival to ‘be there'. There are so many parties and clubs that spring up just for the festival that it has become party of the club circuit. These are rich clubbers who will also go to the Grand Prix in Monaco. They don't see films but they do mingle with actors. The club music is also of the House variety that gets everybody twitching and nodding in a sort of spasmodic 4/4. The lights on the photographs are turned off and when I complain it is explained that now it's a club, not a gallery.
I'm puzzled that the DA VINCI CODE is screening here on the opening night. Something like this would have been unthinkable in the past. An agent explains to me that the film brings a huge cash injection to the festival. Looking around at the pomp and glitter that surrounds each red carpet event it's not difficult to see that these cash injections are vital to the festival. I'd be interested to know what the festival costs each year. I've brought with me a photograph taken at Cannes 12 years ago. It's an image of the terrace of the Carlton Hotel taken from my hotel room, high up. It's noticeable how much more advertising there is around the terrace now. It seems as if every available inch of space is now rented out for either a billboard, a giant tv screen or a cut-out character from a film. The result is almost comical. It's like Venice beach meets Oxford Street.
Vanity Fair throws a party at the Hotel du Cap. The Du Cap is where the very wealthy and the famous abide if they don't have a big yacht in the harbour. I go to the party to talk to someone from the magazine about maybe using my photographs, well, that's not strictly true, I go because I've got an invite and it's an opportunity to go and mingle with the M and S (movers and shakers). I hitch a ride with my friends Cat and Uri (the Hotel is miles from Cannes). The weather is bad (windy) so the event is moved inside to a large bland room that's a bit like a new airport lounge. This has some kind of levelling effect that I like. I go through the routine of “I'm a beach photographer” many times in the course of the evening as I bump into studio execs and Hollywood M and S types. They have no time or interest in the idea of photography. I see Harvey Weinstein and he tells me we have to do a film together. I ask him to come and see the show and he tells me that it's not remotely possible, he's jammed. I see Pedro Almodovar, he has a film in competition. Pedro has become very grand in the last years. I say hello but he is immediately distracted by an M and S and turns his back. There was a time when we would chat about films but, hey, that's the film business. There are many tall, beautiful Russian women with short bald men on their arms. I enjoy the party and stay late.
Why did I come to Cannes? I think I wanted to see what it was like out there. I'm about to make a film and it's been three years since I ventured into the shark-infested waters. Well, that's not strictly true, I almost made a film earlier this year but it collapsed a couple of weeks before shooting began. Another project with a Hollywood studio also foundered at the script stage due to a major difference of opinion about what is a good story. Another film is lurking under the radar but has yet to fly because of the need for high profile cast (but low budget finance). So part of me wanted to be a spy, to remind myself of what I might be getting myself into. There is very little ambiguity, I cannot delude myself. I want to make a film. What if the film is a success and they invite me back? Would I have the balls to turn them down? Or is vanity such a strong thing, is it so important to win the best trick award? Yes. No. Maybe. I'd do it for the sake of the film.