Doing the Cannes Cannes

Croisette street sign in Cannes

After a five-month break back home in LA, I hit the road again.

Lissette, my friend and defacto agent, sent me a job posting for Membership Director at The American Pavilion. I scanned the requirements, then paused when I realized this job would involve working in Cannes as part of the Film Festival. Let me think about this for one minu… resume sent.

After three rounds of interviews, I got the job. I may have let out a little squeal. I was pretty excited. And then the dichotomy of my life hit me over the head. At the same time last year I was learning to ride a motorbike in rural Cambodia. Now I had a job that would take me to the French Riviera for one of the world’s most glamorous movie events. It felt strange; like I suddenly wasn’t sure who I was. Did this cancel out the past year or could I really have both? How did this become my crazy, upside-down life?

I started mid-March, working remotely part time. My pre-festival job was to get the event registration form up and running, order the badges, send e-blasts to past members and Festival attendees, as well as other odds and ends. It was a moderate pace, and I enjoyed the work. No problem. I got this.

About two weeks before departing for France, we brought Marti on board to help me with membership onsite. I thought, “Oh, cool, someone to work in tandem with me and help corral the 15 student interns I have to manage.” Little did I know Marti would be an absolute god-send. I joked that I should be working for her instead of the other way around, only I wasn’t really joking. She’s a “festival gypsy,” having worked at Sundance, Tribeca and Cannes. I had no idea these people even existed, or how much she was needed until 8am on day one when the doors opened and it was full throttle for the next 10 days.

Let me pause and explain what The American Pavilion (AmPav) is. It was started 27 years ago by a woman named Julie, who is still the managing director, and it’s basically a giant tent on the beach. This is no ordinary tent, though. There is a full bar and restaurant, espresso bar, conference room for panels, student lounge for the 200+ interns and two offices. The amount of time and effort that goes into something that only exists two weeks out of the year is mind-blowing. A membership is required to enter the American Pavilion, which is where my role came in. People pay for access which includes wifi, free coffee drinks, access to the panels (the programming was amazing, including the director and voice cast of Pixar’s Inside Out), a charging station for phones and a place to sit and rest between movies, meetings and events. It’s one of many pavilions inside the International Village, but it’s the only one with a restaurant and panels. Most others are government supported and include brochures about filming in that particular country. The American Pavilion is totally private and serves as a “home base” for festival-goers. Anyone with a Festival credential can buy a membership. It’s actually pretty cool.

Setting up AmPav

Setting up The Pavilion

Inside AmPav

Looking spiffy

View of the bar/restaurant and coffee station. Bring on the people!

View of the bar/restaurant and coffee station. Bring on the people!

View of sea from AmPav

Not a bad office view

This year was the busiest the Pavilion had ever had, and I barely slept for the 2+ weeks I was there. Marti and I trained the students who helped us at the front desk. There were schedules to create and change; badges to hand out; badges to check each time members entered; press who were not on the list; panelists not on the list; people who wanted to buy memberships; badges that needed to be constantly made; millions of questions to be answered; people who didn’t want to pay; people who tried to sneak in; crowds to control; daily e-blasts to send. The students were amazing. I was warned that they tend to get fidgety during the second week and stop showing up for shifts, but not our team! They rocked it. They checked people in, sold day passes, answered questions, directed traffic during panels and chatted with members. And it was so fun to see them dressed in black tie for the red carpet events. The Pavilion gets an allotment of red carpet invitations that are distributed to the students (as well as sponsors and staff).

Front desk crew

With some of our rock star students at the front desk

The evening screenings are of the red carpet variety, and they are by invitation only. It’s like movie premieres every night, usually twice a night, but on wacked-out steroids. Walking that red carpet is electric, yet I’ve never felt more aware of myself. More than 100 photographers line either side, themselves in black tie. This is one classy event. Music is pumping, cameras are flashing and photographers are yelling the names of people they want photos of (i.e. not me). I made a conscious effort to soak in the moment while simultaneously trying not to do a face plant. The staff kept everyone moving along; stand for too long or ask someone to take a photo of you and you’ll hear, “no madam”. Some allowed selfies, while others did not. “Flatgate” was an actual thing as some women were being escorted off the carpet for wearing flats. I appreciate that dress codes are alive and well somewhere in the world, but being asked to leave? As a person with back issues, I was a little miffed (although I did wear heels). And I saw a woman wearing black shortalls. Is that really black tie? Don’t tell me a pair of flat, bejeweled sandals can’t be red carpet-appropriate. It’s all so subjective. But alas, it’s the French.

On the second-to-last night of the Festival, Marti and I were hoping to get invitations to Macbeth. Time was ticking, however, and it was still up in the air (they are often handed out very last-minute). One of the strangest things about Cannes is that people will stand outside the theatre, holding up signs in search of an invitation. “Inside Out, S.V.P.” for example. S.V.P. being short for s’il vous plait (please). It’s like a bunch of formally dressed homeless people, but instead of a $1 bill, a ticket is what they covet. People who can’t use their tickets or are affiliated with the film walk around and hand them out to those they deem worthy. It’s utterly bizarre, but I got a total kick out of it. Marti and I both brought our dresses to the AmPav that morning hoping to go, and decided to make signs in case we didn’t get the golden tickets. 10 minutes before we were ready to panhandle, we got them. I forgot my hair brush, makeup and jewelry, but no matter. We were in.

Little Prince

Two students in search of The Little Prince- success!

As we were leaving we saw Brent, one of the members we had become chatty with. He was wearing a tux with no tickets to speak of, so we took our signs and helped him get one. It worked. We may have jumped up and down.

Macbeth, please

Marti with Brent–Macbeth pretty please!

Then his friend Paris called and she was headed over in her gown… without a ticket. Brent turned around to meet her, sacrificing his own ticket to try and get another. There’s a cut-off time for walking the carpet, so if you miss it, you’re turned away. Marti and I kept looking behind us in line, hoping to see Brent. And then, we saw both of them. She snagged a ticket as well so the four of us waltzed down that carpet like we had all won the lottery. U2 was blaring and we were on a high. We slowly strutted our way down, soaking it in and taking as many pictures as we could without being escorted off. As a bonus, our balcony seats turned into orchestra and we were all able to sit together. Thanks Lumiere Theatre staff!

Outside Lumiere Theatre

In front of the Lumiere Theatre. Them’s a lot of people.

Marti and Shelley on carpet

Marti and I enjoying our five minutes!

Woman on carpet

I don’t know who that woman is, but it’s a “wow” shot.

Top of the carpet

From the top of the stairs looking down.

Oh the theatre. There are several of them, but the Lumiere is the biggest with nearly 3,000 seats. The inside is gorgeous with velvet seats and an enormous balcony. Before the movie starts there is a video feed onscreen of people walking the carpet. The last people to enter are the talent and filmmakers who walk in to a roar of clapping, then take their seats. The same happens at the end, and I couldn’t help but get emotional during my first screening when the director was crying, throwing kisses back to the crowd as we all stood and applauded. That was her moment, and it was an amazing thing to be a part of.

Inside Lumiere

Inside the Lumiere

After Macbeth, which I couldn’t understand a word of (Shakespearean English with a Scottish accent–really?), the four of us headed to Steak ‘n Shake. This midwestern hamburger chain was a favorite of Roger Ebert, and rumor has it this newly opened outpost, the first in Europe, was a tribute. Either way you can’t beat drippy burgers with Frisco sauce and a bottle of rosé while sitting in formal attire. It is France, after all. And no, we weren’t the only ones!

Steak n Shake Cannes

Only in Cannes

While I spent most of my waking hours in AMERICA, I did manage to get out for a few amazing dinners, and even a day trip to St. Paul de Vence. There is a lovely cobbled street in the old quarter of Cannes called Le Suquet which is lined with restaurants. I feasted on duck, mussels, escargot, beef cheeks, rabbit, foie gras and copious amounts of rosé. The rosé menu in restaurants is just as long as it is for white and red wine, a sign of devotion. I’ve never had an assortment of better, cheaper rosé  anywhere and I was enjoying every extraordinary sip. Merci, Provence!


Garlicy escargot

Mussels and rose

Mussels and rose

During the last two days of the Festival when things slowed down considerably, Marti and I alternated days at the Pavilion so we could each have a day off. I took a train and then a bus to the little town of St. Paul de Vence, which drips with Provencal charm. Old stone buildings line narrow, cobbled roads. Gift shops sell lavender in its various forms: sachets, lotions, soaps, etc. For lunch I sat outside under a large tree and ate a goat cheese tart… with a glass of rosé.

goat cheese tart

Goat cheese tart

I wandered around the town, poking my head into shops and getting turned around in alleyways. I even went into the town’s museum, which had mannequins depicting the city’s history. Ok so that was a miss, but the rest was perfect and actually felt like France. Cannes itself doesn’t even feel very French, particularly during the Festival. La Croisette, the main street along the sea, is lined with high-end shops and hotels. And each morning I walked past a row of massive yachts to get to the Pavilion. Flashback to a year ago when I was sitting in a Balinese home, surrounded by roosters, eating one of their female friends who was clucking around the yard the day before. Nope, still can’t get my head around it.

Walkway in St. Paul de Vence

Walkway in St. Paul de Vence. Charming, eh?

St. Paul de Vence 2

It’s just too cute!

St. Paul de Vence alley

Another quaint alley

Yacht with red carpet

In Cannes, even the yachts have red carpets

While this job took every ounce of energy I had, it was an experience I’ll never forget. I met a lot of truly great human beings, and enjoyed being around such creative minds. I extended my trip to spend another two months in Europe because that’s what you do, right? Friend visits, new countries and more adventures await! Oh yeah, and some sleep.

Resting on pack-out day

It’s a wrap!


6 thoughts on “Doing the Cannes Cannes

  1. Pingback: Dalmatian Coast Part II: Kotor, Montenegro | Plans Subject to Change

  2. Pingback: Three Countries in One Day: Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia | Plans Subject to Change

  3. Hi Shelley. I’m so happy your mom resent me your blog! I really enjoy hearing about your travels. Your pictures are amazing and your writing exciting and fun to read. We all live a lot through you my friend. Keep it up. What an adventure you’re on! I hope I’m connected to your blog again. Love. Linda

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