The Cannes Quick Guide

By Noah Harlan | May 20, 2010
The Palais during Cannes 2009 The Palais during Cannes 2009

Producer Noah Harlan, a longtime attendee of the Cannes Film Festival, presents an on-the-ground guide to the glitziest event on the film calendar.

For 10 days every spring the entire film industry grinds to halt and attention turns to what was once a small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast of France and now is the home to the most important film festival in the world: the Festival Du Cannes.

Cannes (the identity of the town and the festival are now merged), to the first-timer is a daunting place. From the moment the festival begins the streets are filled with crowds from early in the morning until sunrise and learning to navigate is an experience unto itself. Here, for the first timer or the outsider, is a quick overview.

The town of Cannes is oriented towards the water and the long, curving, four-lane road which runs the length of the beach, called the Boulevard de la Croisette (or just “The Croisette”). Dividing the Croisette is an enormous bunker-like building, jutting out into the bay, called the Palais des Festivals (the Palais). The Palais houses the theaters for the Official Selection with the Salle Lumiere on the left – home to the Competition black-tie premieres and the smaller Salle Debussy for Un Certain Regard. Inside the Palais is a labyrinth. Rising through the floors on the front side of the building you’ll find the press rooms, offices, lounges and hidden up on back of the roof are the locations for the Festival TV interviews and the official photographs.

Descending into the basement will draw you into the heart of the Marché du Film (The Market) where tens of thousands of films are being bought & sold each year. For the first timer, giving yourself an hour or two to just browse the stalls and see what people are doing is a must. It is sobering to see how many films are made every year and a stark reminder of how hard you have to work to make one that stands out from the crowd.

Lining the Croisette, facing the water, are a series of Grand Hotels that serve as hosts for much of the activities of festival attendees outside of the Palais des Festivals. Starting directly across from the Palais, you have the Majestic, The Gray D’Albion, The Grand Hotel, The Noga Hilton, The Carlton, The Miramar and the Martinez. Many of the suites in these hotels are taken over as temporary offices by sales companies from around the world, in particular The Majestic requires a festival badge to get past the front gate. But once inside, some of the best schmoozing and face-spotting happens at the bars and restaurants. In the morning swing through the lobby of the Majestic and grab the daily periodicals. At lunch, check out the Carlton terrace. Late in the afternoon a visit to the front lawn of the Grand Hotel. At night, slip into the piano bar at the Martinez or, if you have the connections, find your way into the hidden speakeasy in the back of the Carlton!

And really, after the meetings and the screenings, the secret to enjoying Cannes is knowing the spots for a good meal or a nice drink. Here’s a quick rundown of some situations & suggestions:

You’re running late for a screening and want a quick dinner:

Le Crillon, 4 Rue Jean de Riouffe

The food is simple but the staff knows that if you are in Black Tie you’re probably in a rush and they get you out in no time. You want find any celebs here, but if you study your market guide, don’t be surprised to see a key French buyer grabbing a last-minute meal.

You’re looking for some old-world French charm:

Head to the Vieux Port (the old Port) and find a place up the windy Rue Saint-Antoine. It’s a quick walk but you feel like you’re out of “the business” and on vacation for a few minutes. Find a place where you can sit out on the road (there aren’t any cars, the road is too narrow!) and you’re sure to see someone you need to meet coming down the cobblestones.

You’re doing OK if you’re camped out at the Carlton

You’re doing OK if you’re
camped out at the Carlton

You’re meeting with a distributor and you want a respectable meal at an elegant restaurant:

Head up from the Palais and across Rue D’Antibes to Da Laura (8 Rue du 24 Août) for some quality Italian food. The night after our first film was In Competition we had a great, long meal here with our sales team and a lot of red wine. They accept reservations (+33 04 93 38 40 51)

You want a good French meal at a reasonable price, but don’t want to venture far from the Croisette:

Visit Le Petit Lardon at 3, Rue du Batéguier (reservations at +33 04 93 39 06 28). The head of distribution for a major French distributor I had always thought was rather cold but we wound up sitting across from each other with friends here and after a long meal she wound up being one of my closest friends to this day.

You want to drink cheap beer and get loud:

Le Petit Majestic, on a quiet corner behind the Grand Hotel, is stays loud until 4 in the morning with kegs serving beer in the street. I would tell you who I met here but frankly, I don’t remember. Why? Because by the time you’re drinking at Le Petit Majestic you’re probably no longer looking for that “key contact”…

You want to stargaze and rub elbows with the wealthy and powerful (mostly of Hollywood, less from Europe):

Hop a cab and head twenty minutes to the nearby town of Cap D’Antibes and the legendary Hotel Du Cap. A brunch at their restaurant, the Eden Roc, is sure to have you seated next to someone you can tell your friends about back home. Harvey often holds court here, and at night, the big LA agencies often host parties here packed with their A-list clientele. The official party for a big Hollywood film is usually pretty crowded and the stars don’t stay long but the secret is, they’re probably off to the Eden Roc. But be sure to bring your wallet, the cab ride isn’t cheap but it’s a steal compared to the hotel!

To find the stars without leaving the Croisette, make your way to the lobby of The Carlton. The upper floors of this hotel are packed with A-Listers. Or check in at the piano bar at the Martinez. I was introduced to Monica Bellucci by a friend in the lobby one year and saw Mickey Rourke holding court the next. The paparazzi are lined up thick outside, but there’s a reason…

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