Stephen Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Back to Cannes: From 'Three Days' to 'Cinephile'

Cannes 2018

[Post-Cannes note: I went to Cannes on a Cinephile badge, and managed to catch all 21 films in Official Competition! You can read about my experience here.]

[04/08/19 note: As of today, some Young Cinephiles have started to receive their 3 Days In Cannes accreditations. Congratulations! Scroll down to the second section to learn more about what to expect.]

Hey I know that guy!

It’s Cannes season again, and things have changed quite a bit since my Three Days In Cannes post from last year. So I thought it’d be useful to give a little update. There are two major points I’ll touch on:

  1. As the title suggests, I’m going back to Cannes! Having aged out of contention for their Young Cinephile pass, this time I’ll be putting on my adult pants1 and attending as a Cinephile proper. Since my accreditation has already been approved, I’ll talk a bit about that process below.

  2. Also, as last year’s title suggested, I have indeed gone to Cannes. And since 2018 was the very first year they tried their Three Days In Cannes experiment, I get the sense that some of you might be curious how the process works. (The spike in traffic and “How do I become a Young Cinephile” e-mails helped, too.) So I’ll do my best to give some helpful hints about last year’s process as well.

But first, let’s get the basics out of the way. The Cannes application process is notoriously opaque: there are different forms of accreditation, each of which puts you in a different bucket and gives you access to different theatres you can barely pronounce (let alone productively Google).

If you are in the film industry, you’re a first class citizen and eligible for a proper Festival pass. If you’re a journalist (as the vast majority of people who write online about the festival are, for obvious reasons), you’re eligible for a Press pass. I’ll assume you are neither of those things, as you probably have better resources than some off-brand blog by a guy who shares a name with the worst person in America.

If you’re a philistine like me, you’re probably eligible for a more limited Cinephile pass. If you’re a philistine like me but a little younger, you’re definitely eligible for the Young Cinephile pass, which offers less time than its “adult” counterpart, but substantially more access. I’ll repeat that: Young Cinephile > Cinephile, at least for their duration of overlap. For the last 3 days of the festival this year, I will be actively jealous of every Young Cinephile. They’ll be seeing 3+ films a day while I’ll be begging on the street for one.

2019: Cinephile Accreditation

At the end of last year’s Cannes, I was—understandably—exhausted. But I was also feeling some pre-emptive nostalgia. I’d had my moment, and the moment passed. In a few days I’d turn 29, and short of becoming a member of the press (which is not impossible but, you know, we’d need roughly 100x more listeners), I might never be able to attend the festival again.

Why? Because I wasn’t a member of the industry, I wasn’t a member of the press. And when I’d skimmed the Cinephile requirements, I internalized that it was exclusively meant for active film students, or the organizers of entire film-going groups. Looking back now, it makes sense why. The first sections are “School Groups”, “Film Students”, and “Cultural or Film Club Associations”—all of which require proof. What I somehow hadn’t noticed was this final section: “Member of a Cinema Club”. Translation: “just a regular guy who joined a thing.” But I’m a regular guy! I can join a thing!

Like all forms of Cinephile accreditation, “Member of a Cinema Club” requires some ID card as proof. Luckily, it turns out that becoming a card-carrying cinema club member is not as hard as it sounds. In fact, I’d already inadvertently become one in 2018, by registering as a Star-level patron of SFFILM. At the time, I’d seen the annual membership as a tiny way of giving back to the local community (while getting access to some sweet early screenings in the process). I had no idea it was also my golden ticket to Cannes. And while I don’t recall receiving a physical ID card, it had been sitting in my Constanza-sized wallet this whole time.

You may not live in the Bay Area. But if you’re near any major city, there’s a strong chance you have a rhyming organization available to join. Hunt for all the film festivals in your Metro region, scroll down till you find the name of the group that puts it on. Go to their website, hunt for a “Membership” or “Donate” or “Give Back” link, and see if they give a physical ID in return.2

OK, so turns out I’m a member of a cinema club with physical proof! From there the application was a breeze. I just had to scan my passport and SFFILM card, fill in the requisite info, and write a cover letter. Now, I will never know to what extent that letter truly matters, but I do know that in both years I’ve applied, I heard back extremely quickly (at least relative to anyone else I’ve met.) So based on that thin evidence, and my own sense of pride, I’m choosing to assume the letter is important. Here’s the one I wrote this year, for reference:

And…that’s it! Turned in my application around midnight on the 1st, frantically refreshed my inbox for 5 days, and eventually got the e-mail:

Book an AirBnB five minutes from the Palais, throw it on my calendar, and we’re off to the races! But that’s all for future me to sort out; let’s talk about the past.

2018: Three Days In Cannes Accreditation

Last year, I wrote a similar post about the application process. tl;dr: Three Days In Cannes is a great opportunity, you should apply, here’s the PDF of my 2018 cover letter for reference:

I also wrote a few detailed recaps at the Festival proper. If you’re curious, you can read them below:

I’ll assume, instead, that you got to this post because you were googling “Three Days In Cannes”, and were hoping to get some info about how the process works. So I’ve compiled a few common questions and answers.

OBVIOUS DISCLAIMER: I can only infer based on past experience, and in the case of the Young Cinephile accreditation, that sample size is as small as humanly possible. For all I know, this year’s badge will be entirely different. Still, given how many hoops the organizers had to jump through last year, I find it unlikely they’ll add yet another drastic change.

A note on terminology

As mentioned above, Cannes can sometimes seem impenetrable. Here are a few phrases you might want to be familiar with:

  • The In Competition films are the “main” track of the festival. These have two premieres a day, every day. Over 10 days, that means 20 films are in this class (~21, give or take an Opening and Closing film).
  • The Un Certain Regard films are a secondary, but still very prestigious, track of the festival. They also have two premieres a day, totalling 20.
  • There are a wide array of other films screening around the festival, including the Director’s Fortnite, Out of Competition, International Critics’ Week, Cinéfondation shorts, and so on. I am sure there is immense value in visiting these tracks, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll assume you are less interested in them. You only have three days; you probably want In Competition and Un Certain Regard.
  • The Palme d’Or is the most prestigious prize of the festival, given to the top-voted In Competition film. The Grand Prix is essentially a second place prize, and the Jury Prize is (maybe controversial to say) a third. Un Certain Regard has its own separate track of awards.
  • A gala screening is an evening premiere, for which you are required to dress in black tie.
  • An invitation is a printed ticket for a particular screening, almost exactly the size and shape of a boarding pass. You’ll see industry suits carrying stacks of these; you’ll probably be lucky to officially receive two. Unofficially, it’s open season.
  • A Last Minute Line is exactly what it sounds like: a place you’ll stand in the hopes of getting in to an otherwise impenetrable screening. This is not hopeless by any means.

What can I do with my Three Days In Cannes pass?

I mentioned before that the Young Cinephile pass is substantially better than the Cinephile one. Here’s why: it lets you go anywhere in the Palais at any time. There are five theatres that are a part of the Palais de Festivales—i.e., the official theatres of Cannes. There’s…

  • Grand Auditorium Louis Lumière. This is the big, famous one; the one with the red carpet packed with celebrities, where all In Competition films are shown for the first time. No matter who you are, this will always be invitation only. Lucky for you, you can request invitations in the Palais proper, and are prioritized quite a bit higher than a standard Cinephile who requests offsite. Like a Cinephile, you also can either crash the Last Minute Line or beg for invitations on the street—I know, it sounds weird, but it works and just about everybody does it.
  • Théâtre Claude Debussy. This is where all Un Certain Regard screenings premiere. It’s also where journalists go to watch In Competition premieres while the industry goers (and those of us who crash) are simultaneously in the Lumière. Like Lumière, some of these will be invitation only. For others, you’ll have access to the badge holders line. At least for the Un Certain Regard screenings, you have a damn good shot.
  • Salle du Soixantième. This one is far more important than I’d realized going in. Lumière and Debussy are notoriously packed, and there’s a good chance you won’t catch every premiere. But the Soixantième is devoted to showing rescreenings of whatever premiered at the festival the night before. And unlike regular Cinephiles, you have unlimited access to this.
  • Salle Buñuel and Salle Bazin. For most of the festival, these are either showing non-competition films or are hosting director Q&A’s. But when the last day of the festival rolls around and the Palais becomes fully devoted to reprises, these will also be your ticket into whatever you missed previously in the festival. You will have access to this.

Additionally, there are a number of theatres throughout the city which any badge holder can use. This one in particular was devoted solely to Young Cinephiles in the three days I was there last year: the Cinema Les Arcades. Much like the Soixantième, Buñuel, and Bazin, this was showing Selection and Regard screenings that had premiered earlier at the fest. And it has three screens, so your odds of catching something are substantially better here than anywhere else.

Saturday schedule

There is one downside to Les Arcades, however. This being in France, the French language will always get priority when it comes to subtitles, followed by English. A Korean film, e.g., will only have French subtitles baked into the video. For all theatres in the Palais, they have installed a second subtitle bar specifically for English, below the actual video frame (see the photo I snapped from a Lumière premiere above). This separate bar and projector does not exist at the Arcades, and likely will not exist at most non-Palais theatres.

What does that mean for you? If you don’t speak French, you can only use Les Arcades for screenings of A) French films (which get English subtitles), B) English films (for which you won’t need subtitles), or C) whatever other language you happen to comprehend with realtime fluency.3

I’m only there for three days; what if the film I want to see premiered earlier in the festival?

As mentioned above, Saturday is your friend. You will not see a schedule for this beforehand in your official brochure, and if your experience is like mine, the organizers will be woefully vague about it. But don’t fret: on Saturday, all theatres you have access to will be screening Official Selection and Un Certain Regard films around the clock. It’s a mad dash, but you’ll get your shot to cross a ton of gems off the list. See last year’s schedule:

Saturday schedule

And, of course, Les Arcades will continue to have your back.

How should I factor in lines?

Lucky for you, you’re coming to Cannes at the tail-end of the festival. This is typically around the time that journalists and industry folk start to wrap things up. News orgs start leaving behind skeleton crews for the last couple of flicks; random dipshit producers4 duck out to get a head start on their Monaco vacations. This means the lines are not so bad. Er…relatively speaking.

Me, personally? For all films I cared about at Debussy, Soixantième, Buñuel, Bazin, and Arcades, I showed up about 90 minutes early and could always get a seat. I suspect even 50 minutes would be possible, though cutting it close. Bring a book and relax.5 For the Lumière, I was able to get in at the Last Minute Line if I showed up 2.5 hours before the premiere. If you’re willing to try your luck standing around waiting for an Invitation, that number can go down to 30 friggin seconds.

How does security work / what should I know?

Security in the Palais can be a bit rough. There’s a bag check at every entrance, and an ostensible limit on food and drink.6 Since you will likely be in a hurry to get where you’re going before the line vanishes, this means you want to pack as light as possible. It also means, depending on which theatre you’re visiting, you want to plan accordingly.

I mentioned above that there are five theatres in the Palais. Three of these theatres are only accessible from within the Palais: the Soixantième, Buñuel, and Bazin. The Debussy, meanwhile, is accessible from the outside: you can eat and drink until the second you are admitted in. The Lumière Last Minute Line is a mixed bag: half of it is outside of security, but when they open the gates, you’ll have another 45 minutes or so of a line that is inside security. This means you can scarf down food, and that extra diet Coke, as long as you’re willing to toss it the moment they open the doors.

Some lines are indoors: the Buñuel and Bazin. Others are outdoors: Lumière, Debussy, Soixantième. Pack sunscreen and sunglasses for those, as it is liable to get hot. Dehydration is also a legitimate concern, so I’d recommend packing two reusable bottles. One big one, which can be filled and used while in an outdoor line, and emptied as needed once you hit security. Another 50cl one, which can be brought inside.

When does my “badge” officially start working?

You are officially able to pick up your badge the night before your 3 days begin. And if you notice, my travelogue included a “Day 0”. This is because, even though hypothetically your badge doesn’t work before the first day starts…it actually sorta does? Or at least it did for me? By whatever glitch in operations, I was able to beg for an Invitation and make it to a Lumière premiere, my badge scanned at the entrance with no sign of trouble. Your mileage may vary, but I say go for it.

Where should I stay?

I get that money may be a serious issue, especially if you’re on the younger side. So I don’t mean to be calloused when I suggest blowing more. But look, you’ve only got three days at this thing you booked an international flight to attend. Compared to the plane ticket, is the relative price difference between a hostel an hour-long bus ride away, and an AirBnB that’s a 15 minute walk, really worth the trouble? Remember, you have a tactical advantage over the other festival-goers. You’re multiplying by 3 or 4; most of your competition has to multiply by 11.

In my experience, Cannes involved a lot of racing around. And thanks to the heat and competing matinee/gala schedule, some of those races included costume changes. In one instance, I literally ran in a tuxedo to arrive moments before the film began—if I had needed to hail a taxi or wait for the bus, I doubt I could have made it.

So I’ll put my bias on the table: I think it is within your best interests to be as close to the Palais as humanly possible. Try to be a comfortable walk away, so you have the flexibility to relax and change (and shower!) as needed. 15 minutes is fine; I don’t think 30 would be. And bear in mind which neighborhoods are hilly, and which are flat.

It’s only three days, is it really worth it?

Absolutely. It’s only three days, but you can pack a lot of viewing into those if you try. My total film count was 10, including many of the most well-regarded of the festival—if I hadn’t planned a 6am flight on Sunday, I could have easily stretched that to 11 or 12.

More importantly, though: you get to go to Cannes! And all these logistics, which seem so impenetrably opaque from a distance, will become quite easy once you go through the ringer for the first time. Three days gives you enough exposure to get a real feel for Cannes—with all its amazing and infuriating aspects—so you’re no longer in the dark when it comes to attending to full festival later. That experience will make it easier to slum it with us regular Cinephiles once you finally age out. And, if nothing else, it makes for a helluva profile picture.

  1. Otherwise known as “the same unwashed tuxedo pants you’ve been sweating in for a week”

  2. Now, am I suggesting you support your local film organization to get into Cannes, rather than to cultivate a rich cinephile community? Of course not. What I am saying is…er…why not both?

  3. In my case, this is also known as “the empty set.”

  4. Here’s something you might not have expected. Despite being the world’s most exclusive film festival, whose screenings are often invitation only, whose invitations are so desirable they lead people to beg on the street for a shot…the audience can be kind of awful. Some members of the industry care a lot; others are only there for the red carpet selfie we all pretend we aren’t taking. So if you find yourself between two dudes who are texting for the duration of that Burning premiere, consider yourself warned: not everyone is there to pay attention.

  5. Or, do what I should have done, and make friends quickly. People save spots for each other in line all the time. Etiquette-wise, I’d suggest this rule of thumb: “a friend can act as a placeholder, but can’t themselves create my place.” If you step out to grab a bite or take a leak, no one will hate you for coming back 15 minutes later. If you simply don’t show up till 10 minutes before the show…well, an army of angry French women might give you a talking to. And depending on my mood, I might join them.

  6. Officially, 50cl of water in a clear container, and no outside food is allowed. I mostly adhered to this, but will neither confirm nor deny that it is sometimes possible to get a cup of coffee and a bag of McDonalds through the gates.