He had to beg for leftovers and never even saw a celeb – but for Warren Pole a budget trip to Cannes was more than worth the effort

Photos: Mike Marsland

(The Times)

BRAD PITT IS not flying to Cannes by Easyjet. He will not have to elbow his way onto a fetid 737 at Luton because he couldn’t afford speedy boarding, and nor will his seat have a wonky armrest. When he arrives, it is also unlikely he will be camping.

It’s clear as I ponder the above while waiting for my tent and bag at Nice airport that Pitt’s life and mine are very different. True, we are both in Cannes for the festival – him to promote Inglorious Basterds, me to promote a short I co-wrote the screenplay for called April – but the chances of us meeting are remote to say the least.

Wednesday May 20:

Because French campsites close at 7pm and my flight didn’t land until 10pm, I am now homeless. I’ll have to camp wild, easier said than done on the densely populated Cote d’Azur. Two hours driving in my rented Fiat Panda and I finally find a layby not populated by eager doggers or suspect camper vans no doubt full of Dutch naturists who will wake me up playing Swingball at 6am. I pitch the tent and pass out.

Only to be woken an hour later by a barking dog. Cute I think, as I drift back to sleep. But the barking intensifies, gets significantly closer, and is suddenly mated with a deeply guttural growling. What had until then been a happy dog barking in its garden, has now – in my paranoid mind – morphed into a snarling roaming beast from the bowels of hell. What sleep I do get is sketchy at best.

Thursday May 21:

Having thankfully not been torn limb from limb overnight, I awake to the delight of a very stuffy tent. I decamp, making a beeline for the coast and a campsite. Brilliantly it costs just 15 euros a night. There’s even a pool, a clean shower block, and a grey-haired population of walnut-tanned retirees.

Who needs a suite at the Martinez when you've got all this for just 15 euros a night?

I hop a train into Cannes, thus avoiding the town’s crippling parking fees, and am there 20 minutes later.

Arriving at the festival the heady aura of money and power is palpable. As a first-time screenwriter with a zero-budget short I barely feel worthy of entry.

Especially as I’m just a journalist who turned an existing story a director friend of mine had into a script, and not a bona fide filmmaker. Feeling every inch the fraud I make my way deep into the festival basement where the Short Film Corner lies. This is where April is available to view on demand. The A-listers, moguls and money men do not come here. Instead first timers, talented dreamers and angry loners do. Some have created breathtaking films, the rest, as I learn throughout the day, have created an assortment of cinematic car crashes.

The area is a zoo, plastered with film fliers and looks like an angry teenager’s bedroom. I have no idea what to do, who to talk to, and taking in the hundreds of surrounding fliers for movies that are all here only serves to reinforce what a gargantuan task it will be to make April stand out. Deciding the only way to unravel this melee is by diving into it, I start talking to anyone I can find.

Two hours later I’ve landed a screening room to show April in tomorrow, met a former Salsa champ, an Australian-Italian who’s made a film about his hand, more producers and directors than I can count, and have been invited to a party on a yacht that evening.

The latter was the biggest surprise of what had already been an unusual day, but goes to show anything can happen here if you start looking.

Later I seek out the boat in question, happy to find it’s a giant floating palace and not the dinghy the cynic in my was expecting. I climb aboard into a world where women wear micro-dresses, men smoke giant cigars and the Champagne flows like water. I also meet some proper film types. They’re not in the Spielberg league, but are clearly players. We talk films and they’re a surprisingly welcoming, if staggeringly drunk, bunch. My stash of business cards grows, and the evening flashes by.

Then just before midnight, reality bites and I have to excuse myself pleading ‘another engagement’. The ‘engagement’ in question is in fact the last train back to my campsite.

The lonely wait for the last train back to tent city

Walking the kilometre back to my tent from the station I am ravenous, the endless canapés I stuffed on board the yacht having long-since worn off. Passing the one small restaurant along the way I pop in as they’re closing and ask if they have anything, perhaps some bread?

The manager looks at me pityingly, and retreats to the kitchen returning with the evening’s leftover bread parceled up in tinfoil. I offer cash, but he declines. I could kiss him. Not only is the bread deliciously fresh, but there’s enough for tomorrow’s breakfast too.

Friday May 22:

Another long day’s flesh pressing is followed by April’s screening. The tiny room is packed, and the film goes down well with plenty of people stopping to chat afterwards. It’s unlikely this will translate into anything worthwhile as most of the audience is in the same penniless boat as me, but it’s heartening nonetheless.

Then comes another chance invite, this time for a posh do at the Terrazza Martini. Glad I’ve bothered to cart my dinner suit around all day, I change in a nearby toilet.

James Bond manages changes like this in the blink of an eye, normally while also fending off angry henchmen. I have no such distractions, but my transformation still takes significantly longer, not helped by my forgetting how to tie a bow tie.

I finally remember, and after several excellent cocktails surrounded by frighteningly rich people go for a late screening of Sam Raimi’s Drag me to hell, where I realise a Cannes screening is the world’s greatest way to watch a film. The boxfresh footage is scratch free, the audio is symphony perfect, the seats are business class comfortable, and once it’s over you stroll out into the balmy air of another sultry Riviera night. My smug reverie at this point is deflated however as I realise I’ve now missed the last train home.

Which leaves just one option. Another party. Fortunately the closing bash is open to anyone with a festival pass and has a free bar. I stick it out until the trains start running again. 

Home sweet home. Back in time for breakfast after missing the last train the night before

Sat May 23:

Hometime, and despite previous doubts I’m very glad I came to Cannes.

True, there’s no Palme d’Or in my bag, I haven’t secured millions in funding for a next feature and nor have I seen a single celebrity.

Because it seems that in Cannes as everywhere else, the A-listers do not inhabit the same world we do and are magically spirited from one place to another, only appearing in the next day’s papers. In fact my closest brush with celebrity was meeting someone who had sat next to Joshua Jackson (Pacey from Dawson’s Creek) in a bar one night, which tells you all you need to know about the genuine celebrity level on public display in Cannes.

But celeb-spotting wasn’t why I came, trying to give life to April was, and in the four days I’ve had here I’ve met more film industry contacts than I ever could have in a year at home. They may not be the ones who’ll make April count, but one of them may know someone who will. And even if they don’t I’ve now learned the basics of how this crazy festival works so next time, and after this week there most certainly will be a next time, I can accomplish even more.

Best of all, the whole trip cost just £300. I bet Brad spent more than that.


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