'It's just one long party from beginning to end'

You can go to the Cannes Film Festival and enjoy some of the best drama, comedy and acting without ever seeing a movie. Socialising, hustling, networking are what matter. With the 51st festival opening this week, Cannes regulars recall the highs and lows of a showbiz event like no other

THE POLITICIAN

Tom Clarke, minister for films

THERE IS meant to be a curse of Cannes. No minister with responsibility for films has ever been in post to go twice. But unless Tony has a reshuffle this weekend I have broken that curse. I went last year as films minister. I was astonished by the British presence. I was able to meet more people from the British film industry in Cannes than I could in London.

But my first visit was in 1972. I had directed a 15-minute, black and white, 16mm film about Queen of the South Football Club. It was called Give Us A Goal. It was shown at the amateur festival in Cannes. Last year I took great delight in the international press corps chasing me. They asked me what my favourite film was and I said Give Us A Goal. Then I asked them who the director was and they all looked blank. Also, they had never had a minister before who actually knew about films. Last year I announced the aim of doubling audiences for British films. I had in mind the length of the parliament to achieve that. But we reached the figure, 23 per cent, just before Christmas.

THE BLAGGER

Harriet Bass, last year's chief executive of the New Producers' Alliance, a collection of young British film-makers

I HAD TO advise the Brits how to blag their way into the nightly parties. It was the only way for many of them to eat and drink, when you remember a gin and tonic there can cost pounds 8.

They have to get those precious party tickets. The nightly screenings are always followed by a party, and it means running up and down the Croisette at 5pm and badgering the PR offices for tickets. We called it the five o'clock scramble. And if you can't get tickets you have to talk your way in. It's easy if you're a girl because you can flirt with the doorman. If you can't do that then you should always have the name of someone high up on a particular film and say you are related to them. But make sure that their spouse or partner is not standing right behind you.

The whole of the world's film industry is squeezed into one street for 10 days. There's glamour and seediness. The seediness is the huge number of liggers and "triers on", desperate to be noticed. You see people come down full of hope and optimism and end up drunk in back-street bars after finding that nobody wanted to buy or see their movies.

THE ACTOR

John Hurt, starring in the 1998 Cannes entry 'All The Little Animals'

ONE SIDE of it is work, and there's a lot of it. And the other side is totally social, and it's a party. If you turn your head round the right way, you will have a lot of amusement. You work like a dog in the day in terms of interviews. I will be there for four days this year and I will talk to about 50 journalists a day from the international press. The parties can get very wild. The best party I went to was held in the big castle just outside Cannes. It was like being in the Antonioni film La Notte. One is always looking for new work in Cannes. People are always saying "gimme a call" or "we must do something" but I don't remember anything ever coming to fruition. It's full of high hopes and full of hustling. I remember sitting on the Carlton terrace and one young man said how he had just struck this amazing deal with a big American studio. And I thought poor boy, poor boy.

THE JUROR

Jeremy Thomas, member of 1987 panel

I HAVE BEEN to Cannes many times as a film producer; my one time as a juror coincided with the 40th anniversary of the festival. Yves Montand was the president and Norman Mailer was on the jury. On the very last day you're whisked up to this villa and locked in. It's like choosing the Pope. But in the middle of your deliberations you get this huge gourmet meal as an inducement. Over the two weeks you have to see 20 or so movies and some of them are over three and a half hours long, and films that are very difficult to stick with. But it does give you a viewpoint on what people are thinking all over the world.

Watching the films is nice. The Palais is the temple of cinema and on the jury we're in a special roped-off box at the back of the cinema, and there's a little bar at the back of it when you want refreshments. They put you up at the Carlton and every three days there's a meeting to discuss the films. But even though I knew most of the film-makers, no one put me under any pressure. There wasn't a single bribe.

THE PR WOMAN

Sara Keene of the Corbett and Keene agency

I'VE BEEN going for 20 years and each year I swear I will never go again. We have to organise each day like a military operation. The day starts with a 7.30am meeting, and we won't finish until one or two the next morning. We're handling seven films this year, most of them over the same three- day period. There are 2,000 journalists in Cannes. We'll be fielding requests for interviews, organising screenings, setting up parties, booking restaurants - when we can find one with seats available - trying to find hotel rooms for unexpected guests, arranging private planes to fly stars down for last-minute visits. If a client wins an award at the end of the festival, then we would have to fly them back to Cannes.

There are six or more daily trade papers and we have to write press releases for them every day, on industry news, who has bought what film, who's arriving in town. There are seven of us in the office, and we all get walkie-talkies so we can keep in touch as things are happening. One year the director Bernardo Bertolucci fell ill on the day of his press conference and we had to find 60 journalists, none of whom have offices, to tell them. On the opening night my company will be throwing a party. But for the second year running I won't be there on that day. I'll be in Britain on the set of Eugene Onegin with Ralph Fiennes. Despite what people think, the industry doesn't shut down for Cannes.

THE PRODUCER

Emer McCourt, at Cannes last year to raise money for her film 'Human Traffic'

IT WAS brilliant, one long party from beginning to end. I was up all night and all day. It took two weeks to recover. I went to all the parties and talked film all the time. My best memory is being on Francis Ford Coppola's yacht, drinking wine and talking to him about my film. He was softly spoken and gentle, and listened carefully.

The whole process there is so simple. The whole industry is there. You just take your business cards and knock on doors and sell the idea. We didn't raise any money there. But Cannes isn't about raising money, it's about making contacts and following them up over the next year. We've raised the pounds 2.2m budget since Cannes '97. We've shot the film and this year I'm going back to sell it. And we're having our own party. It will be the grooviest party of the whole festival.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Simon Wilkinson, freelance who will be attending his fifth Cannes this year

IT'S BLOODY hard work. I probably walk more miles in one day on the Croisette than I do when I go to the Yorkshire Dales, near my home. I work for Moving Pictures, a magazine that publishes every day at the festival, so I do 25 jobs in one day. The official photocalls make the world's most boring pictures; the stars just stand in groups on the roof of the Palais with other people connected with a film that no one has heard of.

The best pictures can come from stars just coming out of their hotels, or quickly arranged photocalls. I got a great one of Dustin Hoffman at his hotel last year. The French and Italian photographers are barmy. They scream and shout. They are like children. But the funny thing is that although Cannes is a French event it's effectively run by the British. Nearly all the stars have British PR companies, and they often give the British photographers good pictures because they love winding up the French.

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