Every time I walk into a film screening, I feel like the wide-eyed kid from Cinema Paradiso, absorbed by the big screen like it's magic. That feeling is never more all-encompassing as it is during film festivals, surrounded by cinephiles and watching back-to-back arthouse films, many of which are being screened for the first time. Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the Cannes Film Festival, *let me take a moment to pause and breathe*, one of the biggest film festivals in the world. It's considered to be THE festival one needs to be seen at in order to officially 'arrive'.
It was a 'work trip'. I got press accreditation to cover the festival for an Indian streaming platform as a cameraperson/Associate Producer. This means my days were spent on shoots and my nights, transferring footage. The moments in between is when I could see the festival both closely, and from a distance. Ten days gave me enough experiences to look back on for a lifetime.
We reached the festival a day before it started, to soak it all in. We started shooting the same day we landed. Jet-lagged and overwhelmed by the grandeur, we still got right into the festive vibe. The city had a pleasant landscape but unpredictable weather. Hot, dry days would turn into rainy nights. Walking to our far-flung shooting setups was exhausting, but like a cinephile on a pilgrimage, I'd always make sure to return to the beach for the open-air film screenings.
The 'Cinema De La Plage' section of the festival would hold free screenings at 9:30 pm on a first-come-first-serve basis. Every day, hundreds of people would watch the best of cinema under the night sky. It began with a big musical party; as lyrics from iconic film songs — from Singin' in the Rain to Pulp Fiction — played on screen, the audience under the light drizzle danced and sang along at top of their voices. I won't lie, I missed the best of Hindi songs at the venue, the sheer volume of which could make for a separate event altogether.
Every day, hundreds of people would watch the best of cinema under the night sky. It began with a big musical party; as lyrics from iconic film songs — from Singin' in the Rain to Pulp Fiction — played on screen, the audience under the light drizzle danced and sang along at top of their voices.
We had eight days of hectic shoots with many celebrities, but my biggest fanboy moment came out of nowhere. While entering a hotel – the location of one of our interviews – we chanced upon my cinema god, Alfonso Cuarón. Imagine the unreal feeling of meeting someone you have admired for years just waiting for his car in a hotel lobby. He had such a profound aura, I will never forget those few minutes of floating away from reality to get a picture with him. It's currently my DP across social media platforms. I hope to get a banner printed soon!
I realised that being desi at the French Riviera wasn't that exceptional. There were quite a few filmmakers – maybe not on the official catalogue – but pitching their films in the market, or on vacation. I got stopped by several, who handed out cards telling me to watch their film. I ran into one particular woman, probably half-Indian, multiple times. Speaking in broken Hindi, she'd interrupt me in the middle of shoots and bombard me with new phrases each time. A few of them I remember now are – "Beta, kaisa hai, Bombay?", "Shah Rukh Khan", "DDLJ", "Rekha?" "Give my regards, jeete raho, alvida". It became a running joke among our crew. In hindsight, I wish that I had taken a photo with her.
Not being able to watch films at a film festival was like slow death. So by the end of the fourth day, we decided that we would dedicate the last two days to just that.
On a day when the workload wasn't as much, we covered The Hollywood Reporter's charity event — slightly disappointed that Quentin Tarantino didn't show up (he did actually, just super late). My producer and I really wanted to watch a film later that night. Cinema de la Plage was our best bet, but had unfortunately wrapped up by the time we got there. We looked at the schedule and planned to catch the next screening at 10:30 pm. The Un Certain Regard section was screening the French film, Chambre 212, at Debussy theatre. While my producer returned to the hotel, deciding to reserve the night for some much-needed rest, I ran for the screening. The drama comedy, centred on a couple contemplating their marriage after 20 years, was spectacular. (Lead actress Chiara Mastroianni would later win the jury prize). After the screening, the cast and crew received a thrilling standing ovation. It instantly took me back to 2015 when Masaan got a similar five-minute-long ovation at the same theatre — which I had seen a video of.
Since my flight was scheduled for 3 pm on the last day of the festival, I planned to catch the 8:30 am show of Parasite or any other film I could get into. However, since I had been working till 4 am, I overslept and missed the opportunity to watch the Palme d'Or-winning film.
I had got the chance to film the red carpet of Parasite though; it took place at the Grand Lumiere theatre the previous night. Some background: filming on the red carpet requires a separate registration every single day. You stand in line at 10 am, register, return at 3 pm, stand in line again to check the status of your spot and carry on with your life. I had unsuccessfully been through the drill twice. The selection is lottery-based, so you never know when you get lucky.
I wanted to try it for the final time on the last day — it was Tarantino's return to Cannes 25 years after Pulp Fiction after all; along with him the star-studded cast of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie. I stood in line and filled in the slot for OUATIH, probably the biggest premiere of the festival. A bit uncertain, I registered for Parasite as well, which was supposed to be at 10 pm. After the long wait, I returned to find out the status and bammm! I got the spot for Parasite and not OUATIH. It was a mixed feeling. I followed the rules, wore my suit again and carried my gear alone on the red carpet. And it's then that camouflaged among the press photographers (many of whom were veterans) I saw the OUATIH team through my tele-lens. They were coming out of the theatre, walking down the red carpet after the screening. It was surreal to watch Tarantino, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie, all of them walking in a rain of flashes. I jumped with joy, and even as I kept shooting, thought, "Is it real? What is the meaning of life?".
The author works as a cameraperson/editor at Film Companion