There are few film fans who don’t think of glamorous movie stars, red carpets and film premieres when they hear the name Cannes.
I’d already spent around a week in the Côte d’Azur when I arrived in the city in January 2013, still a few months before the annual Cannes Film Festival would see the population swell and the world’s media focus its attention on the area.
As I mentioned in the first Cannes post, I was staying in the historic Carlton Cannes Hotel, a century-old building synonymous with the Festival, with a view of the Croisette – the stretch of road beside the seafront in Cannes – that was hard to beat first thing in the morning.
I took a stroll along the Croisette as I made my way to the Palais des Festival, the venue for the Film Festival since 1983.
The Cannes Film Festival has been a part of the city’s DNA since 1946, when the first event took place. The Festival had been set to start in September 1939, but the outbreak of war led to its postponement.
The Festival is now viewed by film studios and producers as one of the biggest parts of their year, with celebrities and the press flocking to Cannes to find out what’s going to make the headlines for the next twelve months.
At the Palais des Festivals I met Philippe Octo, who has been Stage Management Department Director since 1983. Philippe first came to the newly built Palais in 1982 while working for a Paris TV company. Six months later his manager in Paris became manager of the Palais and asked Philippe to come and work with the stage, sound, lighting, set and projection.
« I work here all year round but there’s a special atmosphere during the two weeks of the Cannes Film Festival, » Philippe told me in the 2,300 seat Grand Auditorium. « Preparation is taken really seriously. We bring in a special sound system for the Festival and the preparation takes two days for the set-up of the sound and screen and then one week of testing. »
Although many films shown today at the Palais are screened from digital, Philippe is not so keen on the loss of film.
« When we used to show film, all the directors and producers wanted to make sure that the prints they were screening were perfect. During the day we’d screen around three films until midnight. We’d stop and start the next morning and screen the films for the following day.
« We’d spend hours discussing which was the best copy was the best with directors, producers, sound and lab technicians and it was fascinating. That has disappeared. Today we set the light and sound levels, set that the disc has run through and that’s it. »
After walking around the impressive Palais – you don’t want to suffer from vertigo if you have to sit at the top of the main auditorium – I headed back along the Croisette and into town.
I had an appointment at the Clic Bookstore and Gallery, where I was due to meet photographer, Gilles Traverso. Gilles is the great grandson of photographer Auguste Traverso, with the family name renowned in the city for its work.
« The family company was started by my great grandfather in 1919, he was a photographer in Cannes before the Film Festival began, » Gilles told me. « He documented the growth of Cannes, including the opening of the Carlton Hotel. My father, Henri, began to work as a photographer when he was 14 and his grandfather asked him to start working at the Film Festival in 1946. He worked until 1982, when the Festival moved to the new Palais des Festival. »
The gallery is full of photos from through the years taken from the Traverso archive which houses over 100,000 images. I asked Gilles if he had any favourites from the collection.
« One of my father’s photos features Grace Kelly at the old Port of Cannes, and he was one of only two or three photographers present. When they had finished they were invited for coffee with the actress. Nowadays I’m not sure an actress like Nicole Kidman would make the same invitation. »
Cannes Film Murals
After soaking up some of Cannes’ photographic past, I took a short trip around the city’s fantastic film mural trail, a project which was initiated by the local authorities in 2002.
The idea was to celebrate the medium which put Cannes on the map by painting images from the movies onto the sides of buildings across the city. Although it’s hard to miss them once you know about them, it’s not until you pick up a map from the tourist office beside the Palais des Festivals that these giant paintings become obvious.
The first one I spotted was beside the bus station, where characters such Batman, the Joker and Micky Mouse can be seen alongside R2D2, C3P0 and Harold Lloyd.
Not far away I discovered an homage to film director Jacques Tati and his 1953 film, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot.
There are now 15 murals to be discovered, with a new one due to be added each year. Others to be found include Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Alain Delon and Buster Keaton.
Films shot in Cannes
As well as hosting the annual Film Festival, Cannes has also starred in a number of films, or at least acted as the backdrop.
The Croisette is perhaps most notable in the chase sequence for 2002’s The Transporter, starring Jason Statham as a driver hired to transport important merchandise. The filmmakers start the sequence in Nice before moving to Cannes and back to Nice again – once you’ve visited the area you’ll be able to see the differences between cities
Other films which feature Cannes include Bay of Angels (1963), GoldenEye (1995), Mr Bean’s Holiday (2007) and 2010’s W.E.
Like any great movie ending, my Cannes visit concluded with a stunning sunset over a city which will continue to be the heart of the European film industry for many years to come.
The Côte d‘Azur, within three hours of over 30 European destinations, offers a wide range of themed stays all year round. With France’s second airport, Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport, the French Riviera is within reach of over 33 countries, 103 destinations and served by 56 airlines.
Cannes is located approximately 32 kilometres from Nice. Visit the local tourist office at www.cannes-destination.com.
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