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Cannes: Leaving Oscar Behind in the South of France

The beauty of Cannes, says our guest columnist, is that you can take awards out of the equation and focus on the films themselves

Sasha Stone from Awards Daily will be contributing to TheWrap's coverage of this year's Cannes Film Festival. This is her first report.

The day before the 64th Annual Cannes Film Fest felt a little like the day before the big race. The runners are journalists, bloggers, production companies, publicists, talent, photographers, festival organizers and everyone in and around Cannes who makes most of their money in the next two weeks.

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Cannes billboardAs I write this, I have awakened at three a.m., much to my own disappointment. Since sleep is the one thing that we have mostly no control over, I somehow hoped that jet lag wouldn’t get the best of me. Film screenings need your full attention and if you fall asleep during them, it’s like falling asleep during geometry class: you might as well as have missed the whole thing, even if you still got a lot from it. Some is still not all.

But when you are awake at three a.m., you are wide awake. Here in Cannes – as I’ve discovered from renting a car and driving back and forth from the center of town to Juan-Les-Pins, where I’m staying – it goes quiet after 10 p.m. Perhaps in the summer it is more lively into the night, but it was startling to drive the backstreets and see them so vacant. It is as quiet as a cathedral on the streets now.

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When you are a blogger here, you are not a journalist, even if you have a badge that lets you into screenings. I stubbornly hold on to this American idea that bloggers and journalists should be created equally. But they are not. The class system is alive and well here. It is fairly arbitrary, but you do have to make your case to get a better badge than my yellow one. I’m okay with my yellow, thank you. I am more than okay. I wear it as a badge of honor.

There is nothing worse than being here and complaining about anything. You need only breathe in the sea air, listen to the gentle murmuring of French, catch the occasional breeze on your face to realize where you are.

Cannes will kick off officially with a screening of Woody Allen’s "Midnight in Paris" at 11 a.m. Wednesday morning, followed later by a screening of  Julia Leigh's "Sleeping Beauty." The festival screens several films a day, but there are also private screenings. If you want to be everywhere and see everything you have to be a bulldog and start working angles. This has never been my style. I must, therefore, keep my eyes and ears open. The interpretations of events are more interesting to me than the events themselves. Or maybe I just tell myself that to feel better.

The real reason I have come, the same reason I came last year, is to be in a place where the quality of film is judged without its “Oscar potential.” In America (I blame myself as contributing to this) all of the great films that get released in a given year are put through the awards gauntlet. “Will it?” “Won’t it?” If it won’t, it is quickly cast aside. If it will, it is run like a racehorse until its last gasp.

This is an aspect of the film awards race that robs the film community of its opportunity to experience interesting cinema; if it’s all about awards and awards are mostly about a fickle community that votes on irrelevant things like how much they like an actor, why does “art” come up in the conversation at all?

Cannes credentials lineBut here in Cannes, a film’s worth is not judged on its Oscar potential. Very few films here will have the staying power to last – Mike Leigh’s "Another Year" took the festival by storm last year but hardly registered on Oscar’s radar. Some of them will. When "No Country for Old Men" showed here it was clear what it was and what it would do. But it could have showed anywhere at any time and been just as strong a contender. See, there I go again, talking in awards speak.

The beauty of the experience here is that you can safely take Oscar almost entirely out of the equation and focus on the films themselves. It is the only time in a given year where people will do that. Even in Venice, Oscar is already the main order of business. “Will it?" or "Won’t it?”

Still, that part of this experience is a piece of the whole. There is much competition here for wi-fi seats, for places in theaters for screenings, for access, for invites, for friendships. Every minute is played out on Facebook and Twitter. Being a yellow-badged nobody puts me in the best position to watch and listen. To me, that is every bit as valuable as being a somebody. Although, again, I suppose I just tell myself that to feel better.

The next thing I’ll do is try to finish sleeping. And then it’s back to the Palais du Festival. Back to the line for yellow badges (photo above). Back to the movies themselves, and all of the riches they might bring.

A longer version of this post can be found at AwardsDaily.com.

(Photos by Sasha Stone)

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