If you asked me a year ago, I would have laughed.
In March 2016, I was fresh off of some food poisoning I’d acquired in Birmingham, Alabama, over spring break when Campus MovieFest returned to Indiana University. The largest-by-participant student film festival in the world, CMF’s competition is simple: You have one week to create a film of five minutes or less.
The one-week timeframe leaves little room for coaching actors, preparing storyboards, and shooting scenes — never mind reshooting them. So, my friends Hunter Huddleston, Matt Leetz, Julius Dolls, and I would wake up early and shoot, stay up late and edit, and definitely skip more classes than we did at any other point in the semester. Sound stressful? Well, it was, but it was also some of the most fun I’ve ever had making a movie.
Eventually, we hit the export button and sent it to the CMF judges to determine our fate.
At the IU finale at the Whittenberger Auditorium in the Indiana Memorial Union, we were awarded the Jury Award, Best Cinematography, and Audience Pick. Later that summer, we took the film to the CMF finals in Atlanta, where it was nominated for Best Cinematography in the nation. That’s where we thought the journey would end.
Well, here I am a year later, waking up at 6 a.m. every morning, back in Indiana, recovering from jet lag due to my recent two-week trip to the south of France for the 70th annual Cannes International Film Festival.
Selected by the CMF staff for its merits and its success in Atlanta, our short film “Lost Dog” screened along with 29 other CMF films in what was probably the smallest, most humbling theater I have ever been in. But at least all 34 seats were filled with new friends, and some people even had to sit on the ground. Thankfully, we weren’t in competition. I don’t think Hunter, who traveled with me, and I could have handled that suspense.
Cannes was the first major film festival I’ve ever attended, so of course I had many expectations in my head.
Here are a few things I learned.
You will watch way too many movies.
When I mentioned this to a friend, she said, “At a film festival? Weird.” Realizing that this is definitely a “well, duh,” statement, I think it’s still something that needs to be said.
There were 19 main feature films in the competition for the Palme d’Or award, which this year went to Ruben Östlund’s The Square. And that’s only one category.
Beyond the main competition, there’s the short film competition, the student competition, and Un Certain Regard, which translates to “from another point of view,” all of which were up for awards. Moreover, there are out-of-competition events, like ours and the season premiere of Twin Peaks (by my personal hero David Lynch).
So there were 61 films just in the “official” selection. Officially, these are the movies that made it to the front of the Cannes website and had the most buzz about them. I ended up seeing ten of those, plus several unofficial selections. Unofficially, there were thousands of both short and feature films able to be viewed throughout the festival. Two weeks wasn’t enough time.
The movies are only part of the fun.
Turns out, when you bring a bunch of film nerds together in one setting, their social anxieties go away, and they feel free to party. For two weeks straight.
Every night featured a new “networking opportunity.” Sometimes we “networked” at hotel bars, sometimes we “networked” at karaoke with the locals, other times we tried to “network” our way onto the Weinstein yacht.
Air-quotes aside, I did meet some incredible people, and I promise I didn’t just party my trip away. Cannes offers plenty of workshops, lectures, roundtable discussions, and more to give young filmmakers like me the opportunity to be immersed in the industry. A favorite of mine was the informal workshop “A Conversation with Brett Ratner,” featuring the Rush Hour mastermind himself.
And I have to talk about the food. Never in my life have I had so many wonderful carbs — pizza, pasta, wine, desserts, wine, escargot, paninis, wine, and wine.
Cinema is changing.
Much like the Oscars this year, which awarded Best Picture to Moonlight, Cannes seemed to embrace independent cinema’s bright future. Indie powerhouse A24 boasted four films in the official selection: Good Time, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and A Prayer Before Dawn.
Perhaps the most controversial films in competition were two original movies from Cannes newcomer Netflix: Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). The controversy arises from Netflix’s lack of theatrical releases, which caused French theater owners to protest these films. When the Netflix logo hit the screen, the cheers were mostly drowned out by the jeers echoing through the 2,400-seat Grand Théâtre Lumière. But people booed when talkies first came out, too.
With only a few movies in competition backed by major distributors, cinema is at an exciting crossroads. Of course, we will always have the latest Pirates of the Caribbean or Fast and Furious movie, but now that movies are being shot on iPhones, budgets are getting smaller, and films are going back to their core function: storytelling. And because you don’t need to be a millionaire or seek the approval of a studio, new stories are emerging that have never been told before.
Two weeks was a long time to be away from my camera. Toward the end of the trip, I was ready to come home and work on new projects. Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had so far. But when you’re surrounded by so much inspiration and so many fellow filmmakers, it’s easy to feel that itch. At least I know this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Check out TJ Jaeger’s short film “Lost Dog” here:
TJ Jaeger’s Cannes Film Festival Recommendations:
Loveless directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
The Beguiled directed by Sofia Coppola
Redoubtable directed by Michel Hazanavicius
Good Time directed by Joshua and Ben Safdie
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) directed by Noah Baumbach