Film Festivals & The Actor

This month, the most important film festival on the planet is coming up for the 69th time – The Festival de Cannes, so on this occasion I'd like to share how attending this Festival, and Film Festivals in general, can benefit your career as an actor.

Mariana Jukica (director) and I in Cannes promoting
"Coke Champagne & Cigarettes'
First of all, if you are in a movie that is screening in a festival, even it if is a small part, you should definitely go. Yes film festivals are about films, but they are also about networking-- and the great thing is that nobody pretends otherwise, everybody has their business cards ready to hand out. I know actors who at least superficially have this anti-networking attitude as if it were something dirty. For my part, I genuinely enjoy meeting people, and shooting movies always involves getting to know a new set of people each time you work. My number one rule for talking to people (in life and...) at any kind of industry event is finding them likable and or intriguing. There is no point trying to talk to someone who may be very important but who is not interested in chatting to you, as they also wont be inclined to connect you. The reason is not always a desire to work immediately with each other but simply having a nice exchange about film and you never know where this may lead. I have shot two movies last year because of people I met at film festivals, but I have been to a dozen more. Following the rule of talking only to likable people, it is always a win-win situation for me.

During the past five years I have been to film festivals all over Europe and each festival has its own rhythm and rules. Every one I have been to- except Cannes- was also attended by non-industry people, which means that anybody can purchase tickets to see the films. Depending on how many movies you are planning on seeing, getting an accreditation from the festival can be worthwhile. As an actor you have to apply to the festival’s accreditation office with your CV, headshots, and possibly a letter of intention. How strict they are with granting the accreditations and the price for actors (anywhere between €40 and €140) depends on the size of the festival. With it, you can see as many movies as you want, plus attend certain industry events. Most of the time you have to stand in line to get the tickets, but very often you can also go in last minute if you have an accreditation and they still have seats available. At every festival I have been to except Cannes, having or not having an accreditation did not make any difference in terms of parties and events.

Cannes is different. It is a pure industry festival, which means if you do not get an accreditation you cannot even get on the premises of the Festival, so there is no point in going if you do not have it. The actors accreditation to Cannes is free, but their decision making process in terms of who gets in and not, can seem somewhat arbitrary to an outsider. Of course the more you have worked, the more likely you are to get in. Though the accreditation may be free, everything else, especially accommodation, is very expensive. I am lucky, as my aunt lives in Cannes, so this will be my fifth year in a row at the festival. Every year except the first one I had a film at least either sold at the International film market or shown in their short film corner. Having a film in the festival helps in terms of purpose but it doesn’t give you a framework. I know a lot of actors who go to these festivals without seeing any movies and even though, as my aunt once bluntly said to me,You are not going to meet someone in the dark”, I did get into this business because I love movies, so I do actually watch on average two movies per day during the festival. I also find it very important as an actor to know where trends in film-making and acting are going, and as part of realizing your own artistic voice, knowing who you would like to work with in the future and why.

At Cannes, tickets are famously hard to get, but as an actor the accreditation is actually very potent and I get two tickets to every film in competition (except the 8pm screening). This can be a very nice bargaining chip during the day when meeting producers or directors, who often were not able or too lazy to get the tickets in advance. How do I meet these directors and producers? I always meet interesting people after panel discussions, e.g. “women in film”. Not only am I interested in the talks but it gives me automatically something to talk about afterwards. At Cannes, many countries have their own pavilion on the premises into which you can go for free (except into the US pavilion, which charges an entry fee) to have a coffee, and there are always people from that nation either taking a break or having meetings. Sharing a couch or a table with someone often leads to light conversations and I have made good friends waiting for coffee in the beachfront bar of the German pavilion.

Your main aim at a festival, however, should be to have a good time. If it puts financial strain on you, which would then add stress, I’d advise against attending – too low is the actual chance of having a life-changing professional encounter. If you can combine it with a holiday, really enjoy watching films and meeting people, then go for it. Going to festivals is about building and continuing professional relationships – it may be years until that producer has a film in her pipeline to invite you to the audition, but maybe meeting her for the third time for a drink at a festival around the world, she might be standing next to an interesting young director who is ready to cast her new movie...

(here is me doing a spontaneous interview in Cannes - slightly confusing but I hope you appreciate the sentiment ;) )

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