Critic Resources

Top Tips for Covering the Cannes Film Festival, From IndieWire Executive Editor Eric Kohn

Do deep research on the festival's filmmakers, go beyond the buzzy titles, and plan your partying wisely.

by | May 13, 2019 | Comments

Cannes 2019 Poster

(Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)

For first-timers and newcomers to Cannes, the festival can be overwhelming – so many screenings, so many people, so many parties! To help critics and journalists navigate the wild world of the French Riviera in May, we asked IndieWire Executive Editor – a longtime Cannes attendee – to give us his top tips for those heading to the festival this year. 

Be patient, and roll with the chaos.

Cannes is the most exciting film festival in the world — a dense, hectic convergence of the global film industry along a small stretch of land by the French Riviera — but that chaos can be overwhelming, tiring, and often lead to frustrating scenarios. Ushers can be rude to you. Lines get long. It’s hot. Any attempt to see several movies in one day and squeeze in other activities, whether it’s writing on deadline or attending a few parties, will result in an insane 12-hours–plus schedule that can lead to levels of exhaustion you never knew existed. But that’s Cannes! The history of this place, the deep love for cinema as an art form, and the sheer range of countries and cultures stuffed into a fairly palatable lineup is unparalleled. This festival is in love with its legacy, and if you give yourself over to the rough ride and do the best you can, you’ll fall in love with it, too. 

Get ready to wait in line.

The color-coded Cannes accreditation system tends to relegate newcomers to lower tiers; don’t take it personally. For most of films in the “Official Selection” at Cannes — generally speaking, Competition, Un Certain Regard, Cannes Classics, and Special Screenings — you will have to wait in a line that corresponds to your badge color. That usually means yellow and blue badges in one line, pink badges in another line, and “rose pastille” (pink with a yellow dot) and white badges in another line. If you aren’t in that last tier, you should always plan to line up at least an hour early.

Make your schedule carefully, and then leave room from improvisation.

Even if you’re really judicious about lining up early, chances are pretty strong you still might not get into a movie you want to see. Sometimes, one screening starts so soon after another that you won’t be able to line up early, anyway; in other situations, your accreditation may force to wait far back in line and by the time it’s your turn, the theater has filled up. In the amount of time you waste throwing a tantrum (and trust me, you’ll see some tantrums), you could be finding a much more productive use of your time. Check the schedule, see if there’s anything else screening in the near future, and take a chance on it. You’ll have plenty of options. Which leads me to the next item on this list…

Explore Directors’ Fortnight, Critics’ Week, and ACID.

This is very important: The range of non-English–language cinema at Cannes is staggering, especially if you’re a journalist from North America, where so few non-English–language movies open throughout the year. Take this as a responsibility: Yes, you want to see the high-profile, buzzy titles in Competition, but if you have any flexibility, look for unknown variables in the other sections. By covering them, you are playing a role in pushing them to more audiences (and potentially distributors as well). Fortnight (otherwise known as “Quinzaine”) and Critics’ Week (“Semaine de la Critique”) are as essential to the Cannes experience as the main selection. They’re both located a little further down the Croisette (in the opposite direction of the Palais) at the JW Marriot and the Palais Stephanie, respectively. Fortnight tends to be filled with a handful of notable directors who, for one reason or another, didn’t make the cut in the Official Selection; it’s also a neat opportunity to discover new directors from around the world, and edgier films that may or may not find their way to the U.S. (although, if you choose to write about them, that could play a role in the outcome). Critics’ Week only screens first and second features, so it’s one of the best places in Cannes to discover newcomers. And ACID, a younger section that has gained traction in recent years, is a smaller lineup that tends to showcase low-budget films with very different sensibilities than you’ll find at the rest of the festival. 

Cannes Film Festival 2018

(Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Research the filmmakers and their histories.

Almost nobody at Cannes is familiar with every name in the lineup, but just because they’re new to you doesn’t mean they’re new to cinema, or even to the festival. Spend some time getting to know the filmmakers, watch their earlier work if you can, and read up on their backgrounds. Cannes is a terrific starting point for learning about some of the most revered auteurs working today, but if you go into one of their new films cold, you may be missing out on some valuable context that will help you assess their work in your own output. 

Watch at least one Cannes Classics film.

The festival tends to launch new 4k restorations from around the world, and while some of them may be familiar to you (for example, this year’s The Shining restoration presented by Alfonso Cuarón), the international scope of this section tends to mean there is a lot to explore, including new archival projects from Africa and Asia that could wind up screening at repertory theaters around the world. Catch them first at Cannes and help get the buzz going as this section works to expand and correct the historical canon of film history.

Talk to the press office.

Many journalists tend to grouse about the Cannes press office because the festival’s many tiers of accreditation and long lines stress them out. But the truth is that this festival has plenty of staffers whose job is to help journalists do their work. You just have to ask: The press office is located on the third floor of the Palais, and if you’re confused about the schedule or anything else, just go there and find someone who can help you.

You don’t need a tux, but…

Cannes is associated with black-tie extravagance, but you don’t need any fancy outfits to attend press screenings. Having said that, if you’re the ambitious sort and want to try and score tickets to a public screening or work the door at fancy parties, you will need a nice outfit. For guys, that means black tie is essential. Women have more expansive options, but unfortunately it’s also a bit of a crapshoot, and there are occasions when the flexible door policy at a party can lead to sexist showdowns: If an usher decides to take issue with your shoes, they may choose to bar you from entry. So, fair warning on this one, and choose your outfits wisely if you choose to attend anything formal. Better yet: As a first-timer at Cannes, stick to those press screenings, make some friends, and enjoy your casual dinners. Oh, about that…

Cannes Film Festival 2018

(Photo by Foc Kan/FilmMagic)

Go your country’s pavilion.

The American Pavilion is located just behind the Palais and a terrific place to get work done, order some coffee, and hang out with some English speakers. It’s not hard to get access there by purchasing an extra badge (or working out an arrangement with the publicity contact for the Pavilion). But if you’re from another country, look for that Pavilion instead. The white tents are lined up all along the beach and they’re all nice opportunities to take a breather when the festival madness gets overwhelming.

Don’t forget to eat.

Packed days can lead to exhaustion. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and pack energy bars or nuts if you can. But be wary of food options near the Palais, unless you don’t mind surviving on baguettes for two weeks. If you’re staying somewhere that allows you to buy groceries, stock the fridge on day one. 

Enjoy the party scene, but be responsible.

If you’re a social butterfly, you’ll make friends fast, and some amazing professional contacts as well. Late at night, people gather outside the Grand Hotel to toast rosé and talk shop. But there are also endless parties strung along the beach that go until the wee hours of the morning, and they provide some nice networking opportunities, as well. But consider your daily priorities and keep your eye on the clock. If you can afford to sleep in the next day, that’s one thing; but if you have a packed schedule coming up, save the hard-partying antics for another night. I promise the opportunities will still be there.

Wander the Marché du Film.

The Cannes market is located in the basement of the Palais. It’s a remarkable window into the global state of the film market, where distributors, sales agents, and producers present new projects to territories around the world. Some of them never get made. Wander floor when you have a free moment and marvel at the sheer range of imaginative posters for international projects (some of which will never get made). It’s a perfect distillation of the moviemaking industry beyond the constraints of Hollywood. And if you’ve ever considered working in the industry outside of journalism, the Marché is a perfect place to make some connections. 

Eric Kohn is the New York-based Executive Editor & Chief Critic at IndieWire, where he has worked since 2007. Kohn travels to film festivals around the globe, interviews filmmakers, and managed IndieWire’s network for professional film critics, the Criticwire Network. He also launched the Critics Academy initiative, a series of educational workshops for aspiring entertainment journalists, and teaches film criticism at NYU. He is the editor of “Harmony Korine: Interviews,” published by the University of Mississippi Press in 2014. He is the 2018-19 chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle and served as a member of the jury for Critics Week at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Follow Eric on Twitter @erickohn.

Tag Cloud

Amazon Academy Awards halloween trophy TV movies VOD mcc art house Exclusive Video debate cults DC Comics true crime french MGM CW Seed legend Calendar Mudbound 2017 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards thriller posters comic crime drama NBA dexter Heroines X-Men E3 biopic ID New York Comic Con independent mutant DGA boxing cartoon 73rd Emmy Awards cancelled twilight stand-up comedy science fiction Emmy Nominations Elton John Sundance Now TCA Winter 2020 TV renewals 2018 game of thrones witnail zombie comics spy thriller Infographic free movies RT History 2021 Amazon Studios name the review SXSW Musical canceled wonder woman crime japan Spring TV Broadway indiana jones Drama FOX talk show spanish TIFF dark Food Network TCA Mary Poppins Returns Hulu WGN Nominations kaiju OWN Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt period drama Anna Paquin revenge superman HBO Go Lifetime women classics Arrowverse elevated horror Paramount Network sequel Discovery Channel Opinion Baby Yoda Wes Anderson YouTube Prime Video serial killer movies australia Film Festival finale Apple 45 documentary dragons satire YouTube Premium canceled TV shows scary rt labs spinoff king kong TNT Comedy Music Endgame Year in Review aliens basketball scorecard MCU comic books Fall TV DC Universe Election Black Mirror aapi deadpool venice Marvel video OneApp BET Awards Superheroes mob Shondaland VICE GIFs nature olympics pirates of the caribbean DirecTV Pirates Rom-Com The Purge MSNBC Premiere Dates Hallmark zero dark thirty YA cooking films remakes genre south america a nightmare on elm street high school Travel Channel Disney Plus CBS All Access Toys Apple TV+ Musicals travel Freeform concert Nickelodeon AMC Plus book Quiz tv talk vampires American Society of Cinematographers diversity Awards Watching Series Turner richard e. Grant disaster news NBC facebook blockbuster WarnerMedia IFC Films mission: impossible Reality Competition directors 2016 GoT SXSW 2022 90s TBS USA 24 frames action-comedy all-time Avengers sag awards Funimation japanese Horror black streamig Summer First Look VH1 nbcuniversal rt labs critics edition The Arrangement series cops Tumblr target Tokyo Olympics nfl TCM Epix crime thriller unscripted The Walt Disney Company toy story Ellie Kemper PaleyFest screen actors guild casting NYCC TCA Awards Song of Ice and Fire Red Carpet superhero 99% feel good Valentine's Day italian docudrama young adult miniseries children's TV Legendary Cartoon Network Pride Month Creative Arts Emmys Amazon Prime Pacific Islander breaking bad Character Guide social media Rock sports Cosplay comic book movie Columbia Pictures History 72 Emmy Awards Sundance Paramount BET TLC theme song fresh Best and Worst Lucasfilm new star wars movies gangster Martial Arts criterion blaxploitation spain festival Pet Sematary Instagram Live Brie Larson hollywood fast and furious Warner Bros. game show Acorn TV APB CMT Lifetime Christmas movies rom-coms mockumentary saw USA Network Paramount Plus jamie lee curtis Winter TV new zealand 2020 First Reviews Fargo Esquire adventure spider-verse Christmas live event chucky critics golden globes Nat Geo TV dc leaderboard HBO Showtime child's play South by Southwest Film Festival die hard Binge Guide what to watch space comiccon BAFTA reboot HFPA cancelled TV series Biopics Universal Pictures Sundance TV jurassic park vs. Box Office Podcast binge Sci-Fi Holiday Adult Swim Netflix Christmas movies slasher biography Disney+ Disney Plus renewed TV shows Pop TV universal monsters historical drama LGBT strong female leads lord of the rings 21st Century Fox laika Logo adenture Set visit summer TV preview Sneak Peek best foreign Video Games Superheroe reviews rotten Winners Syfy 94th Oscars rt archives Best Picture composers CNN BBC One President halloween tv video on demand Hallmark Christmas movies dreamworks Pop Captain marvel ESPN Film Reality slashers Trailer movie ABC parents Photos worst movies werewolf screenings hispanic Universal ABC Family kong Countdown E! Peacock hispanic heritage month Chernobyl cinemax Oscar Cannes Television Academy Alien Ovation obi wan Emmys streaming A24 cancelled TV shows Interview award winner Apple TV Plus Vudu The Walking Dead popular asian-american Tarantino natural history Lionsgate BBC 20th Century Fox streaming movies Disney 4/20 documentaries 93rd Oscars live action Netflix Mindy Kaling cats kids Thanksgiving harry potter animated joker SundanceTV heist movie Starz Fantasy obituary blockbusters Western transformers Teen spider-man dceu singing competition robots suspense hidden camera ABC Signature Spectrum Originals Marvel Studios 2019 Schedule Comic-Con@Home 2021 sequels Oscars book adaptation psychological thriller christmas movies GLAAD Dark Horse Comics telelvision medical drama The CW BBC America 79th Golden Globes Awards latino TV Land National Geographic prank Britbox Action Star Trek Hollywood Foreign Press Association romantic comedy cars Shudder FXX AMC discovery royal family Kids & Family Fox News docuseries police drama Turner Classic Movies boxoffice TV One Rocketman razzies anime green book political drama international summer preview stop motion LGBTQ Stephen King HBO Max Crunchyroll technology See It Skip It Black History Month comic book movies Certified Fresh Extras Animation IMDb TV hist Pixar San Diego Comic-Con Comedy Central 007 teaser sitcom Bravo Country stoner Marathons franchise Amazon Prime Video Women's History Month Disney Channel DC streaming service worst Neflix godzilla critic resources toronto El Rey Walt Disney Pictures golden globe awards adaptation ITV Masterpiece Best Actress festivals cancelled television spanish language Spike Fox Searchlight based on movie sopranos know your critic The Witch Polls and Games black comedy Writers Guild of America Hear Us Out crossover 1990s Rocky SDCC PlayStation comedies dramedy TruTV The Academy justice league Chilling Adventures of Sabrina indie television summer TV Sony Pictures monster movies ratings Marvel Television Classic Film Mary Tyler Moore marvel comics Best Actor RT21 scene in color emmy awards ViacomCBS 71st Emmy Awards Tomatazos CBS dogs psycho MTV Image Comics scary movies 2015 TCA 2017 FX on Hulu Family Comic Book archives war Mary poppins Trivia Comics on TV anthology new york IFC politics PBS Tags: Comedy Holidays trailers YouTube Red Disney streaming service Ghostbusters quibi supernatural Awards Tour zombies king arthur A&E rotten movies we love Star Wars Crackle Best Director Trophy Talk football Super Bowl Television Critics Association Mystery romance versus marvel cinematic universe james bond doctor who FX Grammys Tubi batman ghosts