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Emily is blogging from San Sebastian-Donostia and Cannes 


Cannes and Toronto: A Comparison of Two Festivals

          When I told friends from home that I planned to come to Cannes to intern with the film festival, they were all jealous, but especially my friends who went to film school: working at a film festival is a film student’s dream, and not only have I now interned here in Cannes, but I have also volunteered at the Toronto International Film Festival. These two experiences have shown me a lot, not only about the film industry, but about the festival circuit and the vast differences between the festivals.The Cannes International film festival, founded in 1946, is the oldest film festival. Famed worldwide for its proximity to the filmmakers, the Cannes festival was founded to promote independent, often difficult films from talented, multi-national directors. Over the years, Cannes has developed three sections of films outside the official competition, which further emphasize this philosophy: “Un Certain Regard” films are some of the most shockingly beautiful films in the festival, chosen for this section because of the idea that they need to be watched with “un certain regard,” a certain look. “La Semaine de la Critique,” as well, is famed for having shocking, often difficult films. Moving past the entertainment value of today’s movie industry, these works remind us that film is still a form of art. “La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs” was established to refocus the festival on the directors, as was intended when the festival was founded. All of these sections of films further enhance the Cannes ideal of film for the sake of art, and not necessarily for the sake of entertainment, a somewhat backwards thought to modern, and especially to American, audiences.           

          The Toronto International Film Festival, though younger (it was founded in 1976) is slowly but surely attaining respect within festival circuits, now falling into the category of well-known festivals that includes Venice, Berlin, Sundance, and Tribeca. Roger Ebert was even quoted in the National Post in 1999 as saying that “…although Cannes is still larger, Toronto is more useful and more important” However, where many of these festivals, including Cannes, focus on the artier, often darker, side of film, Toronto tends to focus more on independent films that will eventually become more well-known, often thanks to the festival itself. Toronto claims the premieres of such films as Elizabethtown, Pan’s Labyrinth, and All the King’s Men, all of which, while surely nowhere near typical Hollywood blockbusters, appeared in nation-wide cinemas several months later and are now well-known within the general movie-going population. A film like Shortbus, which premiered at the Toronto festival in September of 2006, was controversial at the time, but in Cannes, it would have adhered to the norm.           

          Not only is the subject matter of the films that make up the two festivals vastly different; so are the experiences working at the two festivals. In May, the Cannes festival literally invades the small Côte d’Azur city, doubling its population for the nearly two weeks that it goes on. The red carpet is rolled out, parties and outdoor clubs invade the beaches, restaurants are swamped, and transportation is a nightmare. As an intern, my job involved not only running errands, editing hours of press conferences for online exhibition, answering phones, photocopying, and handing out leaflets, but also finding my way around the maze that is the film market, below the Palais. The only films I even came close to were the ones that I went to on my days off: we were not working with the films; we were working with the festival.           

          Working in Toronto put me much closer to the people and the audiences. Not only is there no red carpet in Toronto; there isn’t even a dress code. The festival takes place in various movie theaters all over the downtown area of the city. As a volunteer, my job involved showing up in the wee hours of the morning to rip tickets, control lines, check audiences for illegal recording devices, and usher people to their seats. When these tasks were completed, we stood at the backs of the auditoriums and watched the films with the audiences. Those who volunteered for the festival didn’t do it so much for the festival experience, of which there was not much in our job, but for the opportunity to attend so many brilliant films before they were officially released. Volunteering at the Toronto International Film Festival is all about the films.           

          Different types of festivals require different things from their interns. A festival that is as large as Cannes needs policemen, not 5’3 college students checking for cameras and badges. A festival that is as low-key as Toronto doesn’t require volunteers to keep a floor-length dress with them at all times, just in case someone is needed to assist a crew on the red carpet. These two distinct experiences have taught me a lot about the people who work at festivals: the filmmakers, the producers, the buyers. They have also, however, taught me a lot about the way one views films. After all is said and done, the films still screen. We still sit in darkness for two hours, regardless of whether we’re in jeans or tuxedos, to watch an art form that has become more popular and accessible than any before. These two festivals have chosen different ways to portray the films, and for that, the festivals themselves and the ambiance of working with them are as different as the two cities who host them. But in the end, both Cannes and Toronto have devoted their time and effort to the same idea: a shared love of an art form that has captivated audiences for decades.

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