shadows features Cannes for a day
Flying to France with Captain Bruce Dickinson
chemical wedding

11.30am: Flight 666 to Nice
Captain Bruce
arriving in Nice

rich in cannes the marina the reception bruce dickinson the thronging masses

10:30pm: Flight 666 to London

chemical wedding

B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
cannes film fest For most of the year, Cannes is just another fairly boring and far too posh French seaside town, but for two weeks each year it becomes the most important place for film all year - premiering the big movies, hosting the big stars and, even more importantly, making big deals about what films will be made and distributed for the next 12 months. This year, I was offered the chance to experience the 61st Cannes Film Festival firsthand, for one day only, as part of a rather outrageous press trip from London to a special party and screening for the British film Chemical Wedding. So I packed my passport, my umbrella (the forecast called for rain) and my regulation big sunglasses and headed out early on Saturday morning for my day in the most glamorous place on earth...

7.30am: Left home for Gatwick. It's a bit of an epic journey from my home in North London, but at this time on a Saturday morning it was pretty simple, and took only an hour. I arrived at Gatwick a half hour before the designated time, so was able to get some badly needed coffee before checking in for the flight, 666 to Nice. Yes, even the flight number was themed to the movie we were going there to see.

Ed Force One
Almost all of us had to stop and take photos before climbing the stairs to the plane

10.30am: After attempting to kill time by shopping in Gatwick's rather anaemic South Terminal duty free zone, we gathered in the boarding area for our flight - about 100 passengers made up of the film's cast and crew, journalists and quite a few Iron Maiden fans who had won tickets. In other words, there were lots of pony tails and black t-shirts. I only knew two people in the crowd - a fellow film critic and the publicist who organised the trip for us. We boarded busses that took a circuitous drive around the airport before emerging in front of a 757 with the words IRON MAIDEN painted down the fuselage, complete with a demonic creature on the tailfin, the words "Somewhere Back in Time World Tour 2008" and a list of cities from Canada and Brazil to Japan and India. Almost all of us had to stop and take photos before climbing the stairs to the plane.

11.30am: Blast off! Captain Bruce Dickinson, aka Iron Maiden's frontman, greeted us on board, and a very friendly crew settled us into our seats, welcoming us to "Flight 666 to hell and back" and informing us that we would be flying at 30,000 feet "over the abyss". Over the background soundtrack music, Bruce apologised for the limited legroom on the plane, saying they hadn't had time to remove some of the rows and offering us, as compensation, a free bar throughout the flight. It wasn't too bad anyway, since the plane was only about half full, so we had two or three seats each. We also had goodie bags containing CDs, a book, a pen in the shape of a blood-filed syringe and a (black) t-shirt, and they showed us a making-of DVD on the video screens. The crew served us a full English breakfast during the 90-minute flight, which was remarkably smooth until the bumpy approach to Nice. We buzzed the coastline on the way in, right down the length of the Cannes marina and Croisette.

2pm: Arrival in Nice. We boarded three coaches and headed for Cannes. There was some confusion on the way as to where the driver would drop us off, as the Croisette was closed for film premiere arrivals. So he dropped us off on the Boulevard du Ferrage and we made our way down through the narrow streets toward the seafront. I'd been in Cannes before, but not during the festival, and it was noticeably a lot more crowded - heaving even - with streets packed with tourists and festival movers and shakers, badges dangling and big sunglasses gleaming, even though it was overcast and a little drizzly, but thankfully not bad enough to require the umbrella.

the palais
As we approached the Croisette, we weren’t sure how to get to where we needed to be

4pm: The press reception for Chemical Wedding was held on a terrace at the Palais Royale, overlooking the marina - very cool! But as we approached the Croisette, we weren't sure how to get to where we needed to be. Pathways were blocked by cute French policemen and security guards, who politely told us to go around this way or that way, or that we couldn't pass without accreditation. After snapping some photos near the red carpet entrance, we finally found our contact, got our badges and made our way to the reception, which was awash with free-flowing champagne and delicious little tarts. I stuck fairly close to Bruce all the way in (he had changed out of his captain's uniform), and the paparazzi went mad when they saw him, following him along the building, through the door, up the escalator and out onto the terrace, where he posed for photos with the cast members and then took his place at a table for a series of interviews.

5pm: Eventually, I left the reception and wandered around the cavernous exhibition space, which is spread out through several buildings, kiosks along the marina and even in the massive yachts docked there. The walls are covered with posters for films you've never heard of - and will probably never see, as they're pitches for movies that haven't been made yet. And the booths are all trying to bribe prospective producers with food, drink and celebrity appearances. Bored by all of this, I wandered outside onto the terrace, peered into one of the makeshift cinemas - a mammoth tent complete with red carpet approach and alert security guard - and found the outdoor press conference grandstand before heading back into the town to explore the streets for a half hour or so. The euro is very strong against the pound these days, so I didn't buy anything.

6pm: The Star Cinema was heaving with people coming, going and waiting around. I spotted several passengers from our flight, but they were lurking without intent, so I made a bit more effort, got to the front of the queue and blagged my way into the theatre, where I made the dangerous decision to sit on the aisle, with lots of legroom and a comfy seat. Staying awake through the film was going to be a challenge in these conditions. Finally, Bruce and entourage paraded in to introduce the film he cowrote, which combines the gonzo supernatural thriller genre with details about legendary occultist Aleister Crowley and his pan-religious beliefs. I managed to stay awake, but this was mainly due to the careful placement of loud noises in the soundtrack plus Simon Callow's entertainingly vein-popping central performance (I was sure he was working himself up to spontaneous combustion for the finale). All through the film people were coming and going in the cinema, sitting next to me on the steps for a few minutes then leaving - which is apparently normal Cannes behaviour as people shop for films they may want to distribute. Although how watching a random five minutes in the middle of a movie will help you decide something this important is anyone's guess.

rich in cannes
In an 18-hour day, I only spent four hours in Cannes. But it was a great day!

8pm: After the film, Bruce returned from doing more interviews to have a little Q&A with the audience, but after only a few minutes we were chucked out to let the next film crowd in. We jostled our way out onto the Rue d'Antibes and scanned the heaving crowds (it was still daylight) for familiar faces, finally spotting some fellow day-trippers, and heading back up to the Boulevard du Ferrage to find the coaches, which were dutifully waiting. After a bit of chaos when someone named Natalie went missing, we drove back along the coast to Nice Cte d'Azur Airport.

10.30pm: Blast off! Captain Bruce thanked us for coming along, and flew us back to Gatwick smoothly and quickly. We landed at 11pm (UK time) and a still-grinning Bruce shook our hands as we left the plane. I dashed through immigration in the vain hope of catching the 11.20 train back into London. Alas, I missed it by 10 minutes, and had to wait until 12.15 (the entire British transport system grinds to a halt at the weekend). Arriving in London Bridge at 12.50, I had missed the last Tube train, so waited at the stand for a very crowded night bus, which arrived at 1.25 and got me home just before 2am.

Door-to-door, the trip had taken 18 hours, only four of which I actually spent at the Cannes Film Festival. But it's better than nothing! And it was a great day. Although the next morning it felt rather like a vivid dream.



© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall