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DAY 4: In Cannes, I meet all the Brits I never see in London.

To mentally prepare you for the coming Cannes film festival in May, we continue Nick Roddick’s subversive columns from the daily editions of Moving Pictures at the 2002 Cannes film festival & market, an irreverent, insightful, sometimes cynical and always entertaining take on what Cannes is really – really! – like.

First, I'd like to thank all those people who so enjoyed the picture of the toilet that accompanied my column on Day One. No one mentioned a word I wrote but the toilet seems to have gone down a treat. I think this may say more about you than it does me which, as any columnist will tell you, is not the point, so let's move on.

Enough frivolity: now for a history of the media in one little flow-chart: International >> multinational. Well, not that little, maybe, but pretty succinct all the same.

For those of you who get what I'm on about, no need to read any further. For those who don't but couldn't give a toss, I appreciate your time and y'all have a nice day. For anyone else who would like me to tease out the meaning a little further, thank you and read on: after all, it takes more than a multisyllabic flow-chart - or even a couple of Welsh place names - to fill this page.

Anyway, what I mean is this: whatever starts out being touted as something which will boost international understanding will, if it survives for long enough, end up as a profit source for a multinational company. If the multinational company is really big, the thing itself doesn't even really need to survive: remember Betamax?

Early apologists for the Kinetoscope, the Cinematograph and other ingenious devices promoted them in strongly humanistic terms as a universal language. Then the movies learned to talk and, whaddya know, they weren't universal any more. In fact, some of them became Universal instead, and stayed that way.

"The public wants what the public gets."

Same deal with television: a magnificent new medium which would promote universal peace and understanding through the window it opened on other people's lives into our very own homes. Too bad it made its great technological leap forward in the late 1930s. But not even Hitler could be blamed for Colpo Grosso (Italian housewives taking their clothes off), Pop Idol or Survivor. Free market capitalism got there all on its little own. The public wants what the public gets.

Which brings me to film festivals, where the public stands gawping outside and the rest of us get what someone else wants. Festivals are events which, as Gilles Jacob's documentary reminded us, were dreamed up to bring together cinema artists from around the world. It had to be in France, of course, as well as beside the sea and somewhere sufficiently contained for the price-hikes to be sustainable. Then they worked their way through the alphabet. Arcachon? Too far north. Biarritz (an early favourite)? Too near Spain. Cannes? That'll do nicely. Tough luck Deauville, but your time will come.

Anyway, Jacob's documentary went on to show us lots of American stars descending from the Train Bleu. It was in black and white, but you knew it was the Train Bleu because it had a sign on it, and you knew they were Americans even if you couldn't recognise them because they had the smiles and those Dairy Queen complexions. Later, there were lots of non-American people shown winning prizes, but no one seems to have remembered to meet their trains or, if they did, they've lost the film.

The point I'm getting at, though, is that they didn't seem to spend much time intermingling. What they did was a lot of standing in line while the audience leapt to its feet and cheered (if you were Kurosawa and had finished your career) or booed (if you were French and hadn't).

"a wonderful degree of reverse xenophobia"

French audiences, you may have noticed, have a wonderful degree of reverse xenophobia: you can get away with anything if you're Mike Leigh, but God help you if you're Godard or Pialat or Guédiguian. Or maybe it's just that French audiences do those wonderful owl impersonations at the end of the films, whereas we Brits just mutter. Italians, meanwhile, simply resume the conversation they were having before the lights went down, as though the past 120 minutes had never happened.

No, in my experience, the only places where people from lots of different nationalities get together and discuss films is very small festivals (because they end up spending most of their time together). Or Moscow (same, but they're huddled together for comfort).

In Cannes, I meet all the Brits I never see in London. And, to judge by the excited shouts across the Carlton Terrace or early screenings in the Lumière, the same is true for every other nationality. Go to the Dutch party, held to promote Dutch films to the world: it's full of Dutch people. Same for most other nationalities. The reason, I guess, is simple: the parties are paid for by national organisations whose members expect an invite. It's easier to dump the foreigners from your guest list: they're never going to moan to the Minister for Culture and suggest your budget be cut.

Hell, the Festival authorities even insist that each film has a nationality, whereas the most cursory of glances at the credits will show that most of them have dipped their toes in, at the very least, four national funding pools.

Nationalism is not just making a comeback all over Europe: it remains enshrined in the Cannes Film Festival. And the multinationals control the rest of the world.

Published March 20, 2003

First published in Moving Pictures, May 19, 2002

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Nick Roddick taught film and theatre at Trinity College, Dublin; the University of Manchester; and California State University, Long Beach, before becoming a journalist in the early eighties. He was Films Editor of Stills Magazine in London from 1983-4 and Editor of Cinema Papers in Australia from 1985-6. From 1987-88, he was Editor of weekly trade paper Screen International and, in 1990, founding Editor of Moving Pictures International. Since 1993, he has been Editor of Preview, a bi-monthly magazine on films in production. He is author of several books on the British and American cinema, and currently runs Split Screen, a Brighton-based publishing and consultancy company specialising in the international film and television business.

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