Birthday Surprise in Cannes – Cannes Independent Day 5

Posted in Diary of a Directrix, On the Fest Circuit
May 25th, 2010 by Devi Snively (The Directrix)

devi red carpet smEveryone has a secret birthday wish.  This is the tagline on the poster for J Harkness’ extraordinary film Birthday and a perfect theme for my 5th day in Cannes.  Sometimes the things we most want in life are so very simple, yet they encompass so very much.

in the kitchen smBy Saturday morning life in Cannes already felt like a home I’ve long known and loved: an environment filled with hope, community and passion – the promise of what we knew we could expect combined with the excitement of what new adventures lay ahead.

Thus began the new routine:  crawl out of bed at 11am, 50 laps in the pool, breakfast in the sparkling kitchen surrounded by our Cannes Indie family discussing the night before and the day ahead.  Then a trip into town.

devi alley smThe Villa sits atop a hill about 20-minutes’ walk from downtown, a favorite part of every day – descending into Old Town and down to the quaint alleys toward the Croisette as we plotted the day’s strategies – talk to these people, check out this tent, and so forth.

Once in town, business always came first – we’d go to the Palais to make some rounds, visit a few more booths, distribute some postcards in the few places we found we could, despite rumors there are no such places (I also highly recommend scotch tape and small posters.  There are always places to post them even if they will eventually be taken down.)

juan of the dead 2 smInevitably, we’d run into friends and colleagues with whom we’d share strategies, drinks, anecdotes.  I was amazed at how many familiar faces from my past few years’ travels I kept running into.  The Palais became the most fun office in which I’ve ever worked.

sangria smFor our “coffee break” we’d go to our favorite tapas bar to partake of our daily vitamin drink – the best sangria in town.  The half-Spanish/half-French couple that runs it already felt like old friends greeting us each day, pouring ever more generous glasses full of the amazing nectar.

Rejuvenated, we continued the quest for the perfect pain au chocolat.  We found a good one at a nearby bakery, but not yet perfection.  The quest must continue.  Darn.

seafood bbq smNext we hit the seafood market to buy a kilo of the most amazing prawns (with head and legs intact as I prefer them) and other delicacies (including rabbit – yum!) for the night’s pre-screening feast.   And, Man, Agustin outdid himself preparing an amazing feast of cheeses, meats, champagne and sangria before the evening’s screenings began. Food is a very communal experience at the villa, a non-stop gourmet potluck we all contributed to and shared.

I’m embarrassed to say we returned later than expected and missed the first screening and I don’t recall the titles of all the short films we saw, but I do remember marveling at the incredible variety of all that we viewed at this great fest.  The one thing that every film we saw shared in common was its distinctiveness, each its own labor of love offering a different story to tell.

ciff cards smI don’t think I’ve attended another fest that had such a range of genres, topics, styles and budgets.  And while admittedly I didn’t love everything I saw (that would be impossible with such a wide selection aimed at so many different audiences), I really respected the programmers’ choices.  All of these films would find there own niche in this crazy market and what a great opportunity to learn how different types of projects could find different homes.  Some were destined for commercial success, others more arthouse, and others educational.

For example, we saw a short drama called Break by Keith Oncale and Shawn Washburn, which dealt with the dark phenomenon of infanticide.  It was a fascinating approach, telling the story from the perspective of a mother “on the verge,” and understandably so quite frankly.   post film discussion smHowever, it was handled tastefully without being preachy, though it draws a conclusion of prevention.

Anyway, it led to more interesting discussion and I was able to share some of our own films’ success in the academic realm – playing at psychology conferences and distribution via company’s that specialize in academic sales (which incidentally has made us the most money with our films – I get $50 commission on every copy sold with one of our films, so if your stuff fits into this context, don’t knock it.)

title2The highlight of the evening for me, however, was Birthday. I can honestly say it is in my top 20 favorite movies of all time (I refuse to limit myself to a top 10 list on principle, but top 20 seems reasonable to maintain).

j nat alaska smWithin moments of meeting Birthday’s star Natalie Eleftheriades and its writer/director J. Harkness at the Anchorage Film Festival several months back, I found myself engaged in a discussion with them about a topic that seems to come up quickly with people with whom I’m destined to become close friends.  That topic is Sofia Coppola’s movie Lost In Translation.  For fans of the movie like myself, I find it to be like an instant radar to spot kindred spirits.  Some people feel nothing happens in it, others of us see how everything happens.  Few movies have touched me more.

11840_257501560936_257470195936_4691960_2222955_nLittle did I know when I first met Nat and J that they had made a film that would have a similar impact on me.  I have now had the good fortune of seeing Birthday 3 times: twice at the Anchorage Film Festival and now again at the Cannes Independent Film Festival.

What’s most amazing is that it’s a movie that grows with each viewing.  It continues to be filled with more surprises.

18967_278161280936_257470195936_4814820_6123481_nI loved it the first time I saw it because, while I was engrossed with the world and the characters, I was also dying to know where it was going, what would happen, who would wind up where and how.  However, it’s upon subsequent viewings when one truly gets to appreciate the film.  Not distracted by these same questions, one can truly become immersed in each moment, more intimate with the characters, and truly appreciative of the endless beautiful details that make up this delicate, yet dense portrait of souls lost, found and in transit.

18967_278161275936_257470195936_4814819_816942_nThe screening was truly beautiful.  I rediscovered gems about which I’d totally forgotten.  I made the mistake of catching Agustin’s eye during a couple particularly touching moment and had all I could do to maintain my composure lest I become a total weeping sissy.  However, I found I was in good company by the time the credits rolled. Usually this is the point when everybody gets restless, leaves, rustles.  Not this time.  Everybody sat in the dark, perfectly still, no doubt appreciating the privacy offered by the darkness, the occasional sniffle and swallowing of tears clearly audible.  When the credits finished there was a second round of passion-filled applause, the lights coming up as we brushed aside the last tell-tale tears.

11840_257501525936_257470195936_4691957_7478276_nI should explain that Birthday is not a movie that cheaply tugs at heart strings like some over-sentimental Hollywood melo-drama.  Quite to the contrary, these tears are a result of utter simplicity, a reminder that we do not have to go through the human experience alone.  There are others on our same journey, wanting the same simple things.  As J and Nat reveal in this story, in this day and age it is love that is in demand far more than sex and even faith and security (beautifully illustrated via the inter-connected worlds of a brothel, the Catholic church and an employment office.)

23981_428448915936_257470195936_5534026_7494299_nI could go on forever about this film, but hopefully promising prospects that resulted at Cannes will make that unnecessary.  Birthday’s headed for theatrical distribution in Australia shortly, and hopefully the rest of the world will be as fortunate as its popularity grows.

The night ended in the most beautiful way. The audience for Birthday adjourned to the veranda where discussion went into the wee hours as the wine flowed.  This movie bonded us and it felt like the beginning of something huge.   What better reminder of the power of cinema.  I’ve now witnessed 3 audiences react like this and I was bubbling over with pride and joy to have befriended the truly amazing J, Nat and now new friend Ra (one of Nat’s co-stars) who achieved such an amazing feat.

chilled wine 2 smAs we shivered at the end of the villa driveway awaiting their taxi well past 3am, I told J in all sincerity, “You make me want to be a better filmmaker.”   I fear I failed to tell Nat and Ra that their performances also make me want to strive to put that much honesty in the characters I write.   One can ask nothing more of a film or a filmmaker than to simultaneously move you and compel you to always strive for more.  Thanks, J, Nat and Ra – you are true inspirations and will all be a part of my upcoming birthday wish!

Leave a Reply