Countdown to Cannes

Public access to the Cannes Film Festival, running May 12-23, is virtually non-existent. However, three students majoring in film and video production in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University will have no problem getting by the closely guarded entrances when they flash their coveted blue accreditation badges.

Left: Scenes from the 2003 Cannes Film Festival

Thanks to the Kodak Student Filmmaker Program, encompassing the Kodak-American Pavilion Intern Program and the Emerging Filmmakers Showcase, Hugh Gibson, Wendi Marchioni and Conall Pendergast will be rubbing shoulders on the French Riviera with the likes of actors Uma Thurman and Billy Bob Thornton, director Quentin Tarantino, producer Harvey Weinstein and movie critic Roger Ebert.

Gibson and Pendergast are among the five Canadians selected from a highly-competitive global field for the Kodak-American Pavilion Intern Program, which serves as the business and hospitality centre for the Cannes Festival’s attendees. More than 400 students worldwide applied for the 128 coveted spots.

Left: Hugh Gibson

Prior to the festival’s launch, interns will participate in an orientation and tour of Cannes, and a series of workshops and discussions designed to augment their understanding of the business side of the film industry. They are encouraged to interact and network with industry professionals gathered for the event, including such major players as DreamWorks, Paramount, Sony, Industry Entertainment, ICM, 20th Century Fox, Universal and The Walt Disney Company.

Right: Conall Pendergast

Once the festival begins, the interns will work six hours a day at The American Pavilion or with entertainment companies Miramax, New Line Cinema and The Hollywood Reporter. They also have the opportunity to attend festival screenings. The American Pavilion is just steps away from the red-carpeted entrance to the Palais des Festivals where the evening competition screenings are held, offering great celeb-watching opportunities.

The intern program includes shared housing in a European-style residence apartment, set against a backdrop of beach-front hotels and cafés facing the yacht-dotted Côte d’Azur where the strip of brown-sugar beach plays host to the Cinéma de Plage.

Left: The American Pavilion at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival

“I am very excited to be going to Cannes. I’ve never been to Europe, and I follow the festival closely through the daily newspapers,” said an elated Hugh Gibson. “This is a wonderful opportunity since, unlike other festivals such as Toronto’s, Cannes is open only to members of the industry. Consequently, the chances to meet filmmakers from all over the world are enormous, and the top names in the industry will be there. It’s still the largest, most important film festival in the world.”

Gibson is ending his final year at York with a flourish. In addition to the Kodak internship, he recently won the President’s Creative Writing Prize in screenwriting from the University for the second time. He plans to pursue a career as a film writer and director, and sees Cannes as a potential stepping stone.

“I’m looking forward to networking and trying to build a name for myself by generating interest in my recently completed York graduation film,” he said. “I hope to meet people who share my passion for movies and who might be able to help my career or provide me with future opportunities. And, of course, I’m sure I’ll find time to enjoy the French Riviera.”

Pendergast, who is also completing his final year in film and video production, is equally thrilled to be attending the festival. “I am very excited about the trip as a career opportunity and an immersive learning experience in the business of film,” he said. “If my films are to be shown and be successful, I must be an effective businessperson, as well as a filmmaker. I think this trip is a huge opportunity to hone my networking and business skills.”

In the next few years, Pendergast wants to work in marketing and distribution and on set as a sound technician, while continuing to make films.

“I’ve already made several films outside of school,” he noted proudly, “including one – Flesh Freaks – which was the No. 1 bestselling independently-distributed horror DVD on for several weeks. So, I would like to continue to pursue this avenue as a writer and director.”

Marchioni won the Kodak Director Award at the 34th Canadian Student Film & Video Festival last fall for her third-year film project Winter Days. The award was a ten-day trip to this year’s Cannes Festival, comprising screening of Winter Days at Cannes, airfare, accommodation and meals. She is the only Canadian among 28 international student filmmakers who will be basking in the limelight at the Kodak Emerging Filmmakers Showcase.

Right: Wendy Marchioni

“The primary goal of the Kodak Student Filmmaker Program is to help students achieve their dreams in film,” said program director John Mason. “We think the program, in conjunction with The American Pavilion at Cannes, is a definite plus because it allows great student filmmaking to be seen and exhibited in one of the world’s leading film venues.”

“I am extremely excited to be going,” said a delighted Marchioni. “I really have no idea what to expect from a festival of this size. It will be an honour to be a participant and I am eager to meet new people with similar interests. I’m going with no set expectations, just planning to have a good time and let things flow. Of course, I intend to bring copies of my film, just in case.”

Left: The red carpet at Cannes in 2003

After she graduates this spring, Marchioni’s future career plans include working on independent projects and submitting them to festivals while seeking a full-time job in the film industry.

Poised on the brink of their professional careers, these three young filmmakers unanimously agree that the trip to Cannes is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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This story was sent to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena, communications, Faculty of Fine Arts.