CANNES 2001: Attention-Getting? Slamdunk, Slamdance, Streaking, and a Sandwich Board
by Jean Tang
Non-affiliated 'alternative' promotions, films and festivals exist at Cannes, but they're few and far between.
If you replaced the celebrities with Mickey and Minnie, added kids and cotton candy, and moved the festivities slightly inland, the Cannes Film Festival could be Disney World. The resort atmosphere, endless sunshine, endless crowds, festive tented pavilions, and most of all, the "official" stamp of the ever-present festival logo add to the illusion of an immersion fantasy created for the entertainment of a thrill-seeking, gawking public. You could easily forget for a moment that underneath it all, there is serious business going on here. But like the mouse ears on perennial display at Disney World, the Festival's broken wreath logo serves a constant reminder that your fantasy has been specially created by the Cannes Festival du Film.
With a few exceptions.
Looking out over the sparkling Croisette, the rooftop of the Noga Hilton has been temporarily transformed into an invitation-only meet and greet venue. A pair of white meeting tents have been erected on either side of the sparkling pool and contain sponsors which include a hair salon and lush amenities like a gourmet chef and DJ. The name on the invitation to this champagne-flowing, day-into-evening bash isn't Vanity Fair, but Los Angeles-based alternative festival circuit Slamdunk. Last year, Slamdunk hosted a festival with 11 features and 30 shorts. The company also partnered with Europe-based Websitestory.com for rooftop party credit, but the recent belly-up of that dot-com resulted in Slamdunk's exclusive sponsorship this year. The similar fate of Slamdunk's other dot-com sponsors resulted in insufficient funding to support a festival-type presence at Cannes. Slamdunk had to relinquish its plan to screen the animated shorts it had originally lined up.
Why would an alternative film festival decide to host a venue -- with no movies? According to Justin Henry, co-founder of Slamdunk, their intent is to continue the word-of-mouth networking tradition it started at the grass roots level in Park City in 1998, in order to move films beyond the Slamdunk festival. "The film industry is inherently a social industry. Our website logo reads: 'Cannes, Sundance, Toronto,' and we remain dedicated to our presence here." The Slamdunk team is relying on its vast network to get the word out about the rooftop terrace.
Similarly, reduced funding has affected Slamdance's presence in Cannes 2001. Last year, the Los Angeles-based pioneer among Sundance Film Festival's growing number of rival festivals showed five feature films and eleven shorts in a screening room in the Hotel Gray d'Albion, and, according to Johnny Josslyn, creative director and the single Slamdance staff member present in Cannes this year, threw a wildly attended party on the beach. This year, several factors have contributed to a drastically reduced presence, including the demand for Slamdance staff by upcoming summer "Slamdance on the Road" happenings in the U.S. and structural changes within the organization occasioned by its acquisition by European distributor Atlantic Streamline. But implicitly, the downfall of Slamdance's dot-com sponsors has resulted in a cut in funding. Only Josslyn is present to organize the single May 15th screening of shorts from Slamdance's "best of Slamdance 2001 shorts" collection, "Dirty Dozen II," at the Cineguinquest on the beach.
In a drastically different interpretation of party-throwing, New York-based Troma Entertainment, veteran producer and distributor of sex, blood and guts features by founder Lloyd Kaufman, occupies its usual suite on the Salon level of the prestigious Carlton Hotel. This is Troma's 27th year in Cannes. Troma's flyers proclaim, "Give Independent Film Back to the People," and it's raised an army of volunteers 30-strong who sleep, eat, and share a single bathroom in a two-bedroom apartment a few blocks away.
Art is sacrifice: these volunteers are out as early as dawn to distribute flyers of upcoming Troma events in hotels. They shake things up on the Croisette by staging a daily parade in which a Troma-film based zombie character called Toxie gets his arms torn off amidst twin streams of air-pump generated blood. They don laminated counterfeit passes which proclaim them as "official press," expressly guaranteeing admittance to events such as "the Miramax party." They unsuccessfully protested the refusal of hotel security to admit Troma guests from an in-suite screening of "Edge TV," a Troma-style variety show (in turn, security reportedly cited underage and privacy as reasons and abruptly refused further comment). And a male volunteer dressed in nothing but, well, a sausage container made of armor got arrested last week for indecent exposure. And through all the ploys, Michael Dwyer, Troma's Director of International Sales, has sealed four foreign distribution deals to date for films like "Citizen Toxie: the Toxic Avenger IV" and "Terror Firmer," with other deals under negotiation.
But in a town where topless sunbathing is the norm, exhibitionism for publicity's sake is not limited to Troma's publicity stunts. Last Thursday, Swedish brothers Torkel and Marten Knutsson, filmmakers of "Naked Again" which screened at Cannes Market May 11th and again on the 16th, stripped on the outdoor terrace of the Scandinavian Pavilion and led a bevy of press in their 700 meter sprint to the red carpeted steps of the Palais du Festival. The brothers were led away by French police and detained for a few hours, but brazen publicity pays off. When the police summoned sales executive Judith Toth to deliver their clothes to the Palais, she took along plenty of screening passes. Toth's company, Nonstop Sales, the Swedish-based distributor which represents the film, sold it the following day to Russian distributor Kinocentre and is currently negotiating other bids from Asia.
And when in doubt, there's always a sandwich board. Fast-talking Australian Jeremy Weinstein has acquired a glowing sunburn from pacing the Croisette with the sides of cardboard boxes taped to his shoulders. In thick strokes of boot polish, the boxes read: "Looking for Harvey." Harvey refers to Miramax's Weinstein, whom Jeremy calls his namesake. His 13-minute short is based on his own experience at Cannes 2000, as he literally wandered the streets in search of the Miramax chairman. Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke are featured on the billing. The veteran shorts filmmaker, who made it to the finals of a competition Down Under, claims it is a "labor of love" and an "experience in storytelling," and that he is "definitely" not here in Cannes to sell the film, although he would certainly take money if it was offered. The younger Weinstein has arranged an open-air screening of his short in front of the Carlton and Grand Hotels and the Palais this Thursday at 5:45 p.m.
So forgot dotcom investments and thousands of dollars of advertising in the daily trades, maybe all anyone needs to make an impact at Cannes is some streaking and a sandwich board.