A few years ago at Cannes, a number of film critics were quietly informed by the press office that festival president Gilles Jacob would be pleased if they might come by the Salle des Ambassadeurs in the Palais the next afternoon for a brief ceremony. Told that it would be worth their while, they dutifully rearranged their schedules and shortly beforehand learned that they would be receiving honors as the longest-tenured critics from their respective nations still in attendance at the festival.
That the organizers of Cannes even think about such things is impressive; one day, is someone going to receive an award for having attended Comic-Con from the very beginning? A large contingent of photographers and journalists awaited the arrival of the 25 or so recipients, mostly modest, unassuming types unaccustomed to being in the limelight.
It was all short and sweet. As each of us had our names and nationalities announced, we stepped forward to receive engraved bronze medallions in velvet-lined blue boxes. Once proffered champagne, we could compare notes with our colleagues, some of them old friends but many others utterly unfamiliar despite having so much shared experience.
At the event, I shared American honors with Time magazine’s Richard Corliss and his wife Mary, whose Cannes career started in 1971; I had first attended the festival one year earlier. They were surprised I had beaten them there and I can’t say I blame them, as I was a completely unknown college student at the time, even if I did carry credentials from Rolling Stone (more about that anon). Still, we were pikers compared to a number of others. Unconfirmed rumors circulated about a British journalist alleged to have been coming since the late 1940s, but the longest run I actually confirmed was that of an affable Egyptian critic who said he’d been to Cannes every year since 1956. Based on attendance of two weeks for 50 years, this meant he’d spent nearly two years of his life at the Cannes Film Festival; I wondered aloud whether this qualified him for French residency. A number of French critics had been making the trip from Paris since the early 1960s, but that’s not quite the same sort of commitment as making the long and expensive journey from overseas to make the scene at the queen of all film festivals.
This all came to mind again this year, the 40th anniversary of my first visit to Cannes. Granted, I wasn’t there every year in the 1970s and at the beginning of the 1980s, but I have been since, so it’s a lot of miles clocked and films watched. It’s one of the constants in my life.
— to be continued tomorrow —