As the 2021 Cannes Film Festival arrived at its halfway point, filmmakers and industry insiders were eager to catch up with their colleagues, many of whom they hadn’t seen in over a year. On Sunday, IndieWire joined forces with The Gotham Film and Media Institute and sponsor FIJI Water for a rooftop toast to the American presence at the festival this year. The event took place atop Hotel 3.14, the former location of the Hotel Savoy, which once housed many Cannes attendees when the Palais des Festival was located further down the port.
The outdoor gathering was packed with familiar faces from the indie scene. Filmmakers in attendance included Sean Baker, whose latest feature “Red Rocket” marks his first entry into the festival’s Competition section, after “The Florida Project” premiered at Directors’ Fortnight in 2017. This year, that section is welcoming Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, who attended the party the day before the premiere of their postmodern musical “Neptune Frost.” Williams last attended Cannes as the co-writer and star of “Hype,” which won the Un Certain Regard section. One of the jurors for that section this year, Michael Covino, was also in attendance, two years after his directorial debut “The Climb” played the festival, where it was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.
That company’s co-president, Michael Barker, was in attendance along with several other distributors, including Neon CEO Tom Quinn and executives from A24. Oscar-winning “O.J. Made in America” director Ezra Edelman milled about the crowd as he experienced his first Cannes as a member of the documentary jury, as did producers Ted Hope, Ed Pressman, Karin Chien, and others. Festival leaders in attendance included Berlin Film Festival artistic director Carlo Chatrian, Film at Lincoln Center executive director Lesli Klainberg, and Hamptons Film Festival programming director David Nugent.
Addressing the crowd, IndieWire Executive Editor Eric Kohn noted that the Cannes Film Festival had been canceled only three times in its 74 years: Once during WWII, again in the midst of the May ’68 protests, and last year during the pandemic. “But the movies never went away each time,” Kohn said, “thanks to the work that you all do. So have a good time here, then let’s get back to work.”
IndieWire continued its longstanding relationship with the American Pavilion, which brings students to the festival every year. AMPAV interns Moahamad Mahmoud and Joseph Coalter spoke with several guests about how they’ve been reflecting on their experiences at the festival as an extension of the past year.
“I feel like I’ve been in prison for 14 months and I’m happy someone let me out,” said NEON’s Tom Quinn. “I would’ve been happy to go anywhere, but to be here especially is an extraordinary payoff. It is the single most glamorous hot mess and exciting red carpet of the world. And for that reason, the pageantry generally delivers incredible cinema at the end of that. I am so thankful to be here again and get back to what cinema is, which is a communal experience in the theater where we are under the spell of what’s on the big screen.”
Baker reflected on how the strange journey of the past year led him to direct “Red Rocket” when an earlier project was put on hold. “The very fact that this film exists is because of the pandemic,” he said. “At the same time, I tried not to in any way let the pandemic affect the filmmaking. I don’t want anyone to think that this is a COVID movie. I just wanted it to seem like a film I would have made any year.” He also acknowledged the unique climate of the festival environment: “It’s a different vibe at Cannes this year, but it is a great vibe, because, hey, this is able to happen without too much chaos and people are able to talk to each other, which is wonderful.”
Filmmaker Lance Oppenheim’s documentary “Some Kind of Heaven” wound up as a VOD premiere during the pandemic. He was attending this year’s Cannes just to watch some films. “I’ve seen a lot of films that have completely blown my socks off,” he said. “I haven’t really gone to the movie theaters much since being at home. It all feels like a diorama of what I imagined the festival to be like. It’s much smaller, much more intimate. People are talking like this. It’s nice. Family, friends, life — that is more important than cinema, but cinema is important, too.”