Penn students learn the art of the deal in Cannes

As they prepare for finals, students enrolled in the Penn-in-Cannes program are also preparing for their brush with fame at the 64th Annual Cannes Film Festival.

Penn students learn the art of the deal in Cannes

Penn-in-Cannes Director Nicola Gentili and Cinema Studies lecturer Meta Mazaj will accompany 27 students traveling to Cannes for the two-week study abroad program. They will arrive in France on May 9 or 10 and in the idyllic resort town of Cannes on the French Riviera, the students will learn how the international film industry functions, from financing and marketing to the most important art of the deal, schmoozing.

One lesson the students will learn right away is that in order to get into a screening of the major films in the competition, they must become skillful “beggars.” Upon their arrival, the students will receive a Cinephile badge reserved for film lovers and students. It affords them the least film-screening access of all festival credentials, which means the students must hustle to get into the movies they want to see.

“We film scholars and film students must beg for tickets to the best films,” says Gentili. “Sometimes it’s disappointing because we don’t get in.”

But even if they can’t get into the blockbusters, the students spend their time experiencing the many different movies the film festival has to offer. “We get up, get a cappuccino and croissant, watch a film, then get a baguette, orange juice, see another movie,” Gentili says.

From 8 a.m. to midnight, students watch films at the Croisette, the world famous boulevard along the Cannes shoreline where the festival is held. They are expected to attend 30 screenings.

Gentili explains that while getting into the A-list films may be difficult, it is not hard to get into others. Film industry insiders are given an allotment of film passes and are penalized if they don’t parcel them all out. The primary objective for these filmmakers is to make distribution deals, not to watch movies, so they end up giving most of their tickets to the so-called “beggars.”

Fortunate “beggars” who obtain passes for the top films get to walk the red carpet of the festival’s main theater, Palais Grand Lumiere, where all the major festival films premiere. At night the dress code calls for a tuxedo or evening gown.

Female students who are lucky enough to land a last minute pass for a movie requiring formal attire quickly find a place to change into a cocktail dress they’ve often folded inside a big handbag; male students come prepared too, wearing black pants with white shirts each evening. If they snag an invitation, they don a tuxedo jacket and black tie to complete their look.

Gentili says it’s not unusual to spot celebrities. In past years, he says, “we’ve seen Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Quentin Tarrentino, many celebrities.”

Originally published on April 21, 2011