Cannes: For most moviemakers, it’s the be-all, end-all for their movies to screen here. Maybe for that reason, the pressure began mounting from the moment I found out that I was one of 15 directors chosen to be part of the Cinéfondation’s L’atelier program. Cinéfondation is the festival’s official talent development arm, which hosts a residency during the year, a short film program during the festival, and then the Latelier— a week-long one-on-one meeting program designed to accelerate co-productions and financing.

I landed in Nice to be whisked off by an official car through the French Riviera and was dropped off to my Cannes Airbnb across the Mediterranean, with its glistening blue waters. The day I landed, the weather was perfect and this festival was going to be a working holiday… or so I thought, until the next day, when the weather turned frigid.

Going into its 15th year, Latelier selected 15 directors from around the world whose work they find promising and arranged a fast-track financing and co-production meeting over the week to help with the successful completion of the projects. Their track record is stellar: In the past 14 years, 157 of the 198 projects presented have been completed and 27 are inactive pre-production. (That’s 93 percent!)

Our project, One of a Kind, already had European co-producers, so our main objective was attaching an international sales agent. Given the prestige of the program, the crème de la crème requested meetings with us, so I can tell you with great certainty that Cinéfondation takes good care of its moviemakers.

This year, Cannes’ main festival center, the Palais des Festival, was plastered with a giant official poster of Agnès Varda peering through a camera atop a platform during her shoot of La Pointe Courte. The Palais is a multi-story expanse of a theater with perhaps one of the best exhibitions on one side, featuring a river of a red carpet and multiple lines of gowned attendees. (If you’re watching any of the screenings at the Palais past 6 p.m., you’re required to wear a tux and a gown. No exceptions!)

One important thing to remember: Getting your photo on the red carpet at Cannes will be a fight. Not only can you not take selfies—you cannot ask anyone to take your photo on the carpet either. Ushers and guards will immediately approach and snub you if you try. Getting into the films is also its own art, replete with a minimum one-hour lining procedure. (Make sure you’re standing in the right line to begin with.) Once inside, watching a film in the Palais is serious business. People applaud when the logo is revealed ahead of the films and extended standing ovations are common. By the time my screening of Diego Maradona, director Asif Kapadia’s documentary on the great Argentine football player’s life, ended at 1 a.m., people were still festive in their heavy gowns!

On the other side of the Palais is what the festival is really known for: the world’s best-attended film market, with international pavilions celebrating film culture, tax subsidies, and opportunities, alongside the sales and acquisition booths that dominate the film business arena. The rear of the international pavilions leads out to the Promenade de la Croisette, so it’s not uncommon for people to take meetings on the beach as they wind down with a glass of wine.

Higher-brow sales agents all take up private rooms and apartments with gorgeous terraces overlooking the Croisette across from the Palais. French sales agent Wild Bunch, for instance, took over almost an entire floor in front of the Palais with a giant banner they hung over the terrace right above one of the area’s most frequented restaurants for meetings—Café Roma.

Industry members from around the globe are present at Cannes, so while the festival offers fantastic opportunities to try and meet them, getting into anyone’s calendar can also be a shot in the dark. I was told that the sales agents are more available after the first weekend, but be wary, moviemakers: A lot of them shut down shop around that time, leaving the market deserted before the 12-day event’s end.

And as my stay neared its end, I was left with a lasting impression: a surprising percentage of Cannes’ festival population is simply cinephiles, star-gazers, and student trippers, all descending to soak in some celluloid magic, glamour, and wonder. MM

The 2020 Cannes Film Festival will be held May 12-23, 2020. Featured image photograph courtesy of Iram Parveen Bilal.