Acclaimed Irish filmmaker Paul Duane travelled to the legendary Cannes Film Festival to launch his new horror movie... Below, he offers a vivid snapshot of the world's most iconic movie bash.
Thursday 18 May, Day 1
I have never been to the Cannes Film Festival, even though I've been a professional filmmaker since 1989, when I sold my short Ink to RTÉ (the first student film RTÉ ever bought) for 50% more than the £1000 it cost to make.
I wanted a solid reason for my first Cannes – I can’t afford to go there just to swan around the Croisette being seen by other filmmakers – and this year my self-funded debut horror movie All You Need Is Death is launching in the Marché, where my distributor, XYZ Films (Mandy, The Raid, Vivarium & more), will show the trailer, poster & stills to potential buyers ahead of our completion in September.
It's Day One & I’m already over budget.
I’m keen to meet these guys in person, it’s all via Zoom so far. Very few people in the film industry get as excited as me about, for instance, the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, while the guys at XYZ compete over who has more physical media copies. It’s a treat working with people who love movies.
I've been warned to bring a tux in case I get invited to a gala. I’ve got my towel & swimming trunks, because it’s the seaside. And I have a burning desire to blag a ticket to the Martin Scorsese premiere. Seeing Taxi Driver in the Rock Cinema in Cashel in about 1982 first showed me what a director does.
I’m on a mission, against great odds. But to quote Bill Drummond: "If it doesn’t involve high risk, you shouldn’t bother doing it."
Nice Airport is stressful as I try to figure out how to get to Cannes by public transport, eventually giving up, tired & sweating, to cab it. It’s Day One & I’m already over budget.
People warned me that Cannes is incredibly expensive – "We ordered two charcuterie platters & four glasses of wine, €80!" - but I live in Dublin where prices like this are par for the course. To save money myself & my co-producer Nick Franco of 1185 Films are sharing a room. It’s lucky we’ve known each other 20+ years…
Despite my excitement, when I try to buy tickets for screenings, everything has completely sold out. I'm told there are ways around that for seasoned Cannes heads involving getting up early to check for returns but the system is beyond my comprehension, so I just give up hope of seeing anything while I'm here.
Nick has got invites to the fancy Film Soho party, where I wander around looking at the glamour and the free cocktails and the backslapping bonhomie.
My anti-social streak surfaces sometimes at parties, and I find myself on the beach, looking at the vast amniotic bath of the sea and wondering if it would be better if we could just walk back into it and disappear en masse. Yeah, I'm a barrel of laughs.
We have a morning meeting with Screen Ireland, who have decided not to fund my new film. The film already has worldwide distribution, so their funding would be repaid within the year, and their decision will cause real problems finishing the film in time for our festival deadline, so we are genuinely perplexed by the decision.
From our chat it seems to have been based on personal taste; the film is structured with a deliberate ellipse in its centre, so when we come back to the characters we originally met, they’ve all changed in disturbing ways – a kind of storytelling common in European and Asian cinema.
The afternoon is less combative - drinks with my old friend, documentary director Paul Sng. We last met when he was in Dublin making a film about another former colleague of mine, Irvine Welsh (I commissioned a script from Irv years ago that never got made) & his new film Tish will open the Sheffield Documentary Festival – an amazing achievement.
It's lunchtime so I abstemiously mix sparkling water with my white wine - the waiter catches me and makes a "crying" face. Desolé , mon frére.
Later I meet Todd Brown of XYZ, my distributor, who has good news about a second major festival that sees my film as a potential premiere. The downside is, it will need subtitles, and there’s no money for that, but I’ve subtitled my own films before – low-budget filmmakers learn to multi-task.
We talked some business (he was very surprised to hear about the Screen Ireland decision, and promised to discuss it with them when they meet) but mostly we talked about movies, obscure Canadian rock groups and our shared love of Texas’ great Butthole Surfers.
XYZ are currently releasing some astonishing low-budget films from countries you wouldn’t immediately associate with the horror/thriller genre – Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, to name a few.
My film’s intrinsic Irishness – the plot turns on the concept of being "faoi geasa", or under a sacred obligation – is for them a plus, not a minus.
After days of walking up and down the Croisette beside the constant traffic jam, my feet are painful, my leg muscles aching, my head is sore, my spirit is empty. Did I mention it’s raining all the time? I feel like I’ve been here a month. Oh, all right, get out your tiny violins.
I’m meeting with the American film critic Bilge Ebiri for lunch, he’s already seen the Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Takeshi Kitano & Jonathan Glazer films. Between talking about the Turkish election results (I’m hoping my friends in Istanbul manage a change of leader; Bilge is not optimistic) he tells me his thoughts, and the films all sound great, especially the Kitano. Bilge quotes me in his piece for Vulture, so I’ll do the same with him here.
Telling people that you have a horror movie in the Marché is an instant way of getting their interest.
Then Patrick O’Neill from the excellent distribution company Wildcard, who released my first feature documentary Barbaric Genius (now on Netflix) and who is currently producing a very exciting drama project starring NI Irish language hip hop artists Kneecap. We discuss the theatrical release possibilities of AYNID in Ireland, which are genuine, though niche.
Wildcard released The Young Offenders, which Peter Foott self-funded; the huge success of that film helped give me the courage to take a similar risk making my own, and Peter’s incredibly helpful advice helped me build a paradigm for funding small films outside of the regular funding structure, something which, it seems, might become increasingly necessary.
The evening melts away in a welter of national film fund parties. The Indian pavilion wins hands down, not only because of amazing cocktails but they're giving out free shoes (I did not ask for any).
Telling people that you have a horror movie in the Marché is an instant way of getting their interest. Horror movies are the only commercially viable low-budget films left, it seems. The foreign response to the trailer has been uniformly positive. Can’t wait to go public with it.
Finally the sun returns as I’m about to return home.
My two final Cannes interactions are emblematic; I buy a bottle of water in a tabac and get charged €5, and buy a €9 train ticket to the airport, only to get on a train run by a different company, meaning my ticket is invalid, and there’s a €50 fine. Trying to be thrifty, it ends up costing twice what a taxi would have cost.
No Scorsese, no red carpet, no swim… OK Cannes, you have kicked my ass, and I’m going home broke & exhausted, but I’ll be back (hopefully with my own bedroom next time).
All You Need Is Death will be released in cinemas later this year
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ