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Cannes 2023: great films, good chats, delicious pizza and a few bad manners

A preface to everything below is that yes I do realise that about 99% of people on the planet would give one of their limbs to go to Cannes and it’s a privilege that it’s part of my work life to even be there…

First, let’s talk about the films. When I used to be inside an office editing Screen dailies for years, I would be lucky to see one film a year at Cannes. This year I think I saw about 8 on the ground (yes I mostly got the tickets I wanted, having a pink press badge helps!), and about 6 pre-festival. A good run. The ones that impressed me the most are these five.

Fave films of Cannes 2023

The Zone of Interest

Killers of the Flower Moon

How To Have Sex

Anatomy of a Fall

Fallen Leaves

My Cannes by the numbers

Panels/roundtables moderated 10

Awards shows I presented at: 2

Pitch sessions I hosted: 3

Interviews with me: 3 (listen to Anna Smith’s awesome Girls on Film podcast here)

A few of those panels you can watch here:

Rebecca O'Brien talks The Old Oak (video and podcast)

Cannes Do’s and Don’ts (video and podcast)

I helped the Marche start a new initiative called Cannes Investors Circle – you can read more here and here.

This new initiaive was 100% Guillaume and Aleksandra's idea, not mine, but I really enjoyed working on it, particularly talking to our opening speaker Liesl Copland from Participant (someone who I've admired for so long but never had the chance to interview) at the most gorgeous place I’ve ever moderated, the new Plage des Palmes at Plage Goeland:

I wrote a bunch of stories for Screen (all articles here)

A feature about trends in Nordic genre films

A feature about Nordic cinema opening up to more immigrant voices

I did about 16 or so meetings with my other hats on (like for Sundance London, San Sebastian or Lubeck).

So, errr, yes, I was a bit too busy. In my freelance life I’m juggling a lot of jobs always, especially during Cannes time. To be less busy this time of year, I could quit some of the jobs I love or I could skip Cannes. And I don’t want to do either of those things so I just suck it up and work too much. It’s my decision, nobody’s forcing me to do any of this. I also really love being busy.

Several people asked me, WHY do you moderate so much? The short answer is: I love it. It’s my favourite thing to do. I’m talking to people I’m genuinely interested in, helping them speak to an audience who is also interested. Secondly, I somewhat justify my trip to Cannes because of all the moderating – for those who don’t know I’m completely freelance – it’s useful for me to be in Cannes for all my jobs, and I love it personally, but nobody helps pay for my trip. It’s expensive to pay for yourself to go to Cannes so earning a bit moderating helps Cannes be a little more affordable for me. But I certainly don’t just do it for the money – there are better ways to earn more money – but moderating a great session with an interesting person can really inspire me and give me a burst of energy when I’m tired. I prep for every session before Cannes so I’m not caught off guard.

I decided it was a good time for me to do most of Cannes sober – being a tired and hungover 49-year-old lady on stage isn’t a good look. This wasn’t about me suddenly having a moral crisis about drinking – I can attest I got tipsy at the pub near my house the week I got back and I loved it – but I’m at an age where I sleep terribly if I’ve had booze, and if you’re only getting 6 hours of sleep anyway you need it to be quality sleep. So I slept better than I ever have in Cannes. I avoided getting my usual food poisioning. And if you’re seeing people you want to talk to anyway, doing so over a Perrier is actually really nice. It’s only if you’re sat at some endless 3-hour dinner with a terrible bore that you need the wine to get through it. So I skipped any tiresome 3-hour dinners with bores!

Everybody’s Cannes is different – I saw one friend mention they had 112 meetings. I wouldn’t survive that. I know some critics who see 4-5 films per day and write just as many insightful reviews. I couldn’t even comprehend that. Some people come to Cannes as something of a holiday, flitting around from yacht to party to lunches, and I think that’s great for them (I also wouldn’t survive that, I can’t be that social for that many days in a row). You do you.

It’s also about realizing that you can’t do everything you want to do. I’m know I missed some nice dinners and parties. But I looked after myself to through the workload and it felt better and smarter than some previous years.

Cannes wins

My Airbnb was actually nicer than the photos. That has never happened in the history of Airbnb. Might book it again for next year!

Made time for a 15 minute swim on my penultimate day. Glorious. Walked home via the Marche Forville and got a still-warm pain au chocolate at the boulangerie there. France does some things very well indeed.

I stocked up at the French pharmacies on lots of fun and affordable body and beauty products – thanks to everyone who shared their tips with me. Also big ups to fragrance fanboy Jim Kolmar who tipped me off to the newly opened Molinard store on Rue des Belges – amazing heritage perfumerie from Grasse that has unique scents. I shopped there twice just because they were so nice and sometimes in Cannes you just need people to be nice to you. Planning another pilgrimage next year, they even have a session where you can mix your own scent.

My canine-themed Palm Dog headwear got good notices. And this year’s Palm Dog was epic. Truly some great dog performances this year – first time ever the Palm Dog winner (Anatomy of a Fall) and jury prize winner (Fallen Leaves) then won the Palme d’Or and the Main Jury prize.

The Nordic party was back! It was the only real ‘party’ I went to. I danced even though I was sober. It was a delight.

On a tiring day I took burgers over to Lorianne and Grimar’s boat and had a perfect lunch in the sunshine with them. Boat life is a good life.

I made time with people that I just adore who nourish my soul and don’t just ask how work is but ask how *I* am – looking at you Kathleen, Marit, Eugene, Finn, Jacob, Lizette, Sigurros, Manu, Kristy, Grainne, Petri and more who I’m sure I’m forgetting. Tricia gets a special thanks for letting me pounce on her for a long hug on the street one day when I was on the verge of collapse.

My dear friend Wendy Naugle is now a big fancy editor in chief of People magazine, and she comes to Cannes on the red carpet with L'oreal and meeting fancy people like Viola Davis. But we made time for some salads together one day and that was a delight.

I made it to the Danes’ favourite Italian spot and had some of the best pizza and pasta of my life (It was also recommended by Frederic Boyer who knows where to eat). Cheap. Nothing fancy. Nice owner, scatty service. I’m not even gonna name it because it is already hard enough to get a table but I will be back.

I started out doing 10 minutes of Pilates in my tiny little studio flat every morning. That went away after about 5 days but still it helped at the start and maybe my knees were creaking less.

Met some lovely new people and have already kept in touch with a few of them. Here I am with one old pal, Mo Abudu, amazing media mogul from Nigeria, with some new people I met at Producers' Network:

Cannes fails

We NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE SOUND in the Varda. I watched a truly extraordinary piece of cinema, Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, in the Varda one evening. One of the most intense film experiences of the year, and I was rapt. But then there’s a moment in the film where it (mild spoiler alert) cuts to a very quiet shot of people working in a museum. And because the sound is so shitty in that venue I could hear a beach party singing karaoke version of Lionel Richie’s All Night Long instead of the film. Somehow I don’t think this was Monsieur Glazer’s sound design idea. If Cannes is such a temple of cinephilia can’t they f’ing sort out that noise pollution?

I also went to somewhere that charged 9 Euros for a very small glass of iced tea. No refills, of course. Somewhere the Southern Belle in me withered a bit.

Got caught in a huge downpour, umbrella was back at the flat and paid 17 Euros for a crappy one from Monoprix. Also had to pay 9 Euros for 3 coathangers and Monoprix. Hence fell a little out of love with Monoprix this year.

When I went for my swim I thought I’d be ‘clever’ and bury my keys under my bag on the beach so that even if pickpockets nabbed my bag, I’d outsmart them. Cut to walking off the beach, realizing I’d left the keys buried but had picked up the bag and wasn’t 100% sure where it had been. A fraught 2 minutes finding the keys. Stupidity personified. I got lucky.

Every damn year I buy myself a tin of lentils to eat in my flat and every year it gets left behind and yet somehow I find time to eat all the biscuits instead.

Some poor chap tried to come sit at a table I was at on a day when I was juggling Sundance London Zooms, Screen deadlines and in-person meetings. He started that whole, ‘Hi, what’s your name and what do you do?’ vibe I just had to shut him down and say, "I’m so sorry to be this person, but I’m too busy to chat." So, sorry dude whoever you are I’m not always that rude but sometimes you literally don’t have 5 mins for small talk.

A little reminder about good manners

It’s actually exhausting when people are coming up to you hour after hour asking things of you, wanting things from you, demanding things from you. Especially if they don’t know you. This happens to me a lot because my face is familiar after all the moderating.

I’m not someone who is going to make or break your career – I can’t give you money to make your film, I can’t sell it, I can’t distribute it, I can’t even guarantee to get it into any festival I work for. I can’t give you a five-star review.

But yet, here are the kind of things that happen over and over -- I was walking to a meeting, in conversation with my bosses at San Sebsatian as we walked down the street, when someone accosted me and started pitching a story for ScreenDaily that would be for a territory I don’t cover anyway. Literally running alongside me on the street shouting about their story while I was trying to talk to my colleagues. After a panel another random guy came up to me bragging that his film fund had more money than the British royal family (who is currently worth £3bn if you are wondering). I was on a dancefloor when someone asked me to give them feedback on their film. I was at a reception when someone demanded I help get their friend into the reception (I was a guest at this reception, not an organizer!) I was trying to walk home after midnight when someone I don’t know started complaining to me that she needed to be on more invite lists. I wished her good luck and she followed me down the street to try again 2 minutes later. All this is the part of Cannes that makes me want to don a disguise and I’m not even famous or important!

So, please, know your time and place – sure, introduce yourself quickly and ask if you can follow up after Cannes. I like meeting new people if they're interesting. People can easily find my email address if they Google for it, and could email me thoughtfully with requests or asking for advice.

My friend Annick Mahnert summed it up perfectly on Facebook – “Goodbye Cannes, I love/hate you.” It’s intense. But happy to say this year it was about 90% love for me.

See you at Cannes 2024 and maybe I’ll be even smarter then. I certainly won’t ever bury my keys in the sand again.

If you want to get keep the Cannes vibe going, here’s Lee Marshall’s Spotify playlist of songs from Cannes 2023 films.

Ending on one more glamorous panel, at the Campari Lounge for Breaking Through the Lens. Look at those laughs, see panels CAN be fun:


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