It's not the winning that counts but the spotting of a major movie star!
This year's edition of the Cannes Film Festival will begin on 14 May 2014. If you are planning a visit to the French Riviera for the second half of May, you are probably interested in having a peek yourself, just to find out what all the fuss is about.
Here we give you a brief introduction to the event and a few tips of where to go and how to spot a movie star -- and where not.
First, a few facts about the nature of the event: Many people misunderstand the Cannes film festival and the role it plays in the city's (and region's) economy. Festival fortnight is the manufacturing of the product, not the sale. It is not there to earn money but to define the brand.
So who brings in the cash, who makes Cannes such a wealthy place? Property salesmen, travel agents, admen, middle management types -- people from far less glamorous industries who gladly pay for the privilege of listening to each others' presentations in the same environment where Hollywood stars receive awards and bathe in frenetic applause.
No sneering, please, because this is not a bad thing. After all, everybody wins: estate agents from Minnesota and Nebraska leave happily for home in the belief that some of the Hollywood glamour has rubbed off on them, the Cannes businessmen make a living, and Brad Pitt does not care.
Secondly, the festival is primarily a trade fair, an annual get-together for the movie industry's big wigs and their key distributors. Films are shown, but more importantly, deals are made. This is not a spectator sport.
So what can a "normal visitor" expect to see or experience in Cannes during the two weeks of the festival? Not very much, frankly. It is nearly impossible, for example, to get your hands on tickets for any film from the "official selection" (in as well as out of competition) -- screenings are strictly by invitation only.
There is, however, a Cannes Cinephile booth next to the Palais which mainly distributes tickets for "fringe" events such as Un Certain Regard. And there is the Cinema de la Plage with free open-air screenings of classic movies by the beach.
If you want to spot movie stars, however, your best -- and practically only -- chance is to join the crowds in front of the Palais des Festival, where the gala performances of the competition movies take place every evening (at 7:30 and 10:30 pm).
Be there early, certainly before six if you want to see anything. Familiarize yourself with the etiquette: the first guests to arrive are the "little people," cultural attachés and bureaucrats who got tickets to make their wives happy, able to walk down the red carpet for once in their lives, while the stars generally show up at the last minute.
Spot those who know where to stop and smile for the photographers -- turning once left and once right so that the photographers on either side of the aisle get a good shot -- and those who do not. Also note that the bigger the star, the longer they take to march all the way up to the top of the stairway.
The second epicentre of the festival is the Carlton hotel, booked solid one year in advance. There are other luxury hotels in Cannes, but the Carlton is where all the great stars and important producers stay. If they stay in Cannes at all, that is. (Some prefer to book a hotel in Monaco and fly in by helicopter.)
The few hundred metres on the Croisette -- Cannes's beach promenade -- that separate the Carlton from the Festival Palais represent, in many ways, the axis of the event, but do not expect to see any stars there, ever.
If, for some reason, it becomes necessary to go from one place to the other, a car will be provided, preferably a stretch limo. You will never see a proper movie star mingle with mere mortals on the sidewalk. Critics and journalists, conversely, walk this way many times every day, if for no other reason than to agree a time for dinner and to exchange the latest gossip.
Finally, there is always the beach -- not to swim, of course, but to watch. Catch sight of a starlet who wants to attract attention -- or of established actors who are being interviewed by TV hosts in front of azure Mediterranean backgrounds. This is also where the French television stations normally erect their studios for the festival fortnight -- and where you can spot people coming, going or waiting their turn.
For more tips for your trip to the French and Italian Riviera, visit All Things Riviera
Follow Michael Schuermann on Twitter: www.twitter.com/easyhiker101