The madness and mayhem of the world's most prestigious film festival is about get underway.
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13 May 2009 - 9:00 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 12:57 PM

Hi and welcome to the SBS Film Cannes blog,

Our Riviera reporting team consists of seasoned veterans who have first-hand experience of riding its roller-coaster: we've experienced the festival's protocols and controversies, whims and nuances, and discovered its eccentricities, hidden treasures and traps.

I'm Australian Sydney-ite Mary Colbert, attending my 13th festival, which pales into infanthood next to the track record of my American Paris-based colleagues, Lisa Nesselson and Glen Myrent, whose track record currently runs at 22 events.

We met at a film festival – where else? – in Vevey Switzerland run by Chaplin family in 1992, a very special year; the release of Richard Attenborough's biopic of the comic genius, with Robert Downey Jnr in leading role.

It was a magic time... Cannes' complete antithesis – a small intimate event set in the beautiful lake-side French-speaking district with picture-postcard mountain backdrop and – imagine-only three international press in attendance. Lisa, a highly respected reviewer/critic specialising in French cinema was covering the event for trade paper 'bible' Variety (for whom she filed for 16 years before switching to Screen International ), I was the first Australian attending the event – we were joined by The Times' acclaimed critic Chaplin biographer David Robinson.

For more than a week we had a pre-rehab – Robert Downey Jnr to ourselves (now that was a treat) – attending picnics, the polo, vintage car shows, dinners, parties and live orchestral score to one of Chaplin's films. We met at the opening night dinner in Chaplin's garden (as one would). Our fellow guests consisted mostly of various local sponsors and socialites. Bonded by English language, our love of cinema and a wacky sense of humour we became instant friends. Glen Myrent, a former editor of the publication of the French Cinematheque, equally well versed with Cannes, is joining us here as our cameraman and fellow-contributor.

We aim to provide you with an insider's guide to Cannes' best films, interviews, critics, awards and parties, and we'll keep tabs on how the Australians at Cannes are faring.

The remarkable aspect of the lead-up to the event is the speed with which the event physically materialises. On the weekend Cannes is a relaxing, quiet resort prior to mid summer holiday madness. By Tuesday it's transformed into a cinema-mad, poster plastered mini-city where the common language is film.

Within 36 hours the world's press, glitterati, industry and business types, cinephiles or celebrity-obsessed public – and underworld elements about to prey on all of the above – converge on this two-mile stretch as traffic slows and prices soar. In the inevitable adrenalin-rush and crush everything speeds into fast-forward. Ideally, for press it requires Olympics-like endurance and lead-up multi-task training.

Many old-timers like Jack Nicholson bemoan Cannes' transformation from its hedonistic and outrageous roots (some of that still exists, but has been superseded by business) and sleepy relaxing resort between industry (TV, advertising, photographic) fairs, to this hyped event that often publicises only its gloss and veneer. Many wonder what further changes this year's economic down turn will bring…

The first to arrive are the publicists and interview press, cementing appointment times for the upcoming days. And suddenly the onslaught is on.

The first official day springs into action with the Jury press conference, a screening of the opening film for press, and at night, The Gala. I use capitals because it is an intimate, strictly invitation-only event for the festival's nearest and dearest 350. The various juries, stars (here directors more than elsewhere are embraced into that category), French politicians and socialites, Industry's elite movers and shakers, the very top-end seasoned (mostly American and French) press. Invitations are at a premium, the fashion very chic but rarely publicised – it's so elite that paparazzi has limited access. The rest of the press attend a night screening of the next day's competition film and from then it's survival of the fittest, full on.

This year's opening film affirms artistic selector Thierry Fremaux's determination to look to the future showcasing for the first time in the prestigious slot a Pixar 3D animation, writer/director Pete Docter's Up. Cannes so meticulously celebrates its landmark beginnings, traditions and anniversaries that it's sometimes been accused of nostalgic hype in an era when other festivals like Venice, Toronto and Berlin pragmatically act as lead-up Oscar stepping stone events.

This year Fremaux has shown considerable courage in minimising the American Hollywood presence beyond the opening night. Other festivals defer so much to the Hollywood star presence, that it's refreshing this year's affirmation of talent's Euro / Asian-centric roots. The studio juggernaut mechanism are likely to have a lesser presence (with the exception of Tarantino's Brad Pitt starrer, Inglourious Bastards), confined mostly to Out of Competition slots, leaving the centre-stage to former Palme D'Or winners. Four of the latter are returning to the fray– accomplished masters and relative novices from around Europe, the Middle East and Australasia to fight it out for the gongs.

For what makes Cannes a cinephile's paradise is the fact that Ghobadi, Lou Ye, along with Haneke, Campion and Lars Von Trier are as, if not more revered, as money spinners George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

The one common denominator of Cannes – be it market, competition, or side-bars Director's Fortnight and Critics' Week - is the search for discovery of the latest buzz talents and films. Let the fossicking begin…..