Most of the 35 mm from Beirut team have been to the Cannes Film Festival before, so they know what to expect. However, it’s my first time here. I mean, I’ve been to Cannes itself before and I’ve always loved its odd mix of glamorous in the summer and sleepy French coastal town during the rest of the year. But being here for the one of the world’s most exciting film festivals is an different experience altogether.

I was the first of the team to get to town yesterday, and my first destination was the registration office to get my festival badge. As you make your way past a raft of onlookers waiting for celebrities to get into town, you’re ushered into the Palais des Congres by extremely tanned and friendly security staff in beige suits waving metal detector wants, rather ineffectually, until you reach the registration hall in the basement of the building. And it’s an impressive sight. The queue is long, winding and sweaty. You hear a whole host of languages being spoken excitedly, and varying degrees of proficiency in English as professionals waste no time in making contacts with people in line with them. One thing I really wasn’t expecting was to see so many students. It’s kind of heartwarming to see film students from around the world mingling with the seasoned dealmakers in what is a huge global industry.

Armed with my badge, complete with absolutely horrendous photo, I walked down the Croisette to check out goings on around town. All the big hotels are decked out in promotional posters for upcoming blockbusters. I think they were even lowering some sort of AMG Mercedes onto the lawn in front of the Carlton.

Later in the day, Serge, the head of the Lebanese Tourism Office in Paris, and Coline, a fellow 35mm From Beirut team member, arrived from Paris. Around sunset, we all headed to the Village International in the Marché du Film, where the Lebanese pavillion is located. The area was pretty quiet, except for a few sunburnt burly men banging things with hammers, and putting some finishing touches on everyone’s pavilions. It’s an impressive sight, to see the Lebanese flag alongside that of so many countries in town to promote their movie industries. There was a sense of anticipation for the ten days to come, but everything was quiet under the fluttering flags last night.

This morning, when we headed over to the pavillion, things were very different. People were starting to pour into the city, and the stands were coming to life. After we settled in, we decided to be good neighbours by heading over to meet the brilliant and welcoming people at the Nigerian, Algerian and Irish pavilions around us. We couldn’t be a more diverse bunch, but that’s what makes somewhere like Cannes exciting. The possibility of working with people from all over the world on interesting creative projects.

Over the course of the day, it was great to see some of the Lebanese filmmakers and producers who are already in town pass by the pavilion for a chat and a brainstorm about how to approach the festival this year. You could tell the Lebanese pavilion plays an important role for them amidst the craziness of the place, it’s somewhere they can feel a sense of familiarity.

We were also visited by people who were extremely keen on having Lebanese productions involved in film festivals in London, Tangiers, Algiers and more. We even got a couple of people who just dropped by to say that they love Lebanon, which probably won’t help get any films made, but still feels pretty good.
As Cannes prepares for tonight’s opening ceremony, against the backdrop of the infamous mistral wind, it looks like we’re in for an exciting 10 days. And you can follow it all here on 35mm From Beirut.

By Nasri Atallah