May 15, 2002 -- It really was the Cannes before the storm as festival staffers put the finishing touches on their preparations for the 55th Cannes Film Festival. Saws buzzed, generators whirred, brooms swished. Cameramen rehearsed their swooping aerial shots over and over. Never ones to be hurried at beautifying, the French workmen didn't begin work on the famous steps of The Palais until yesterday! And by this morning they'd barely covered the banisters in the familiar and fabulous red.
The Jury, who gets to decide the big winner at the end of the festival, arrived early. Director David Lynch, of Mulholland Drive fame, heads the Jury of the Competition this year, along with Sharon Stone and others. The Cannes Selection Committee sat through 2,281 films, including 939 features and 1,342 shorts to come up with their 55 selections.
All day the energy rose as the sun baked the growing throngs of fans who brought folding chairs and created the best seats in the house in front of The Palais. Some of them arrived 12 hours in advance. Even the fans are dressed to the max, as they watch producers, journalists and barely dressed starlets-in-the-making networking in all different languages.
One of the festival's most celebrated auteurs, Woody Allen, opens the Festival. Beginning at the end is very popular these days, so it makes sense that Cannes opens withis his Hollywood Ending and closes in 12 days with French director Claude Lelouche's And Now…Ladies and Gentlemen.
Then suddenly it's time! It's a bit before 7 p.m. and the sun is still shining brigh as that once-in-a-lifetime moment begins. The music swells, the paparazzi shout as their camera flashbulbs explode nonstop. The crowd roars as Debra Messing, Tiffani Thiessen, Treat Williams, Barney Cheng and Jodie Markell join Woody (avec wife, Soon Yi) in their finery as they glide over the Palais steps transformed by red carpet and enter
the huge theater where they will enjoy this comedy about a comeback director before whisking off to the after-hours, invitation-only beach party at the fancy Carleton Hotel.
There is so much to look forward to over the next 12 days. For the very first time digital technology makes its debut in Cannes with a showing of George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese will show 20 minutes of their wildly anticipated Gangs of New York. (Scorsese, that multitasking director, will also serve as President of the Short Films Competition.)
And who knows what will be added to the mix? Earlier today a green convertible VW Beetle passed us on the main drag, the Croissette, with a transvestite in a matching green wig behind the wheel, followed by a pink convertible bug driven by a pink-wigged transvestite.
Why? That is never the question to ask in Cannes.