Feature article about the Irish people in Cannes – at the Cannes Film Festival


Irish quartet make their pitch at glitzy film festival

Barbara McCarthy meets the hopefuls as they navigate the paps, parties and deal-cutting at sunny Cannes

RED CARPET: Fergus Kavanagh, Sam Najjair, Ross Hamilton, Philip A McCarthy at the Cannes Film Festival



Leonardo Di Caprio says Cannes is simply an “insane place”, while Jane Campion, president of the Palme D’Or jury this year says it’s “mythical and exciting, where amazing things can happen”.

“Actors are discovered, films are financed and careers are made. I know this because it happened to me,” she said before the world’s most glamorous movie event kicked off for the 67th time.

The probability of something amazing happening may have something to do with the population of the sleepy seaside town swelling from 30,000 people to 200,000.

Besides the tourists, who pitch their deckchairs outside the Palais three days in advance of the festival launch to catch a glimpse ofHollywood‘s creme de la creme, everyone else has something to sell, regardless of whether they are A-list celebrities staying on a 50ft yacht or film students staying in a tent for a week looking to peddle an unfinished screenplay.

Don’t let the competition and premieres fool you, the Cannes Film Festival is a sales event where people sell films – and themselves – for 12 days.

When I arrived at the airport I was met by about 50 rude paparazzi pushing each other over and then stepping on each other to get at Pamela Andersonwho was making her way through the terminal. I asked her: “What are you doing in Cannes, Pam?” She grinned and pressed on. It was clear that just like anyone else, she’s here to network, do business, meet and greet etc.

Though she does it with a different set. The super famous, generally keep to themselves in the Hotel de Cap, down the road in Antibes or stay in private villas. Being in Cannes is generally too stressful due to the 4,000-odd media and everyone else trying to get to them. Everyone else happily mingles along the famous Croissette, which is like a comfortable bazaar, where trading is done on white leather couches over a free hor d’oeuvres and a rose.

Suki Waterhouse attends "The Homesman" premiere during the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival
Suki Waterhouse attends “The Homesman” premiere during the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival

“Cannes is important for people in film at any level and despite the red carpets, velvet rope and overpriced cocktails, it is accessible to anyone,” says filmmaker Fergus Kavanagh, who is looking for distribution for his film Running to Stand Still. It’s a coming-of- age story about a young Irishman’s journey of misadventure and self-discovery filmed in Thailand and Ireland.

“I came here two years ago with nothing but an idea and went to the Thai film board, who then brought me to Thailand along with location scouts from the US, India and Korea. It was through connections I made here that I could make this film happen. I have since received massive support from the Thai film board and we will be premiering the movie at the Bangkok film festival in November.”

The trick, he says, when you come here is to not force yourself on people. “It’s organic don’t panic, that’s what I say. The rule to make it work is there are no rules. You can spend your days dishing out business cards and going to parties, but that may not necessarily lead to much when you get home.”

Actor Ross Hamilton, who plays the lead role in the film, travelled to Cannes with Kavanagh. “I’m here to promote my first feature film, which was shot on a micro budget last year and it’s incredible that we made it here. It’s such a unique place, filled with endless potential. Everyone is here – distributors, screenwriters, directors and potential collaborators. As a massive lover of film, I particularly enjoy the fact that I can watch movies here too and chat to people about the art of filmmaking.”

Author of autobiographical Soldier for a Summer, Sam Najjair is in Cannes to find collaborators for a screenplay he wrote about his experiences as a revolutionary freedom fighter in Libya. Born to an Irish mother and a Libyan father, Sam, who worked in Dublin in the restaurant trade, travelled to Tripoli in 2011, where he led a ‘Lions of Tripoli’ brigade, which scouted enemy positions and cleared the way for the main forces. Najjair also visitedSyria in 2012 where he aided the rebel fighters against the Assad regime as well as a multifaceted mission to support humanitarian aid and trained local Syrian troops. Having already been featured in an award-winning, documentary for France 24, called The Tripoli Brigade, Najjair has been a commentator on Sky News, BBC and CNN.

“It’s a very unique story, and I want to be part of the production as a screenwriter and producer. It’s my first screenplay but on my Irish side I grew up in a theatrical family with both my grandparents acting in the Abbey.

“Not wanting to be left out, I myself wrote a screenplay, which I am looking to sell in Cannes. An Irish comedy, I wrote about personal experiences. I learnt from US-based script-consultant Pilar Alessandra, who is giving a workshop in Filmbase in Dublin in June, that I need to ‘hook them right away, don’t dwell’. Get a logline – start with what if… then embellish. Sometimes you only have two minutes, so don’t waste them.”

“It’s many people’s dream to come here and we’re here,” filmmaker Philip A McCarthy told me. “I got changed into my tuxedo in a tiny little shipping boat last time I was here, after which I was told my feature film The Vein Within, about progressive addiction based on a true story would never be made. Yet I made it on €3,000 and I’m screening it to distributors here,” he says. “It’s a story that has been 13 years in the making and we made it against all the odds.”

So despite the usual critique of the Cannes festival not being what it once was, it’s still the stuff of dreams and when you’re not talking movies, a brisk walk along the seafront at night to watch the fireworks or downing a cocktail at some production party make it well worth the trip.

Sunday Independent