It's the day before the opening of the fabled, fabulous Cannes Film Festival. Everything is in disarray. The halls of the Palais des Festivals, the building at the heart of the festival, are full of packing boxes and big blue refuse containers with poster tubes sticking out of them. On one wall is a huge photograph of a bunch of men on bicycles, nude. On wide stone staircases there are inexplicable drifts of chunky sawdust, as if someone has been chain-sawing the banisters. There seem to be shards of automotive window glass scattered down one upper-level flight of stairs, and I can't figure that out, either.
Finally it dawns on me with the warped insight that sometimes seems to drive the whole process of making and distributing films, at least as far as I've experienced it. Why of course – they've been filming a logging-camp cyclist-vs.-cop car chase scene in here and they haven't cleaned it all up yet.
It's Cannes, and you'd better not make any assumptions about what is real or imagined. This is the ultimate celebration of the movies, a marriage of Hollywood creative dealmaking and French glamour, spun out over 12 days in May in air like cotton candy. Here what you think you know might turn out to be imagined, and the crazy things you dreamed about might come true.
In a way, that's a bit why my wife, Suzanne Chisholm, and I are here.
A little backstory: A few years ago I got an assignment from Smithsonian Magazine to write an article about a baby orca nicknamed Luna, who was separated from his pod in a fjord on the coast of Vancouver Island and started trying to make friends with people. That was in the early spring of 2004.
As I wrote in the article, the little whale's story got completely out of hand with controversy, conflict, funny things, and sad things. After we turned in the story (it was published in November, 2004), things got even crazier, and Suzanne and I wound up making a movie about the little whale's extraordinary life.
Completely unexpectedly, what we thought was going to be a little TV show turned into a full-length feature documentary, "Saving Luna," which went to festivals, won awards in various parts of the world, and is ready for a possible US theatrical release this fall. Now, at the culmination of all these things, it is about to be shown in, of all places, Cannes.
But here's the part that most people don't know about the Cannes Film Festival. Our film is not exactly in the festival. Instead it is to be shown as part of what's called the Marché du Film. This is the largest single market for movies in the world, a hidden festival behind the Festival, which in many ways is just as important to the fate of the movies as the festival itself.
Eighty-four films are shown as official selections for the festival, including only 20 feature films in competition. Many of them are magnificent and artistic, but esoteric, and they will not come to a theatre near you for some time if ever. But a lot of the films you have seen and actually will see – in theatres, TV specials, movie channels, your rental store, and through pay-per-view and video on demand, pass through the Marché.
As of today, 4,257 films are listed here by sales agents, and there are a total of 1,576 screenings of some of those films during the festival. (Some films are screened more than once.) So films like ours are herded through many elegant theatres on and off the festival ground like racehorses in various states of enthusiasm or exhaustion, to be bid on by cantankerous distributors from all over the world.