”The talent sits there!” Reflections on the feudal systems of the film festival
4 Sep 2011
I have stumpled upon Woody Allen sleeping in a hotel lobby, I have peed with Anne Hathaway, gotten parental advice from Susan Sarandon and I have received a hug from Michael Moore and an autograph from George Clooney (and wished it had been the other way around).
But the only real larger-than-life experience so far has been meeting Madonna. Or, maybe larger-than-life is not really a term that one can apply to celebrities this day and age, where none of us perceive famous people like they used to do in Rudolph Valentino’s time. Fame may be the closest thing to a shared global religion, but we do know celebrities are rarely saints.
Anyway, it was more like a cartoon had materialized itself in front of me. Like, if Jessica Rabbit suddenly sat next to me ready to talk about her new film as a director, a love story of course, based on her dealings with the elusive Roger.
Surprisingly, this powerhouse of a female performer turned out to be very sweet, despite her femme fatale appearance, dressed as she was in black lace, waving a black fan, and wearing super high killer heels. Placing her self at a table with a handful of journalists (unusually respectful, one of my Belgian colleagues actually studdered in awe), she appeared humble, because of a slight crouch, and let her hands relax in her lap.
”I was really fascinated with the story of Wallis Simpson and Edward the VIII. I mean the man gave up the throne for her! How often to you see that? You see so many films where men pursue power before anything else,” she said about her reasons to make the film.
Many years have passed, since she made In bed with Madonna and revealed a vulnerable woman in love with Warren Beatty. She has had children, been married again and she has moved England. And she even subscribes to a British accent now.
But, sitting there with her enormous green eyes and fair, peachy skin – which my colleagues assured me was obtained via all sorts of operations and beauty methods –and obviously extremely attached to her new piece of work, she sort of seemed like she is still that girl, on a certain level or more.
Especially, because she continued:
”I think we all deep down look for a man, who is willing to leave everything else for us.” And when asked if she had tried that, she smiled, frowning: ”No …”
So, it seemed, I was luckier than the Italian journalist, who was begging the PR people for an interview, saying ”I will do anything for you, if you give me Madonna…” To no avail.
To be part of the Venice Film Festival, is to have a place in the sun. The small island a 20 minutes boat ride from Venice is littered with celebrities during the two weeks of September, when the festival takes place.
For instance, I had a chat with Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow this morning. At the Excelsior, I was picked up by Warner Brother’s taxi boat and was sailed across the sunny Laguna. Having been offered cappucino and crisp Italian cookies, I enjoyed the company of the two mega stars, who also happen to be old friends.
Well, it’s not that it didn’t happen, like I just described it. But in this case, the ephemeral place in the sun, was lit by TV cameras, and before I was granted audience with the Contagion-actors, I had to wait for more than four hours, with a bunch of other journalists, among which a German tv-reporter named me ’Miss Denmark’.
”In my house we wash our hands a lot,” Matt Damon says, when I asked, what he would do if a pandemic like the one in Contagion were to break out. Now, he may not be such a different parent from the rest of us. But here in Venice he is at the top of a hierarchy, that works like a feudal system.
Wearing a red ’Daily’ press pass, I belong to the V.I.P. I can stroll by a 100 meter line of journalists with blue cards for periodicals, and industry representatives with green ones, because we have priority to the screenings of the films in competition for the Golden Lion. I am secured access to the press conference room, where today, I watched Al Pacino, looking like a sunburned pirat king in a white silk shirt, presenting his film Wilde Salomé, in which he stages Oscar Wilde’s play Salome. A charming and poetic example of Pacino’s art imitating Oscar Wilde’s life.
Then, I arrive at locations, where I am reminded of my part in the game. Even when we are served bubbly wine and fresh cheese, there is an invisible, yet fine line, you don’t overstep. This is communicated in the subtle ways by the publicists:
”The talent sits here”, they will say pointing at a blocked chair. Meaning that no talent will inhabit the other seats around the table.
Of course, you get a chance to laugh with Madonna, flirt with Vincent Cassel and embarrass your self in front of Jude Law, and I have done this. But, me and my colleagues are mere mortals with access cards, temporarily allowing us a visit to a secluded, fenced Celebrity World. A bit like a V.I.P Disney World, except, there are no dolphins, you only have 25 minutes, and you don’t get to hug anyone in a George Clooney-suit.
Lucky for us, we have our own hierarchy, and in this our tribe of international media outlets, the weight and currency we carry equal the scalps, we hang at our belts.
We don’t talk about this, mind you. We talk about the films, the art, that got us into this line of work in the first place, and we discuss which celebrity is hardly recognizable this year because of plastic surgery (Monica Bellucci). But we don’t condescend to fandom. Not like the hundreds of people always gathering along the red carpet, annoyingly enough, when we have to hurry outside the fenced festival area for a quick bite before the next screening of a possible Golden Lion-winner.
We are the one’s with the red daily passes, and we take no prisoners.
Of course, I am not really part of this. Not like my colleagues, the scalp hunters, whose calendars work around film festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and London, those who are like sport reporters regularly missing childrens’ and parents’ birthdays, and who collect movie stars like kids collect football cards. I only fix in Venice, so, for me, it’s not really an addiction.
Ps. I have two Colin Firth cards. Who wants to trade for Jon Hamm from Mad Men?