Cannes made me nervous.

I've covered a lot of film festivals over the past few years -- from Sundance to SXSW to Tribeca to Berlin -- and I usually know what to expect, how to dress, and what kind of folks I'd be running into. But even though we've covered the Cannes Film Festival for a number of years here at Cinematical, I never quite understood the festival or what it would be like to attend it. I'd heard legendary stories of films being booed or applauded for long stretches of time, and I'd seen images of this massive all-encompassing red carpet that looks as if it's about to swallow up whoever stands on it. So when Stella Artois, one of this year's festival partners, invited me out to get all up close and personal with the 2010 fest, I was a little hesitant because, well, Cannes made me nervous.

After something like 36 hours of flying, clubbing, movie-watching and celeb-spotting, I've finally returned to share some of my experiences with folks who, like me, have heard stories and seen pictures, but never really "got" the essence of this festival. What goes on there? Who attends? Is this some elite club that only lets Ferrari owners join in on all the fun? Well, no.

Okay, maybe. Nevertheless, here are six fun facts about the Cannes Film Festival from a newbie.
Guys, You Need a Tuxedo

If you're attending a public screening in the Palais de Festivals, all men are required to wear a tuxedo. And not just any tuxedo; you need one with a bow tie, despite the fact that tuxedos with ties have become a lot more popular as of late. Though it felt a little strange wearing a tuxedo to a film screening, I have to say it was a rather surreal experience -- one that sort of cherishes and celebrates the older traditions, and ends up making it quite rewarding.

As far as the ladies go, it's full-length gowns. And if you want the photographers to take your picture, you should stop, twirl, and then throw your hair up in the air. Those who want to record their red carpet experience should send a friend inside first, because a live feed from the carpet plays on the movie screen as you enter the theater.

Holy Standing Ovation

Once you're inside the theater, be prepared for lots of picture-taking. Massive amounts of picture-taking. I'm not sure what the pirating policy is at Cannes, but people were even taking pictures during the movie. Granted, it was the credits sequence -- probably someone who wanted a picture of their name -- but still, it's a lot. Another fascinating aspect of the moviegoing experience at Cannes is that the standing ovations are insanely long.

Cannes does this pretty cool, football game-like march of the film's cast and crew down the red carpet and into the theater, while spotlights follow them to their seats. The crowd, during this time, is almost always on its feet, applauding and cheering. Following the film, unless it's absolutely dreadful, there's a good chance the crowd will once again rise to its feet for another lengthy standing ovation that eventually becomes a little awkward (and overwhelming) for the filmmakers, but it's still pretty neat.

Is That an Aston Martin or a Lamborghini?

Once you exit the theater, you'll notice something a little different about the main street, called the Croisette, that occupies a great deal of the festival crowd. Instead of Nissans and Toyotas, ten minutes of car-watching should reward you with glimpses of Aston Martins and Ferraris. In case you haven't heard, Cannes is expensive, really expensive -- like it's 28 euros for a cocktail at a hotel bar expensive -- and so normally the types of people range from lowly press who seek out cheaper flat rentals so they can cook their own meals to ridiculously rich festgoers who like to park their Aston Martins on the sidewalk in front of the hotel they're staying at. (And yes, I actually witnessed that with my own eyes; see below -- notice how it's on the sidewalk.)

There Are Some Pretty Cool Parties

Once the sun goes down, Cannes really begins to light up. The restaurants are overflowing with tastemakers, while the mansions, hotels and clubs are packed with celebrities, fest-goers, party animals and lots of money. It's definitely a "scene", as one friend described the Wall Street 2 party as having fire shooting out of the water, and over at The VIP Club, anyone who orders a bottle of champagne gets it rushed to them by a man holding a wild sparkler-flare while a midget in a superman costume dances behind a DJ spinning today's hottest remixes. Over the top? Yes. But that's always been the theme of this festival: over the top. Everything is taken up one notch; every experience is more memorable than the next.

No One is Actually From France

Okay, fine, I'm sure there are lots of people working at the festival who are from France -- and even a handful of fest-goers are probably from France -- but walking around, taking in a couple screenings and attending a couple of parties -- I noticed one strange fact: No one I met was from France. I met people from Switzerland, Spain, the United States, London, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Serbia, but not one person who actually lived in France. There were people studying in France, but they were from Ireland. So if you're thinking about heading to Cannes, but afraid you'll be the only English-speaking person there, fear not -- you're definitely not alone.

Anyone Can Attend

This was the most surprising fact since I had heard prior to my arrival that, unlike practically every other film festival in existence, the public cannot buy tickets for Cannes. It's pretty exclusive, and normally you're either press who attend press screenings, or you're someone who knows someone who knows someone who's important enough to have tickets. But once I was on the ground, I found people looking to give away their tickets because they couldn't make a screening. And if you can't score a ticket from hanging around the Croisette for a little while, the festival holds free screenings of older films on the beach at night right next to the Palais de Festivals. For more ways of how to crash Cannes as a regular old Joe, check out my friend Annie's 101 Guide over on Gadling.

All photos courtesy of Erik Davis. Wait, that's me! Cool.
categories Cinematical