Filmmakers Ned Benson, David Lowery and Anahita Ghazvinizadeh Talk Cannes Film Festival Stories

Three filmmakers who are recent alumni of the Cannes Film Festival share their chronicles of the Croisette.

Ned Benson
(The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Cannes 2014)

A blur. I think that’s the best way to describe it, at least while I was experiencing it. I remember eating room-service spaghetti at six a.m., still in black tie, or what remained of my black tie, in my room at the Carlton with my brother, his wife, a close friend Fabrice, James (McAvoy), my producer Cassandra and two journalists from Madame Figaro.

We’d had the screening the night before and I remember being jet-lagged, caught in a traffic jam in the festival cars on the way to the Lumière, and waiting for Jessica (Chastain) — who had some sort of dress malfunction — so we could walk up the red carpet to premiere the film. James got claustrophobic and antsy in traffic behind all the other arrivals, so we got out of the car and walked the rest of the way. He said hi to fans, signed autographs, and I just looked at the shit-show of people and lights and technocranes with cameras swooping over, and hundreds upon hundreds of photographers shouting in various Romance languages.

It’s a bizarre moment — I mean, it’s filmmaker mecca to me, and I was there with my first film and thinking, “Be here now, this is happening.” But I couldn’t be there now ’cause it just happens so damn fast. I’m blinded by flashes and deafened by music, and an usher turns me here and there to face the photographers.

Then, all of a sudden, I’m in the theater presenting the film with Thierry Frémaux, and Saint-Saëns’ “Aquarium” plays with that awesome Cannes introduction, and then I’m in hell because I have to sit through my film (which I’m completely over and hate by now) with the audience, and I might as well be in a chair in front of the screen looking out at them, because I hear every cough, sigh, breath, shift, whisper, I see every person get up to use the bathroom, and I’m hoping they don’t boo, ’cause it’s been known to happen.

And then it ends, and I’m blasted with lights in the theater and people are applauding at the cast and me. I’m standing there uncomfortably, self-consciously, and after a few minutes James leans over and asks, “Do we just keep standing here?” I respond, “We need drinks,” and he responds, “Yes. We do.”

So we walk out with everyone trailing. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to, but we do and then some audience members stop me to tell me about losing children, and one man breaks down and hugs me, and I have no idea what to say ’cause I just make movies, but I hug him back and he holds on for a bit and everyone stands there watching. People hand me cards and books and notes and I think to myself: “This is ridiculous. I’m full of shit.”

And then I’m ushered to an area with champagne flutes, and then driven to a bar with our group/cast/friends/family. And then somehow it’s 6 a.m. and I’m eating spaghetti watching the sun come up. And now I have to do a photo call and two days of press — I don’t think I slept while I was there. Also, I got to meet Sophia Loren. It was amazing.


David Lowery
(Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Cannes 2013)

My memories of Cannes begin with the image of a bulldozer on the beach, frantically erecting a levee as stormy tides washed across the floors of the pavilions on the beach where we were doing press. They don’t tell you that it’s freezing in Cannes. Maybe it’s usually not, but it sure was that year.

The best thing that happened, though, was my last night there, when I joined a gaggle of folks in one last trip out to the Hôtel du Cap, which is a ridiculously exclusive hotel about 30 minutes outside of the city where people go to hobnob and buy $40 drinks. It’s one of those things that’s worth doing while you’re there just to say you’ve done it. By that point, we’d done it two or three times and we figured, exhaustion be damned, we should have one last go.

We commandeered a herd of taxis and wound our way around the coast — only to find upon arrival that they wouldn’t let us in. There was some sort of private function that night, and we didn’t cut the mustard. So there we were, 20 or so of us standing outside the gates — a motley crew made up of filmmaker friends, some of my cast, Lynne Ramsay, the bodyguard in charge of keeping an eye not on her but her diamond earrings, and who knows who else.

While producing superstar Jay Van Hoy tried to negotiate with the hotel security to let us in, we waited and wound up having our own little party right out there at the hotel gates. The taxi drivers gave everyone bottled water. Beer came from somewhere. We never made it into the hotel, but it didn’t matter — being stuck outside was far more fun, and a much more appropriate and memorable capper to my first trip to Cannes.


Anahita Ghazvinizadeh
(Needle, Cannes 2013)

Anahita…” Jane Campion said my first name very fast. For a second, I thought she was saying “Anita” and I was trying to remember if we had a filmmaker with that name in the Cinéfondation selection. But then she paused and smiled. Never in my life have I felt so happy about how difficult my last name is to pronounce. By the time she said “Ghazvinizadeh,” we knew Needle had won the first prize, and Zoe Sua Cho, the producer of the film, Yoni Goldstein, the director of photography, and I were hugging each other! Suddenly, after three stressful and intense days at the festival, I could remember the real joy of making this film with them and how proud I was to have them next to me….

I’d become used to always feeling a little off or out of place over the previous few years of studying and working abroad, but the feeling had become overwhelming during the festival. I was secretly embarrassed about showing my film at the festival, and feared it had been programmed by mistake. I was fascinated by Dimitra Karya, the artistic director of the Cinéfondation, and I fully believed in her vision of cinema and films, but I was sure if she had made one wrong decision in her professional life, it must have been picking Needle for the festival.

The jury had watched the film at its public screening. They were sitting in the darkness in one of the back rows. I could feel Jane Campion’s gaze from behind me, and I was stressed waiting for the moment when she would realize this film didn’t belong and would leave the theater. The last thing I could ever imagine was her saying, “I love this film…” and then calling my name and handing me the prize.

We had our last evening in Cannes after the awards ceremony. I could not think of a greater pleasure than talking with Jane Campion, who was just as generous, charming and brilliant as I’d imagined from watching her films. By the end of the official closing-night dinner, I had smiled so much that my mouth muscles were tense. I started to feel twitches as I tried to keep the smiley face. I was absolutely ecstatic about everything, but perhaps the feelings were beyond what my body could tolerate. I tried to analyze exactly what I was feeling: I am happy inside, but my muscles are not letting me to express it organically. So I have to force a fake smile on my face, because we are going to have a long night. And I am supposed to look very happy, right?

With the strict French dress code, I could not change my outfit — a tuxedo and high heels — to something more comfortable for the rest of the night. My friend Araz Fazaeli, a Paris-based fashion designer, had designed my tuxedo and I had promised him I would keep the tuxedo-and-heels look. For someone unaccustomed to wearing heels, however, it was becoming more and more painful, and by midnight I was feeling that my feet were going to explode in the shoes. In my head, I apologized to Araz, then I took off my shoes and started walking barefoot on the Cannes streets with Zoe, Yoni and other friends.

Our final destination was Le Baron, the craziest and most packed club one could imagine. Everyone was dancing or standing in lines for the bar or the bathroom. It was absolute chaos. My shoes in my hand, I found a corner to have a private moment. I leaned against the wall, and finally didn’t have to worry about smiling. I was simply relieved and happy. The dancers’ movements felt most harmonious and I was staring at the blurry lights and dim colors. Despite the loud noise, it felt very quiet and calm in my head for a few seconds. That is, until my foot exploded. Someone passing by stepped on my second toe with the sharp heel of her shoe. My toe was smashed and bleeding, I was crying with pain — and it felt so good! It felt like the pain had created a balance. I tried to analyze what was going on: It is a real physical intensity that makes my body twist in pain. But emotionally, I can easily handle it. I can balance it with the intensity of my joy!

It was almost sunrise, and people were still dancing and drinking like crazy. I was completely content, and I was ready to leave. I had a friend’s jacket in one hand, my shoes in the other. I told her I was going back to the hotel; she said she didn’t need her jacket, and kept dancing. I walked into the street. I could not find a cab, and had to walk all the way back to the hotel. I was exhausted, but I enjoyed walking fast, barefoot, with a bleeding smiley toe.