I’m hyper aware and over stimulated as I begin this Cannes experience, after having taken a year off from the grandest film festival in the world. On my flight over, I notice everything, even the exceedingly handsome, slim and tall flight attendant in his crisp white shirt and tight black vest. The coffee taste better, and we’re talking short haul airplane coffee, the air is crisper, the sun on the tarmac, warmer. Kinder maybe...
Once I land, I’m overwhelmed by film news, interviews and premieres. No sleep for the wicked they say, no rest for a blogger, I say. But it’s all for the good of cinema, great, watched-on-the-big-screen-please, undeniably made with passion cinema which may eventually change the world, if filmmakers have their way.
A surprise awaited me as I picked up my credentials. I’m proud to say that for the first time in Cannes I’ll be ‘pretty in pink’ with my lovely pink credentials. In layman’s terms it means shorter lines (well, OK, maybe not that much shorter) and better access to all the movies I dare and care to watch.
VR with Baobab Studios and director Eric Darnell
But instead of heading straight for the next screening, in my first hours on the ground in Cannes, I headed to a Virtual Reality presentation with Eric Darnell, the writer and director best known for such animation gems as ‘Madagascar’ and ‘Antz’ — hosted by Baobab Studios. Darnell is an enthusiastic guide for a complete VR virgin like me. I mean, I’ve played a videogame like ‘Halo’ once or twice, and I know what is required of an active participant in an all immersive experience like VR, but I had never put on those bulky goggles and given it a go. Boy, was I in for a treat!
How would you like to spend a good ten minutes in the company of this lovely martian pictured above? I did, and it turns out he has a partner too, they are called ‘Mac and Cheez’ and they are the characters in both an Emmy-award winning short called ‘Invasion!’ and a new interactive VR experience titled ‘Asteroid!’ where you can play along with the giggling martians and even experience life behind bars... Well, their super galactic, glaringly animated, hyper colored bars. It’s not a bad experience, let me tell you that! And there is also a wonderful VR series, ‘Rainbow Crow’ narrated by Kiowa-Caddo tribal elder Randy Edmonds, the 82-year-old lifelong crusader for Native American rights and founder of the National Urban Indian Council. It is the first Native American VR experience ever created. The stuff dreams are made of.
If cinema is to continue to occupy the larger than life space on the big screen where it belongs, as Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Frémaux so perfectly advocates, then VR is perhaps that door down the rabbit trap that we all crave in our over-connected lives.
Reality and dreams collide in ‘Sicilian Ghost Story’
While for most attendees the Festival de Cannes began on Wednesday, without any disrespect to the opening oeuvre ‘Ismael’s Ghosts’ which kicked off the official competition and stars one of my favorite actors alive Mathieu Amalric, for me the event began on Thursday, at the Semaine de la Critique, and with another ‘ghost’.
In Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s follow up to the beloved ‘Salvo’, the Sicilian duo tackle several genres, a few different themes and tie it all together with the brilliant story of a modern day Romeo and Juliet. ‘Sicilian Ghost Story’, which I’ve mistakenly called “Sicilian Love Story” after viewing it last night at the opening ceremony of the Critics’ Week, is poetic and magical but also incredibly grounded in the reality of southern Italy, an existence that walks hand in hand with organized crime and the violence, the lack of humanity that powerful force inspires.
At the center of the story are two teenagers, Giuseppe (Gaetano Fernandez) and Luna (Julia Jedikowska), each fully presented characters on their own who together, in a courageous move by the filmmakers to make young kids the protagonists of such a complex tale, create a sizzling chemistry on the screen. The story of Giuseppe is inspired by a well-known Italian mafia abduction case that sent chills down my spine. Children should never be the scapegoats for our adult crimes and perhaps that’s the lesson I walked away with when I exited the cinema last night, tears in my eyes, yet pride for being a fellow Italian in my heart.