Working at the Cannes Film Festival

By Sophia Henderson, FCLC 2023

Sophia Henderson and other interns at the Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes Film Festival is a two-week festival in the south of France, showcasing a multitude of breathtaking films both new and old. It is a frontier for new filmmakers to make their mark in the film landscape and an opportunity to see classic and restored films in a completely new form. I participated in the Cannes Film Festival this May–and no, I wasn’t debuting a film…yet. I interned at this prestigious festival through the American Pavillion and I gained great insight into the film industry. From May 17th to May 28th, I spent my time working at important industry events, meeting directors, actors, and everything in between. Most excitingly, I was able to be among the first to see some of the newest films. 

I arrived in Nice, France on May 15th and enjoyed the beautiful scenery on my ride to Cannes. During my first two days, I had the opportunity to settle into my temporary way of living and dust off my French skills. I explored the festival grounds with the other interns and became accustomed to my surroundings. The festival grounds were astounding, with theaters that looked like a film enthusiast’s dream, a row of tents called “The International Village,” and a big screen on the beach for Cinéma de la Plage. I was ecstatic to head straight into this internship. I worked daily in the International Village at the American Pavilion’s Tent. Within the International Village were tents for each country, which acted as a home base for films and filmmakers coming from all over the world. The American Pavilion provided a space for industry professionals to relax between film showings. It also acted as a space to network with many people having meetings or events. My job was catering to their VIP members and ensuring they had everything they needed while they were at the Pavilion. Luckily, that allowed me to talk to many industry professionals, who were thrilled to give me advice about building my career in the industry. Over the festival’s two weeks, I spoke with producers, directors, actors, agents, and even festival chairs. It was an eye-opening experience that allowed me to reevaluate my career goals (I even had to reevaluate where I may live as many of them told me that I would be successful in LA). In addition, I had the opportunity to attend many industry events, some run by Kodak, Deadline, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Sitting down and gaining real insight into what life and success look like in the film industry provided me with knowledge and skills to translate into my professional life. It was an experience that allowed me to think about the industry in a tangible way. 

Thankfully, the two weeks weren’t all about work. I connected with other interns to see some films, including two red carpets. There were so many films to see, and despite an overloaded ticketing website server, I managed to catch six films. Some of these films you’ll maybe never hear about, such as The Dam (dir. Ali Cherri), and some might be one of the summer’s biggest films like Elvis (dir. Baz Luhrmann). Seeing these films was amazing, and watching filmmakers talk about their films and their message/purpose made the experience more memorable. My favorite film was War Pony (dir. Riley Keough & Gina Gammel). It is a fictional story that details the experiences of two young men on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The creators carefully crafted this story with people on the reservation. They made a very realistic and relatable film that created a space for the Native Lakota people on the international film platform. This one film alone made me laugh, cry, and enter deep thought, and it’s still not available to the general public. The chance to see films pioneering the way for filmmakers of color on a global scale was honestly transformative. Also, walking the red carpet with Tom Hanks and Austin Butler (and yes, Shakira) was totally awesome. Surprisingly, those weren’t the only stars I got the chance to be in the same room with and meet. Jamie Foxx, Woody Harrelson, and Letitia Wright are just some celebrities who stopped by the Pavilion to talk with the interns. It was so cool just to be able to hear them talk about their experiences in their films and the industry. Lastly, of all the fun activities, exploring Cannes was definitely one of the best. The opportunity to just explore the town during its busiest point of the year and walk past all the events or watch a red carpet premiere made the experience that much more enchanting.

The Cannes Film Festival will be an opportunity that I will never forget and has taught me so much about the industry as a whole. I made some great connections in France, and I can’t wait to bring them with me into my career.