Saturday, June 28, 2014

Shot the Short in Cannes

It's not often I find myself dancing around to Pharrell Williams' song "Happy", playing on a loop in the early mornings before I go to work. But that's exactly what I've been doing these past few weeks. It must be something to do with a long-time dream coming true. 
When I started the journey of becoming a script writer some eighteen years ago I had no idea how arduous a journey it would be. It's a gruelling path to say the least, and not for those who expect overnight success. One of the things in my favour was my stubbornness. I'd had a dream - literally - about writing and making feature films and I was not going to give up. No matter how long it took.
The dream is paying off big time. Just over a month ago the short film I'd written and produced, a Shot at the Big Time directed by Stephen de Villiers, was selected for the Cannes Short Film Metrage. Cliches don't begin to express my feeling on hearing the news. This was the big time, for real. My most frequent expression over the next few days was that my mind was completely blown. The dream and reality had become one and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.
So it was that I found myself in France at the Cannes Film Festival this past May. This is the most prestigious of all Film Festivals and I felt completely at home being there. Walking through the crowds who gather to see the stars arrive in all their splendour for the premiere on the red carpet outside the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès I couldn't stop myself from smiling. I loved the enthusiasm and the stars really gave the crowds something to talk about. One of the most spectacular events was the cast of The Expendables arriving in an open top limousine to the delight of thousands of adoring fans. There they were in their slightly wrinkled flesh: Mel Gibson, Sly Stallone, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes and the rest. So close to a-list stars: mind-blown.
But the real festival is not only about star spotting, although this is part of the attraction of being there. You can't dismiss the fact that you can listen to press-conferences on screen outside the press venues where the stars are being interviewed and then watch as the likes of Hilary Swank, Tommy-Lee Jones, Julianna Moore, John Cussack, David Cronenburg, Luc Besson and others walk right past you as they go to their next appointment.
The real festival is about being part of the larger international communities which gather in the international Pavillions where each country hosts visitors with its most nationalistic fare, both filmic and gastronomical. Here talks and seminars are held throughout the day discussing the states of co-production agreements between the UK and South africa for example. The same Pavillions turn into party palaces at night where national film bodies host parties for invited guests. I spent most of my time at the UK and the Sa Pavillions talking to people I've grown to know over the last ten years who have now become friends. Deals are made in here and let's just say I made some invaluable connections will definitely bear fruit in the future. The fact that these tented pavillions are stretched along the beach with the azure Mediterranean lapping on the shores makes these meetings literally out of this world.
When The Hollywood Reporter mentioned me as one of only four filmmakers from africa to show a film this year at Cannes I realised even more how big a deal it was to be there. The press in South africa had been exceptionally generous to me too in the weeks before the festival with one newspaper even running the slogan "Durban Film's Cannes Triumph" on their billboards for a day.  This recognition again was beyond my wildest dreams.

When I think back to my first night in Cannes, finding myself on the Promenade de la Croisette thanks to the generosity of Executive Producer of the short, athol Williams, I realised what all these years of relentless hard work have been for. I've earned my stripes. I've paid my dues. and now the dreams are coming true in a way I could never even have imagined. Finally this really is my shot at the big time.

First Published in Sunday Independent 8 June.

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