Here's What the Cannes Film Fesitval is REALLY like by Michael Grothaus

Written by Michael Grothaus

My debut novel Epiphany Jones is about a man’s unwitting involvement with a woman who believes she can talk to God and her entanglement with a sex trafficking ring that caters to the Hollywood elite. Though the story is many things—a thriller, a dark comedy, and a satire about our society’s addiction to sex and celebrity—it also takes a hard hitting look into the widespread sexual abuse of people that goes on in Hollywood, as movie stars like Elijah Wood and Corey Feldman have recently spoken out about.


Specifically, a large part of the novel takes place at the world famous Cannes Film Festival. It’s a festival I’m much familiar with, having attended it for the first time back in my early twenties when I landed an internship for a major Hollywood studio right after college. But even if you’ve never attended it, you can’t help but be familiar with it. For three weeks every May we’re inundated with hyperbolic journalism about the art of cinema and how sublime it is to be in the presence of Hollywood stars and the back stage movers and shakers whose decisions dictate what the next couple years of Western pop culture will entail.


The thing is, that’s all bullshit. Because beyond the carefully orchestrated red carpet walks and the glasses of Bellinis dangling between thin fingers and the talk about how cinema is high art—the celebration of which is supposedly the festival’s primary aim—Cannes is in reality more like an out of control adult playground where the powerful plod around exercising their power while the wannabes will do anything just to grasp some of it.


Whenever I tell one of my friends that during my time at Cannes I made it onto the cover of the Hollywood Reporter and my antics led to me being spotlighted on E!’s Wild On! television show they all think it’s the coolest thing in the world. But that’s because I only tell them part of the story.


That story sees me going to party after party, meeting and mingling with some of the biggest stars in the world at the most lavish social events Hollywood can throw. At one, no expense was spared: there were live cancan dancers, acrobats, circus performers on stilts, and men breathing freaking fire. Any drink you wanted was yours. The food? Amazing. Virtually any celebrity who mattered was there—you could reach out and touch them. This one party was the personification of what everyone thinks Hollywood parties are like. And this was just the first night of the festival.


Over the next ten days I would attend Hugh Hefner’s 75th birthday party with all seven of his “girlfriends”. I would go to more random parties like the BMW film party where, of all people, one of America’s great modern civil rights leaders, Jessie Jackson, was there with his wife (I extended my hand to introduce myself and he shook it, pretended he knew who I was and said, “Yes, good to see you again.”). The Lord of the Rings party with the sets flown in from New Zealand? I was there. The Jamaican Film Commission party? It’s where I was crowned a citizen of Jamaica by the then prime minister. There was even one party that I didn’t remember until two months later when I saw myself on E!’s Wild On The Riviera television show, fully dressed in a tux, standing on the mast of a pier jutting into the Mediterranean surrounded by partiers telling me to “Jump! Jump! Jump!” I did, according to video footage.


It was ten days of drinks, girls, parties. Repeat.


But like I said, that’s the part story I tell my friends. It’s the part story everyone wants to hear because it reinforces their preconceived notions about an exciting, yet PG-13-rated Hollywood. It’s the Hollywood version of this Hollywood story.


But it’s not the whole story.


The whole story includes the seedy side of an industry that purports to be built upon dreams. It’s an industry where power, wealth, and opulence corrupts absolutely. It’s an industry where some interns are used as mules from the studios to the star’s hotel rooms to deliver whatever drugs the stars want. It’s an industry where you see one of America’s sweetest darlings of cinema coked out in the corner of the room shaking from too much blow. It’s an industry where you’re attending official parties but hear rumors of the “real” parties; the unofficial after-after-parties with “treats” that live and breathe for the important A-listers. It’s an industry where entitlement is rampant and shutting your mouth and forgetting what you saw is commonplace.


But most of all it’s an industry of empty promises and cruel realities. I was headed out to a party one night and I saw an intern in the flat block with a script under his arm and a big smile on his face. I asked him what was up and he said he was at one of the Promenade de la Croisette’s hotel’s cafés for lunch and he had been fortunate to meet and strike up a conversation with one of Hollywood’s hottest producers. He told the producer about his movie script and the producer was so impressed he asked the intern to bring it by his hotel room in the evening where they could discuss it. You see, Cannes is more than a festival. It’s a marketplace where hopefuls hope they can sell their scripts or film or acting talents. In this instance, this intern now had what everyone wanted: an audience with someone powerful who could make their dreams come true. I congratulated him and meant it. He was a nice guy, twenty-one and just out of college, and had a deep love of film. I wished him well and watched him hop in a cab.


But in the days that followed no one had seen this guy around much. Those that did said he wasn’t leaving his flat—odd considering he had an internship to fulfill. I decided to stop by his room and invite him out with some of us who were going to another party that evening. He opened the door and looked like hell. I asked him how his meeting went, prepared to hear the producer hated his script and that he was now distraught about his future in film.


Instead what he told me was the morning after meeting the producer in the hotel room he woke naked in the producer’s bed. There were empty alcohol bottles and popped blister packs that once held pills on a table. The producer spoke on the phone while this intern got dressed and simply handed the intern back his script when he approached. “Goodbye,” the producer said and continued to talk on the phone, not even looking at the intern as he left the room.


“I’m not gay,” the intern told me. I asked if he was drugged but he only shook his head and started crying and said, “I don’t know what to tell my fiancée.”


One only needs to spend a few weeks on the inside at Cannes to know that this intern’s story is more the rule than the exception. It’s a place where few dreams are made, yet many are promised. It’s a place where for every one Jennifer Lawrence there are 10,000 girls who didn’t make it. Where for every one JJ Abrams there are wannabe directors who mortgaged their houses to make a film only to find no distributor will give them the time of day. It’s a place where people will give up everything—even part of themselves—in the attempt to appease those who have the power to make or break their careers behind closed doors—all to quench the intoxicating temptation of the promises of being one of the few to walk down the red carpet in celebration of the high art of filmmaking.


published by Orenda Books

16 May 2016, pbk £8.99 Kindle £5.99

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Michael Grothaus

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