When film industry magazine Screen International broke a story at the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday about a group of middle-aged women who were turned away from a film screening for wearing flats rather than heels, the web-fueled backlash was resounding.
Some were calling it “Flatgate.”
It brought back a lot of memories for me as I used to cover the Cannes festival every year as a correspondent for Screen.
What’s interesting is that this year’s 68th edition of Cannes, running May 13 to May 24, was shaping up to be remembered as “the year of the woman.” It may still be remembered as such, just not in the way organizers might have hoped.
Cannes made a statement by opening this year with a French film, “Standing Tall” (“La Tete Haute”), by director Emanuelle Bercot, only the second woman ever to receive the honor. The choice appeared to have been a response to past years’ criticism of a lack of female directors at the festival.
And it struck a clear chord: the lack of opportunities and stories for women in the film industry has been a theme across the festival this year, from press conferences, interviews and industry announcements to a notable number of female-focused films and casts.
And now, the poor ladies in the rhinestone flats.
Under the red carpet
It seems there’s always something to divert the attention away from the actual films at Cannes. Earlier this spring, Festival Director Thierry Fremaux made headlines when he announced plans to crack down on people taking selfies on the red carpet, a practice he bigheartedly labelled “extremely ridiculous and grotesque.”
It’s a sentiment that encapsulates Cannes’ not always comfortable fusion of the commercial and the creative, industry and art, high and low culture, market and festival.
Cannes is glamorous, there’s no doubt about it. There are bashes on the beach, interviews in limousines and parties at hilltop estates. There are receptions on yachts and cocktails on hotel patios. There are multi-course meals, bucketloads of wine and that sapphire Mediterranean eternally twinkling on the horizon. And of course, there is constant talk of movies.
For journalists covering the event, there are also mandatory crack-of-dawn editorial meetings, merciless daily deadlines, bandaged feet from perpetual pavement pounding, and a lack of sleep that can shorten the fuse of even the gentlest reporter.
This is (apologies, former colleagues) the indisputably less glamorous side of Cannes.
Where flat shoes reign supreme.
Underneath the Palais theater, where the official film screenings take place, downstairs from the packed press conference halls, deep below the much-photographed red carpet, lies a basement labyrinth of makeshift cubicles plastered with movie posters and teeming with sweaty sales agents, bleary-eyed buyers and amped-up journalists searching for a story.
Because, as “Flatgate” and “Selfiegate” make clear, the story out of Cannes isn’t only what’s happening in the theaters.