Making Dreams Come True - How 'Get Me To Cannes' Helped Filmmakers Realise Their Dream Of Going To Cannes!

By Srikanth Kanchinadham. Posted on May 27, 2016

Every filmmaker dreams of sending their film to a festival like the Cannes. Often these dreams end up being unrealised. Sending a film to prestigious festivals like the Cannes is akin to appearing for a public service examination. There are several aspirants who are hopeful of making the cut. Chances are that a filmmaker with a better experience or outreach may make the cut, while you may not be able to and may end up regretting your decision to splurge valuable resources and finances in pursuit of the same.

The thought of making a film coupled with the onerous task of sending it to prestigious international festivals can often prove to be a daunting task especially for filmmakers who are starting out. Even if the film gets selected, filmmakers may also may not be able to make the best of such an opportunity, often due to a lack of experience and since the thought of attending such an event can get overpowering.

But for filmmakers who are determined of getting their film made come what may and want to make their presence felt at an event like Cannes, there's hope and some great help at hand.

Sonia Rannou's wonderful initiative Get Me To Cannes helps young filmmakers who films are selected for Cannes Short Film Corner and Short film and Ciné Fondation section come to Cannes to promote their work and explore a great platform like this in the best possible way.

Having worked with CII for Ministry of Information & Broadcasting for promoting Indian films on an international platform, Rannou comes with a vast experience and in the past has promoted the work of filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bhardwaj on international platforms. She has also helped to secure several noted Indian films find release and other viable opportunities in France and other key European markets.

In an exhaustive conversation with Jamuura, Rannou spoke about the Get Me To Cannes initiative, how it intends to help filmmakers and their work find a global footing, her views on the international perception of Indian cinema and what filmmakers need to know while wanting to make their way through the world of film festivals.

Republished below are excerpts from the same.

1. Could you explain your initiative a little?

The aim of Get Me to Cannes as the name suggests, is to help sponsor a couple of young Indian film makers who have their short film at the Short Film Corner or are a part of the Short film and Ciné Fondation section and have them come to Cannes to promote their work. They could also be film makers who are either part of a film school or are attending one.

2. Where did the idea for this initiative come from?

Well, I’ve always helped and given advice to young film makers, ever since we set up India pavilion in 2003 with the CII for the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. It meant helping them send their short films to various festivals because not all young film makers knew about festivals like Berlin, Venice, Busan (then called Pusan), Sundance or Tribeca that were relatively new back then. Most festival directors or delegates in 2003-04 would pass by India pavilion. They would come and ask who was at the film market and what films were being showcased.

I’d take the opportunity to introduce people, photocopy the business cards and follow up with people after Cannes. I haven’t forgotten Arindam Mitra pitching their Black Friday feature project which was to be directed by Anurag Kashyap, and there was a lack of interest from big production companies who were only keen on famous stars. I also remember Ashvin Kumar showing me his Road to Ladakh and Little Terrorist a year later.

We discussed various festivals and introduced him to other film makers and French distributors. I also had struggled with getting my documentary film broadcasted here in France, so I knew about the problems and ordeals film makers go through to get their work across to the public.

Today, the good part is, there are small budget films and production houses that focus only on these films. With an audience ready to accept independent cinema, theaters are now taking interest to showcase them apart from the usual blockbusters. This has also widened the scope and opened up a whole new dimension where small budget films are aware of their own audience and neither distributors nor producers can ignore them any longer.

At the same time, I’ve had the chance of observing how things have changed in terms of Government funds. These funds help finance short films and feature films, by giving commissions through committees like in France. We even have an organisation called UNIFRANCE which groups the whole French cinema industry and promotes it abroad with festivals and special events. In India, in a similar way we need more visibility to promote our cinema industry aboard.

The Ministry that handles Cannes Film Festival is the Ministry of Culture because culture isn’t a little thing in France. Short films and features have the possibility of getting financial help, support from regional funds, national funds when selected by committees. In India it’s still a struggle. I’ve seen so many film makers, whose lives came to a standstill, who had to mortgage their houses, take huge loans and go through years of trouble to make their films and I find it deeply overwhelming.

We often see film making as a luxury, a leisure activity like playing golf. But in fact, apart from the Bollywood commercial films, most of the films coming out of India are often means to denounce social, cultural or religious injustice. So, there are often very strong messages and films serve as a voice delivering that message, by creating awareness to bring about change.

If young Indian film makers are more aware of festivals in general, the Short Film Corner is a fantastic way of getting one’s work out there for people to see, and network at a world famous event.

An article in the Times of India published last month about 6 Bengali film makers making it to the Short Film Corner caught my attention. Though they were selected, few of them could not afford the trip. I thought we perhaps had an opportunity to do something to change that. I posted a message on Facebook and in less than a week, we had sponsors such as Mahendra Soni from Shree Venkatesh Film and Priti Rathi Gupta from Ishka Films who’s just produced the wonderful film Waiting.

Both of them agreed to help with the costs of various film makers who are either at the Short Film Corner or even part of the Official Selection at Short Film & Ciné Fondation section. That’s how the Get Me To Cannes project and network came into being, quite unexpectedly and a wonderful gift for young film makers.

3. Who are the filmmakers you helped this time around? And how?

We financed accommodation for Saurav Rai who’s from Satyajit Ray TV and Film Institute (SRFTI). His short film Gudh was part of the Official Selection, Ciné Fondation section this year. It’s his 13th short film. He was offered a flight ticket from his institute and a couple of nights from the festival but we’re allowed him to stay for the entire event.

Sonia Rannou

Sonia Rannou

We also covered the entire trip to Cannes for Abhiroop Basu whose short film An Afternoon With Julia that was a part of the Short Film Corner. It explores his love for Paris, for the new wave with Godard, a very original subject that moved me. So how could one not help a film maker whose short film is so deeply connected with the Nouvelle Vague that’s so profoundly associated with France and Cannes! We’ll also covered registration costs for a couple of film makers who couldn’t make it to the festival.

4. If there's a filmmaker out there who wants to avail of this, how does he/ she go about it?

One must have their film registered at the Short Film Corner or selected by the Short Film or Ciné Fondation section. One must also show us their film. We work out the costs with the film maker depending on where they are based in India. In case we have many film makers asking for sponsorship to Cannes, we’ll probably set up a selection Committee with known film makers who’ve joined the Get Me To Cannes network, who’ll help us choose a few film makers whom we can sponsor. It all depends on the number of sponsors and the amount of money we can collect. Next year, I hope it’ll be much more, so that we can support more film makers. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping we get all the exposure and visibility to promote our project via the press to potential sponsors.

I’ve had negative reactions to my project from well-known film makers. They feel that helping film makers attend the Short Film Corner is no big deal. They also feel that Cannes festival should close down the Short Film Corner instead of given false hope to film makers. I do not share this opinion at all. I think that it’s a wonderful platform to come and show one’s work, connect with other film makers from other countries, meet cinema industry professionals concentrated at one single place and with the presence of social media why not go beyond the festivals. In the future, there will surely be festivals online, with access to an even greater audience.

It’s unfortunate to see that once an individual becomes a well-known film maker you have access to the best production companies. That’s not when you really need the help that you get. One needs all the help and support when they starting out new in the business. Film making is a very costly and a very difficult process. I think it’s good to rough it out, struggle, and learn things the hard way, but what’s the harm in improving the conditions in which one makes films?

5. What other advice would you have for young Indian filmmakers looking to travel to international film festivals?

It’s a vital question, because anyone can go to Cannes or any festival for that matter, but what should one do to promote oneself and the film? One needs to choose festivals where they can learn about the industry and look for markets where you can interact with distributors. I always tell film makers to choose film making ONLY if they think they have what it takes to do a bit of everything linked to the process – production, promotion, marketing & everything else. Be ready to give everything it takes to your baby because that’s what it feels like when you create and make a film. Don’t disappear at any step leaving it to your team to manage the film, be present and focused whether you like the promotions or not. Respect the deadlines, answer the emails from professionals asking for information, be prompt in replying and you’ll come across as a professional.

It’s also about being grounded at all times, I once had a discussion with Luc Besson (I had invited Aishwarya to a French TV show with Lambert Wilson and him when she was part of the jury in 2003) who told me how he did every single job on a set by carrying heavy cartons with equipment and said he was happy roughing it out with all the chores because he felt that’s what a complete film maker is made of. He hasn’t changed one bit over the years. He still goes to the French suburbs and supports projects to help kids from poor families find a future for themselves.

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In India, we often tend to have the I-am-the-boss-ask-my-assistant attitude which is basically hyper negative for any filmmaker’s career. We all come across film makers snowed under with too much to do that they can barely send you a photo you asked for. That’s when one needs a PA (friend or family) to help one out.

Film makers are artists; fragile, full of doubt, they live and work for their art and could overlook the promotional aspect linked with them or their work. If you’re looking at being a film maker, sooner or later, you know that you’ll be a public figure; audiences will need to or want to know about you. Give them a good, simple website or even a Facebook page for each film with contact details, your work, and your profile. Let festivals and producers know how to contact you. If your personal Facebook page is what you’re using to have your network, be very careful who you choose as friend, don’t accept random contacts, it’s not about getting attention with thousands of strangers giving you likes, it’s about only having the professional network that will help you build your career as a film maker.

One sees so many young professionals from India who are saturated with requests at such a young age, so choose every contact wisely. Facebook allows 5-6000 friends before moving to subscribers/followers.

Today, no film releases without having its own Facebook page. You create and build an audience for your work who’ll be there to follow your work. The star system and star power in India are slowly acknowledging that they don’t always control the success of a film any longer, the audience decides and I can tell you that in France and in Europe you’re very careful about the way stars treat their audience. Hollywood has always taken film promotion very seriously, whereas India is new to the promotion and marketing business. I think that all this should be part of a film maker’s natural way of doing things whether it’s a short film or a feature, always be a complete professional.

Make you cast and crew tour India and promote your work, just like the marketing strategy followed in Hollywood. Because you want to reach out to audiences across the country, make them loyal to your brand and product. For festivals abroad, I always tell film makers to have an EPK, only post teasers, songs and trailers that have English sub-titles.

I like the way YRF go about managing their marketing and promo material. I loved the idea of Fan’s Jabra song in 11 languages. Every time you add a language, you reach a different audience, conquer new territory. I still come across trailers going to international festivals with no English sub-titles on YouTube, which shocks me because it means you’re closing the door to the audiences abroad. Viewers feel offended and left out. Why take your film to a festival abroad if you’re not keen on showcasing your film in a language that will bring you distribution abroad?

Things move fast in the film industry in terms of distribution. Film makers have to do their homework, sit down and plan out a festival strategy, get a publicist who’ll help promote the film at festivals.

SHort Film Corner

When people contact you about your film, always write back. Ask questions or give information about your film. In India we’re very bad at reverting, especially when we want to say no a bit like the Japanese, which is a huge drawback for Europeans doing business with Indians. We all know this, don’t we?

It always surprises me to see how disorganized we are in India even in 2016 about having an agent (essential in the film business) or a PA. It’s the first thing one gets in Europe but last in India where people think it’s a waste of money. Film makers, production companies, actors, actresses are certainly missing out on opportunities and roles in international projects because they don’t have an agent or even an official website with basic contact details.

The same goes for one’s production company; your switchboard operator is the first person representing your company. When people call from festivals abroad, get someone who speaks and understands fluent English and perhaps even a second language and knows how to take a message. I’m criticizing a certain number of things because I spend a lot of time helping film makers at every level and love Indian cinema, but I cannot accept complaints from European companies, or festivals saying we’re unreliable or not efficient. I’m still hoping for change at that essential level.

6. Was there any other assistance you provided apart from covering the travel & accomodation costs of these filmmakers?

Absolutely, setting up Get Me To Cannes or criticizing what doesn’t work wouldn’t make sense without bringing a little of my 13-year experience with promoting Indian cinema in France at Cannes or Marrakesh.  In 2003, we saw Dubai Media City set up their DIFF festival, Marrakesh was relatively new, IFFLA and Florence Indian Film Festival had just about been created.

Today our films are traveling to a certain number of important festivals but promotion and PR are still our biggest drawback. I’ve been a keen observer and sometimes assisted film makers in their journey from their short film days to them being accomplished film makers, and I wanted to assist young film makers. That’s how I created a film maker network on Facebook where I gave tips and all sorts of advice to those who were going to festivals or coming to the Short Film Corner (Abhiroop Basu and about a dozen of other film makers), Ciné Fondation Section of Cannes (Aditya Vikram Sengupta) and I helped Saurav Rai by being his publicist/PR person at Cannes so that he could get maximum exposure for his Short Film in Official Selection and promote his future projects to important producers.

We also had well-known film makers or producer friends like Santosh Sivan, Mahendra Soni, Shivajee Chandrabhushan (was part of Ciné Fondation at Cannes a couple of years ago), Salim Ahamed, Jayan Chérien who are a part of my Get Me To Cannes network and I’m grateful for having them there to inspire and perhaps, hopefully even select projects that we’ll sponsor to the Short Film Corner, next year. Our network’s growing day by day, I’d like to have more film makers from the Satyajit Ray Film Institute and Pune Film and TV Institute join us.

7. Tell us a bit about yourselves & your association with Indian films?

I’ve always had two passions - teaching and cinema as far as I can remember. My family moved to France when I was in my teens. I’ve been a teacher for 15 years at Grenoble University and simultaneously went into doc film making/journalism  for leading French TV channels, on subjects linked with India, such as Maharajahs, jewelers or Bollywood.

In 2003 I was offered the position as publicist/PR Officer as the CII and the I&B Ministry were setting up the first India pavilion at the Cannes film festival. It was quite a memorable and challenging experience, especially because we had Aishwarya as jury member. Getting the international press/media to talk about India cinema was not an easy job because we didn’t have much exposure with Indian films being distributed, unlike today where people know at least something about Bollywood. In spite of that, we received a very positive response with our presence at Cannes from the festival, the press and media, even if promoting film projects remained a quasi-impossible task with Indian production companies who were very wary about financing small budget films.

Also, the fact that we still had no films selected by Cannes in any section is discouraging. This is despite the fact that India started IFFI Goa to give India the visibility on an international level. Film makers were extremely disappointed and felt unappreciated by Cannes Film Festival which was favorable to Korean, Chinese, Japanese cinema.

A few years later, I was very fortunate to promote French film maker, Jan Kounen’s Darshan, part of the Official Selection at Cannes 2005, Omkara at Cannes 2006 for Eros International, Masaan which was part of Cannes 2015 for French producer Mélita Toscan du Plantier. I got the opportunity of being the curator for Marrakesh International Film Festival in 2005 for a few years. I created the Taj Mahal section with a special tribute to Yash Chopra, invited him with Saif Ali Khan, and Deepa Mehta for Jean-Jacques Annaud’s jury. In 2006, we organised a tribute to Ajay Devgan and Kajol, screened Omkara and invited Vishal Bhardwaj, Robin Bhatt, Kumar Mangat. But Ajay Devgan and Kajol unfortunately couldn’t make it.

We were fortunate to have Pan Nalin in Polanski’s jury and invited Aparna Sen in 2011 as a jury member. We felt that audiences in France needed to be educated about the sort of cinema that was coming out of India. Whether it was Bollywood or art house films, the teacher in me pushed me to create an association called Indian Cinema Events in 2003. France isn’t like Germany where there’s always been curiosity about the Indian culture and a special connection for decades. I just saw a French journalist tweet about Parched being a Bollywood movie. We all have to constantly educate ourselves.

In France, Indian cinema was only associated with Satyajit Ray, period. Commercial cinema had a pejorative image and a certain snobbish attitude still exists in France where top cinema is synonymous with La Nouvelle Vague, and where anything with a song became Bollywood. Acknowledging popular cinema was looked down upon or one took it as a passing trend, what we call « une tendance » in French. Our activities were mainly based in Paris and we had the mayor of Paris and top media/press supporting our events, which obviously gave the events a very chic, trendy, sort of classy image that mattered immensely in promotion & marketing.

We also organised screenings for films once a month with an arty cinema hall. We promoted the films of Ashvin Kumar, Pan Nalin, Vijay Singh, Partho Sen-Gupta, Subhash Ghai, and Manish Jha, sometimes with their presence, for the releases of their films in France. We co-organised a Bollywood Day in 2004 at the Trianon, a famous concert hall for 1500 viewers for the French releases of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Mother India and co-organised a Bollywood Weekend the year after for the releases of Sholay and Kal Ho Na Ho. We also partnered for the release of Bhoot, Swades, Choker Bali, Raincoat, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, and Shakti among many other releases.

Our idea was to get Bollywood a different image, to build a positive image for that particular cinema and at the same time help make films like Matrubhoomi more accessible to the audiences with a discussion session with Manish Jha after the screening. Because like in India, where people should be able to put you into a box just by knowing your surname, the French too like to feel they can put a film into a particular category.

Our job was to show them that defining a film goes beyond that, that there’s a palette, a variety in Indian cinema and over the years, they’re grasping what it all means because Indian cinema reflects Indian society with all its complexities. We’re also partnering for the release of Leena Yadav’s Parched, and hopefully for Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses, Aditya Chopra’s Befikre and Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0.

8. How is the perception of Indian films in Europe changing, if it is changing at all?

It has all taken place at various levels, I think that today film makers have realized that there is no such thing as a festival film (I was used to people telling me they had a festival script) and that good stories and a solid script always move people however great the cultural gap might be. The film does ends up finding an audience, if marketed properly. Everybody needs recognition from one’s peers, the audience, distributors, and festivals and all this is a little more harmonized today with the rise of independent Indian films at festivals.

In addition, quite a few Indian films are co-produced or produced with Europe today. Thanks to the interaction and exchange, one is able to train oneself with new skills. It brings a more global feel to the film and helps professionals discover working methods coming from another industry with its own cultural and professional limits. The audiences can constantly compare, between TV serials, Hollywood films and Indian cinema. The current generation perhaps wants a break from what their parents are used to seeing.

Today independent cinema is openly not bothered about whether they’ll get big stars, big distribution or festivals, they know there is a an audience that cinema halls can’t ignore, you can even crowdfund online and find 75000 pounds like Ashvin Kumar just collected through his kickstarter campaign as part of his budget for his next feature Noor.

Film makers are a bit more relaxed since Cannes’s been appreciating the work of Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, Ritesh Batra and Kanu Behl. It has been accepted that there is a generation of film makers who have bold, original stories to tell and that the Indian audience is demanding to see those films. Cannes curators have also evolved with making the effort to understand the change that cinema is undergoing in India.

I think we still need to get Indian distributors and big Indian production companies about opening up to producing a few more films every year, like The Lunchbox, Titli or Gangs of Wasseypur, as well as, helping European audiences discover the wonderful cinema from South India via better promotion. It’s not enough to see people in Marrakesh phonetically singing Bollywood songs, one without understanding a word. We had discussed this with Yash Chopra when we organised a tribute for him at the festival. Yash Raj Films are very professional with their subtitling. We organised a giant karaoke for our Bollywood Day in Paris and we’d translate the lyrics into French on our website, so that our audience didn’t feel left out. The technology has changed a lot. Today you can make films with lower budgets because distributors know there is an audience out there, that’s growing. Meanwhile, with Indian film festivals in Florence, New-York, Los Angeles, London, Stuttgart, it’s a wonderful way of building and maintaining a network that allows reaching audiences all over the world.

9. Any other words of advice for young filmmakers?

Contact us via Indian Cinema Events on Facebook, always introduce yourself, give us a link to your website or Facebook page (make one now), and tell us about your film, short film or even a festival or screenings you may be organizing. We’ll be happy to promote your work on our Facebook page. Stay tuned for our Get Me To Cannes Facebook page which should be coming soon and never feel discouraged, you know you don’t have the right to give up if filmmaking is what you really want to do in life.

Get your self a profession that’s stable, diplomas to fall back on or then go to film school if you can afford to. It isn’t worthwhile taking huge loans and getting into debt to make a film. Keep writing, focus on your writing skills, and read as many scripts as possible.

There are numerous production houses offering the possibility of making small budget films, like Phantom, Sikhya among many others. Drishyam Films is offering a screenwriter’s lab workshop with Sundance which is a marvelous initiative. You’re giving yourself a better chance of succeeding by going to study film making at a film school. Watch loads of films, discuss, exchange information with fellow film makers and stay curious.


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