Guide to the Cannes Film Festival

10 May, 2006 | FilmTravel

Originally published May 2006 on the now-defunct

Palais De Festival

So, I’m recently back from the Festival De Cannes 2006 and I’d thought I’d write up some of my notes on getting through the event, which may prove useful for anyone else visiting the festival or planning to.

When to Go

Cannes runs for 10 days (May 17th to 27th in our case). Very few people stay for the full festival. We got there for the start and left early, other people got there late and stayed to the end. The general advice seems to be to be there for the middle.

Map of Cannes

From a film perspective I can certainly agree. We got there on the first day and the only thing on at that point is the opening film, which is incredibly hard to get tickets for, so there’s no real reason for being there. The second day was a good day for us, as was the third (in terms of films). Unfortunately, a lot of the films we were eager to see were in the second week of the festival.

A lot of screenings have day-after showings, so it’s always easier to see a film later, impossible to see it earlier. Generally then, I’d say arrive late on day two, stay a week and head out from there.

Getting There

The nearest airport to Canne is Nice (there is a Cannes airport, but it’s tiny, no commercial operators fly there), which is about 45 minutes away from Cannes by car. The only companies we found with regularly scheduled flights were EasyJet and British Airways.

If you plan to drive to Cannes, be aware that the main highway is a toll road (and that parking in Cannes is a nightmare).

The Palais De Festival

Grand Theatre Lumiere

The palais is the main building of the festival, a vast great thing that looks like it was purposely built. It handles the accreditations, has many of the theatres and screening rooms within it, the film market, the ticket office, the press area. You need a pass to get in and will have your bag searched and a metal detector sweep done, it’s generally pretty quick.

The palais has six floors (I think, it might be seven), 0 being the ground floor, then 1 to 5. The basement, strangely, is referred to as 01.


Generally speaking you need a pass/badge to get into a screening, they don’t really just let anyone in. You can apply for several different passes depending on who you are. If you’re press, you can get a press pass, if you’re an ordinary person who likes film you can get a Cinephile pass, if you’re looking to buy or sell a film you can get a marche pass, film-makers can apply for accreditation (which means you have to prove you work in the biz) which gets you an accreditation pass.

We were accredited, so I can only really speak from that perspective.

When you pick up your pass (which you collect from the Palais du Festival, the main festival building, entrance is between the main palais entrances and the steps for the Debussy Theatre), you’ll get a bag of stuff including a screening timetable, help booklet covering locations and stuff, the official programme (details of all the films being shown), the official catalogue (details of suppliers and stuff) and the Useful Information Slip. This last thing lets you know, amongst other things, the web address of where you can log in to reserve tickets (any screenings in the Grand Theatre Lumiere will require tickets, which means anything classed as ‘In Competition’ and some of the special events) and your password (it also give you your username, but that’s just your badge number, so you already have it).

Most of the handouts are in French and English.

Note that the photo you supply for accreditation goes on your badge, so you might want to pick a good one.

The Cinemas

There are quite a number of cinemas and screening rooms used for the festival. A complete list can be found on the official site.

Steps of the Grand Theatre Lumiere

Basically, all of the ‘In Competition’ films will be shown in the main screen, the Grand Theatre Lumiere. That’s the one with the red steps. It’s huge. Every screening that is shown in the Lumiere requires a ticket. You can get these by reserving them via the internet (or by phone) using your badge number and PIN supplied on the Useful Information Slip. Typically, you’ll be sat in the balcony.

Getting tickets for the gala events (held at 7pm and 10pm every evening) is next to impossible. We were counting the time down for some of the films and the tickets switched from counting down the time to being unavailable before we were even allowed to reserve them. You need to be very lucky, or know someone, or pick a film that no one wants to see to get evening tickets.

There are dedicated areas out the front where you have to queue, the tickets specify admittance closes 20 minutes before the start, not sure how true that is, we were typically getting there 40 minutes before it started to try and get reasonable seats.

The Debussy Theatre

The next in size and importance is the Debussy Theatre. Again, located in the palais, round the corner on the other side of the main entrance to the Lumiere, with blue steps. This typically shows the ‘Hors Competition’ (Out of Competition) and the ‘Un Certain Regard’ (Of Certain Regard) films. There’s various queue lines, sign posted for each class of badge.

The Cinema de la Plage is a huge beach screen located just down the beach to the East of the palais.

The only other one we went to was the Salle Bunuel, which shows things like the Cannes Classics (old classic films) and most of the documentaries. That’s located on floor 5 of the palais.


All the screenings, with the exception of those in the Grand Theatre Lumiere, do not require tickets if you’re a badge holder. Just show up and, if they have space, they’ll let you in. There’s even priveledged queuing at some of the screens for accreditess.

For the ticketed screenings, you can reserve tickets roughly 24 hours in advance via the internet or telephone. We had our laptops with us so we could sit in the appartment and try and reserve them. Most of the tents in the International Village also have computers with internet access and there are also about a dozen machines in the ticket collection area exclusively for making reservations. All you do is login with your badge number and the PIN supplied on your Useful Information Slip. There’s usually a countdown with how many hours there is left before they open for reservations. You can only get tickets for one screening of a film (so if you get tickets for the 11:30, they won’t let you apply for any other screenings).

Once you’ve reserved tickets you’ve got until 5 pm the day before the screening to pick them up (although they’re reasonably flexible), if you don’t pick them up they can be re-allocated. You also need to make sure you return the tickets (by 3:30pm on the same day for screenings later than 5pm and 4:40pm the previous day for screenings up to 5pm). Your tickets are scanned on the way in, so they know if you don’t use them and you won’t be able to reserve any more.

The ticket office is located on the ground floor of the palais, just head past the stairs and take a left.

They don’t let you take cameras into most of the screenings, and will make you check-in your bag if you have a camera, laptop, camcorder or any other recording device. They search your bag and do a metal stick sweep of you on the way in to the big screens.

My personal piece of advice would be to take a book with you. As you’re usually in line 40 mins - 1 hour before the film actually starts, it can get awfully boring and you’re going to be spending a lot of time standing and sitting. You can pick up the daily newspapers and magazines and catch up with what’s going on around you, but I got through two-thirds of a novel almost exclusively while waiting for screenings.

Dress Code

Generally speaking, dress code is whatever you like. I’d suggest practical, comfortable shoes as you’ll be standing in line a lot and doing plenty of walking (especially if you can’t get an apartment that’s close, and they’re the pricey ones).

All of the gala screenings (there are two everyday for the films in competition, one around 7pm and the other around 10pm) require evening wear. That’s full black tie. They’re fairly flexible with the stars, but we didn’t have a chance to put them to the test with our own stuff (I only had a normal black suit, dress shirt and bow tie). You should be okay with formal wear. ONLY the gala events require formal dress (the tickets for screenings at other times in the Grand Theatre Lumiere all say formal wear, just ignore them).

Daily Updates

Most of the big film industry magazines (Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Screen International, etc) publish daily editions with the latest news, reviews, deals and screenings information. They’re packed with adverts for films that are for sale in the market too.

You can pick them up in a number of places: the film market itself, most of the hotel lobbies and a few other places (Variety had a big stand on the Croisette). Also check out the dual language edition of the Metro (look for people in green handing them out).

The Film Market

For anyone interested in buying or selling films, the film market (Marche du Film), is obviously of great importance. Our passes got us into the market itself, but not any actual screenings of the films (for that you need a marche pass, which will set you back €300). It was quite interesting to see how many films, from all over the world, are currently out there waiting for a distribution deal, and just how bad some of them are. You can wander around all these stands, generally set up by sales agents, and see movie posters, leaflets, even clips from the films. We weren’t all that fussed (we weren’t buying or selling), but we did see our friend’s film advertised.

By the looks of it these stalls are more to garner interest and allow buyers to find out a little bit more, and when a screening of the film will take place. This is also what most of the adverts in the dailies are all about too.

The International Village

The Internaltion Village is split into two parts, either side of the palais (Riviera to the east, Pantiero to the west), and basically consists of various countries (and sometimes specific areas of a country – a state or county for example) taking up ‘tents’ where they can offer advice and help about how, where and what help is available for productions that choose to shoot in their locations.

In the case of the UK’s tent, for example, they had people like the UK Film Council, Scottish Screen and others giving out guidebooks on why you should shoot in the UK, how to do it, the help available, etc.

They also sometimes have talks by film-makers from the country, some (free) internet access, a bar and ‘happy hours’ – for example, between 3-4pm everyday the UK tent had free sorbet and between 8-9pm was happy hour with free Cobra beer.

The American tent, the only one not funded from public money, apparently, cost €45 for a pass, but that got you free internet access for the duration of your stay and a few other benefits (not to mention their tent was much bigger than anyone elses, so it wasn’t as packed – you could barely move in the UK tent).

Eating Out

Finding food in Cannes can be a pricey experience, in general they’re not far off what you’d expect to pay in a capital city. A lot of the cafes on the main drag (the Croisette) are very expensive, but nowhere near as pricey as the hotels or the beach restaurants.

Beach Bar

We found that going slightly past the palais (to the west), towards the harbour, there were some cafes that served good food at a reasonable price. Alternatively, head a couple of streets back from the Croistte.

Most of the restaurants and cafes have the menu out front so you can see what they offer and what sort of prices they charge. Finding vegetarian meals is challenging in many of the restaurants (my two colleagues were vegetarians), so be sure to check the menu before sitting down.

Alternatively, you can save yourself a bundle by buying food from a supermarket, though there aren’t a vast number about and some of them seem to open very odd hours (we had two nearby, one almost 24hrs, the other opened 07:15-12:30, then 16:30-19:15).

Other Stuff

Logo on the Official Festival Cars

Keep an eye out for the official festival cars (in 2006 they were generally dark blue Renault Vel Satis) which carry an official logo as these are used to ferry stars about and you may just spot someone you know.

Hotel Martinez

On the subject of celebrity spotting, most of them either stay or at least make their way to the premieres from either the Majestic, Carlton or Martinez hotels. The Majestic is the closest to the palais, right across from it (in fact, the palais used to be the site of the Majestic’s casino). It sits back from the road and they control access to it, if you have a pass you can get in though. Same with the Carlton. The Martinez has a very small drive out front, which has roads on two sides, so it’s much easier to get a close look at the stars. Again, access is controlled by several guys in suits.

One thing you can’t avoid in Cannes is being caught on camera, a lot. There were more cameras (both still and video) than I have ever seen, almost every other person seems to be carrying a camera or a tripod or both.

Useful Links

The Official Cannes Festival Site - The official site with a list of all the films, the programme, useful info, photos, etc.

The Film Market Site - The Cannes film market site, useful info for those looking to buy or sell a film

Cannes - A Festival Virgin’s Guide - Home page for the only guide book written about Cannes, worth buying if your not going with anyone who has been before

Brit Films Cannes FAQ - Some frequently asked questions (with answers) about the Cannes festival (part of the British Council)

Brit Films Cannes Travel and Information Guide - Advice about travel and accomodation for the festival

Cannes for Dummies - Article by The Times on what to do and what not to do to make yourself look like a pro at the festival

Cannes Cell Hire - Rent a French SIM card or phone package to save you on calls while in Cannes

Cannes or Bust - Blog about the festival

Channel 4 Cannes Survival Guide - Your guide to surviving in Cannes

BBC’s Film Network Guide to Cannes - An overview about what to do and how to get on in Cannes

Netribution’s Essential Guide to Cannes - A guide and blog about Cannes