Two Views of Cannes: Virginia Heath, Goes to the Market

By Virginia Heath

Simple Simon met a pieman, going to the fair. Says Simple Simon to the pieman, let me taste your wares. Says the pieman to Simple Simon, show me first your penny. Says Simple Simon to the pieman, indeed I have not any.

A fax from my New Zealand producer settled it. ‘Good news about the BFI development money. I’ve got a film in Critic’s Week at Cannes. Let’s meet there.’ I gulped, thinking of my spiraling credit card bill. I fax him back, ‘See you there’.

Suddenly, I’m on the bus from Nice heading for Cannes, daughter packed off to Grandma’s with her nursery rhyme book, its cautionary tales ringing in my ears. The guy next to me is evidently also going to the fair. He rummages in his bag. I glimpse black lace suspenders. Look out the window. The guy fishes out a T-shirt; ‘Whadaya think?’ I stare at the tacky pink letters School Sluts 2. Decide to be frank. ‘The “2” looks like you just painted it on.’ His face falls for an instant, only for his irrepressible spirit to re-surface ‘Yea! Kitsch, they’ll love it!’

A triumphal fanfare, cameras flash. A star waves from the red carpeted steps. I descend to the basement to register at the Unifrance desk. Moans of ecstasy. A wrong turning. Lost in porn hell, my bus companion comes to the rescue. He points me in the right direction as he unloads his suspenders. ‘Just doing this for the money. Next project’s gonna be really classy’. The volume and frequency of ambient moaning increases. I hesitate to quiz him on what exactly this might involve. I scuttle off, reminded of my early assistant editor days down an alley off Wardour St. Desperate for a union ticket, I laid the sound tracks for Emanuelle Meets the Wife Swappers. Cannes feels a long way from those days. Or maybe not.

I make for the heady atmosphere of the European Pavilion, expecting to find the BFI ‘at the heart of Europe’ as it was last year. But the British Pavilion has gone it alone, standing in splendid isolation, next door to the Americans. Last year I was here with my script, Artemisia, developed with European Script Fund money. This year my axis is North/South. I’ve just got co-development money from the BFI and NZ Film Commission for my new feature project Pania.

Cannes is the perfect place to get all parties round the same table. Not least, to make sure everyone will show their pennies and that they intend to buy the same wares. The film is to be shot in New Zealand and post-produced in the UK. My NZ producer has set up a busy schedule of meetings. He brushes aside all doubts with refreshing New World optimism. We plan to tempt a rising British male lead with the sensual pleasures of Hawkes Bay wines and a southern hemisphere summer in the midst of bleak midwinter.

This year, I’ve fallen in with a crowd of French, Australian and South African producers. Their projects seem to be achieving critical mass at a rate of knots. Our Tasmanian leader swings us in and out of parties all round town, uttering the magic words ‘Pedro’s waiting for us’ with such conviction that the bouncers stand aside, mesmerised. So here we are, sand under our feet, stars glittering above, at the Almodovar party. When the Gypsy Kings tape plays once too often, good taste dictates that we retire to the sleazier atmosphere of the Petit Magestic. A swirling mass of street bar life where the up-and-coming rub shoulders with the odd big shot who drops in to get a bit dirty after hours.

I feel a hand on my shoulder. Turn to see suspender-man up from the basement. He can hardly stand up; ‘What’z your project?’, he slurs. At last, a chance to practice my pitch without the least chance that any fluffs will be noticed. ‘Oh, you know, a dark love story… city corruption, sexual transgression… quirky… bodies smeared in black axle grease…’ He sways, fixes me with his pitching eye; ‘Hey, maybe I’d be inner… resh… ted…’

I share a taxi to the airport with my friends. It swings one last time along the Croisette. We reflect on deals done and laugh about the cappuccino promises made. I muse on the packaging potential of axle grease; ‘Pania, Factor 2000 – the ultimate in sensual sun protection’. A surreal vision takes hold of me. A press conference on the end of a red carpeted pier. The star covers herself in the winning formula. An instant fad, it spreads with Tarrantinoesque rapidity. All down the golden sands, curvaceous beach belles apply the dark, viscous fluid...’

In the airport departure lounge, I spy suspender man and try to dissolve into thin air. ‘Hey, axle-grease! I think I might have some serious money interest. Send me your script?’ I smile and nod, thinking to myself, ‘Whadaya think I am, simple?’

Virginia Heath is a director and scriptwriter from New Zealand