Op-ed: Queering the Cannes Film Festival

A behind-the-scenes look at the world's most famous film festival from a Queer Palm juror.

BY Moira Sullivan

May 29 2012 11:20 PM ET

Queer Palm Jury 2012: Moira Sullivan, Sam Ashby, Sarah Neal, Jim Dobson, Frank Finance Maduiera, Frédéric Niolle, jury president Julie Gayet. Photo by Jim Dobson

 

For three years Paris journalist Franck Finance Maduraira (love his name) has tried to invoke a queer presence on the Croisette of the Cannes Film Festival, and a prize honoring the work of queer filmmakers. It is a noble and ambitious effort in this dinosaur of an event with a protocol that is rigid and obscenely heteronormative. A formal "queer" cinema jury is a great way to encroach on this sacred territory of red carpet events, obligatory formal evening wear ("smoking" and gowns), and noxious guards.

There is no better word that captures the nature of the Cannes Film Festival than inferno. This is a journey to experience the excesses of greed and lust and the recognition and rejection or acceptance of them thereof. Fans can gaze at the stars as they arrive in limos and through mediated imagery. Four thousand "media" mass descend and are held captive for the festival like a Hitchcock aviary. Of these are a couple of hundred journalists, and I was one of them.

I came to Cannes as a member of the Queer Palm Jury, and this has to be one of the best festival experiences I have ever had. Being mirrored at a predominately gender-coded event by peers, not only superficially but also on deeper levels of genuine cineaste spirit and outrageous frolicking, was intoxicating. We were invited to many parties, such as the International Critics Week (excessive risotto), the Chivas (a temple of Bacchus), and the American Pavilion Queer party, which Macy Gray and Lee Daniels attended.

Through all of this was the recognition of excess and the constant choice to accept or reject it. On the Croisette there are invitations for sex by high-class sex workers, and there are sumptuous bacchanalian opportunities if you are suited up for them. The trip over the edge of the cliff without well-entrenched restraint can be done in a snap. It helps to be sober, and there are daily AA meetings in town just for the festival.

The large red carpet event we attended was the premiere of Michael Haneke's Amour, the film that won the Palme d'Or. I was told that if I didn't wear a dress, I wouldn't get in. Last year a woman on the Queer Palm Jury was turned away for wearing pants. I recognize that I was cut out of a lot of pictures. I did not look like the prototype. And in some ways I have tortured myself a bit that I am not more "femme" and can't pass. French waiters in Paris have referred me to as “monsieur” for years. Photographers are after the classic Cannes look. There were over 100 photographers who snapped pictures. For the majority of them, they were interested in the president of our jury, French actress and producer Julie Gayet.

Julie Gayet is a breath of fresh air and reminds me of a fairy. She is funny and articulate, and it just so happens that she was born gorgeous. So the red carpet event for the Queer Palm Jury was labeled in the media as "Julie Gayet on the Red Carpet." Gayet has acted in five films as a lesbian and is adored by both the French press and the gay public. Julie was a real trouper and insisted always on being photographed with her jury, but our heads and bodies were often cropped off since she does not have total control of what is snapped. I was cropped off the most. The unfemme, the androgynous oddity, of the ensemble, the rebel of the dress code. This is the way the media treated my presence. Still, I know that everyone on the jury and Julie treated me as a valued member.

Tags: film

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