Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

How do you survive the world's most famous film festival? With a Cannes-do attitude

A short Newfoundland film called Casey landed director Cody Westman a long — and wild — trip to the Cannes Festival.

If you haven't seen someone in a jet pack, have you really been to Cannes?

Cody Westman and Jenny Dempsey got to take their short film, Casey, to the Cannes Film Festival. (Submitted by Cody Westman)

As I sat in a park at 4 a.m. in Cannes, France, jet-lagged and coming down from the high of the town's film festival, I considered falling asleep right there on the bench.

See, my producer Jenny Dempsey had locked me out of our Airbnb and, being jet lagged herself — she flew 8,100 kilometres in 72 hours — she didn't hear my knocks or phone calls.

Sleeping in a park was not what I imagined while being welcomed to our biggest festival yet and our first Festival de Cannes.

So I opted to walk to the closest hotel, a swanky one on the marina, where the night clerk offered me a room for a mere 700 euros. Only $1,062 Cdn!

After I pointed out that checkout was only seven hours away, she kindly offered it up for 150 euros. I gratefully stumbled up to my room to crash.

A silver lining appeared when I realized the hotel had a rooftop pool and hot tub.

After Jenny brought me a pair of shorts and a toothbrush, I started the next day with a swim and a soak, overlooking the ocean. The sun was shining and there was definitely was a buzz in the air.

Yes, it's as amazing as you've imagined — and then some. (Submitted by Cody Westman)

A small Newfoundland film brought big opportunities

In 2017, I was accepted into the Picture Start program — made possible by NIFCO (the province's independent filmmaker's co-op), the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation and Telefilm Canada — to make a short film in Newfoundland and send it out into the world.

With my friend Bridget Canning, I wrote Casey, a story of a girl who strives to be normal, but realizes that her whole life is based on a lie. It played at festivals in Canada, New York, Rome, Ireland and more.

It was also selected by Telefilm to be one of 20 films to represent Canada in Cannes for a program called Canada's Not Short On Talent.

Many things happened at the festival: I attended a workshop with Denis Villeneuve — one of the world's best directors, and a Canadian too!

I walked the red carpet (the last few stairs, anyway) to screenings of Whitney and soon-to-be cult classic Under the Silver Lake and I watched our industry meet-and-greet event be taken over by a man in a jet pack, who we all swore was Elon Musk.

Jet pack at Cannes

3 years ago
Talk about getting your project off the ground! 0:24

We even got word that a buyer from Shorts TV was interested in Casey for their channel.

It's a lot to take in

For some, the festival may have been a little overwhelming. The massive three-floor film market was busy with hundreds of booths, saturated with distributors, foreign production companies and smiling representatives from who-knows-who and who-knows-where, all eager to network.

Getting into screenings, especially the red-carpet events, was harder than I expected. It worked like a lottery: you could put your name down for the screenings you wanted to attend and the number of tickets you were looking for.

Both Jenny and I were denied our requests for every film except one!

You could also stand in a (very long) line to get into film screenings after all the ticket holders had gone through.

It doesn't get better than the Cannes red carpet. (Submitted by Cody Westman)

But man, it's all worth it. The Grand Theatre Lumiere boasts an impressive 2,300 seats — almost half the population of my home town — and you know that you're there to watch something special.

Of course, after the screenings, there was an array of welcoming restaurants, pubs and industry parties to attend, but you had to have your ear to the ground to find out where and how to get in.

We ended up shutting the Telefilm party down and, after the music stopped, a few Canadian producers and actors and I hacked away on the piano, belting out songs by the Tragically Hip and The Band long into the night.

By the time Jenny and I returned to St. John's we had made new friends and industry contacts, licensed our film to a channel with 15,000,000 subscribers worldwide and cemented our director-producer relationship.

We're currently working on a soon-to-be announced feature documentary that will air on the Documentary Channel in 2020.

They say that your first trip to the Festival de Cannes is just to get the lay of the land — and not necessarily to lay on a park bench. I hope I'm fortunate enough to experience the thrilling madness of it all again someday.

But next time, whether we're staying in an Airbnb or even — who knows? — that swanky hotel on the marina, you better believe I'm going to get my own key.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Cody Westman is a film and commercial director and cinematographer with his company Cats Eye Cinema in St. John’s.


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