x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The thrill of the chase

If you want to make films for a living, you'd better enjoy the chase. Because it is a very long and unlikely one.

The thrill of the chase @AL-Body-DropCapRR:Publicity, it is sometimes said, is a zero-sum game: there's only so much of it to go around. This principle certainly seems to hold in Cannes, where the same small handful of films ? the competition line-up, a few pieces from the Un Certain Regard programme and, if you're lucky, something from the Director's Fortnight ? snaffle all the press, leaving a mountain of, well, other stuff to languish in obscurity. I have now received promotional material for perhaps 1,000 films of varying levels of funding, expertise and plausibility. There may be some decent items hidden away in there, but it's hard to tell because after a while snow-blindness descends and every pitch starts to look equally ludicrous. Why, for example, does the tagline for a biopic of Henry Lee Lucas declare him a "Serial killer... Serial liar" in that order? Isn't that rather a weak pay-off, like saying: "Genocidaire? Prank-caller" or "Cannibal? Slob"? And can there really be a kung-fu film called High Kick Girl? Is a single special move enough of a hook for a 90-minute action feature? Perhaps it's best not to inquire. The next mystifying - yet not quite inviting - bill of fare is only seconds away.

And there are deeper depths than this, of course. For real weirdness and anarchy, one need only venture into the Short Film Corner, where hundreds of filmmaker aspirants ply their wares and a handful of opportunists dash off perfunctory two-minuters to qualify for their free festival pass. There are great films here: I loved Alonso Ruizpalacios's Cafe Paraiso, a beautifully shot fantasy about the rebellion of a fast-food chef, and Worstward Ho, an obscurely funny existentialist comedy from Alex Brendermuhl in which two amateur footballers wander through a cold forest. All the same, here is the place where the misguided expands into the realms of the possibly insane. Take the film Flea: One Book Can Change Your Life. According to its promotional bumf the book in question is The Wisdom of Birds, a recent history of ornithology by Tim Birkhead. The poster depicts a man in a nest. What, if anything, these things could have to do with fleas I couldn't say. Indeed, what answer could satisfy? Then there are the titles that follow established genre patterns yet somehow fail to achieve the expected impact. Eli Roth's Hostel is a frightening film and its name somehow communicates that. So where did Kenny Evans go wrong with The Lift?

Oddly, though, one can't spend long in the company of these filmmakers and their films without succumbing in some degree to the heroism of their enterprise. The odds seem insuperable, the Darwinian logic of the marketplace relentless. And still they come. Olivier Gimenon is a French cinema-school graduate who has brought his short, Le Long Piriple de Charles Keski to the festival. "The dream is for a big producer to see my movie and say, 'It's very good, I want to meet the director,'" he says. "That's the dream, but there's a lot of competition, you know?" I ask if many producers have come down to meet the directors in the Short Film Corner. "Not a lot, no," he says with a flinch. Alex Salem takes a more relaxed perspective. A Boston creative-writing student, he co-wrote and acted in My Starship, a short which explores "one man's life and how it would change if he had a starship". "I'm not looking to make big money here," he says. "I'm really just networking." When venturing out into the festival's nightlife, Salem says: "You see the festival badge - and they're like: 'Hey, what do you do?' And you're like: 'Well, actually I'm a?' And then hopefully you trade business cards, hopefully call up after the festival, and just see what happens." The way he tells it, networking sounds a lot like flirting. No wonder he sounds so upbeat. But then, perhaps that's the trick of it. You have to love the chase, the journey as much as the destination. And as the big films attest, some people do make it.