Why the Cannes Short Film Corner is not important

You submitted your film to the Cannes Short Film Corner, paid the €85 entry fee, and bam, within a day they recognized your artistic brilliance and accepted your film!

You knew it! All these years you were right! You’re a modern auteur, whose career is about to blossom. A genius of the highest order. Your film is a Cannes Official Selection!

Only – it’s not. And no festival makes programming decisions in a day.

You have misunderstood what the Cannes Short Film Corner is and its importance.

If you live far away, then before you waste thousands on getting there or ask someone to pay for you, you should understand what the Short Film Corner is about so you can make informed decisions.

What is the Cannes Short Film Corner?

It’s easier to start with what it is not.

The Short Film Corner is not a film festival and is not the same as being accepted into competition at the Festival de Cannes (the Cannes Film Festival). As the Short Film Corner’s website itself will tell you, “Registration of your film with the Short Film Corner is different from a submission to the Festival de Cannes Official Short Film Competition” (ref) and that is where it starts to go wrong for many first time filmmakers, and those generous souls who want to support them by paying for transport, accommodation, suits, media coverage, and anything else you can think of.

The Cannes Short Film Corner is a film market, originally conceived as a way to help aspiring filmmakers to get access to the festival proper.

It is not a film festival.

Acceptance is not based on artistic merit.

What does it mean if my film is accepted into the Cannes Short Film Corner?

It means:

  1. You paid your €85 entry fee
  2. You uploaded a video file that is a genuine short film
  3. You submitted before the unpublished capacity was exceeded

And that is all.

It does Not mean:

  1. Your film has artistic merit
  2. You have an amazing opportunity
  3. Your star is about to rise

The Cannes Short Film Corner (Cannes SFC) website states, “Registration at the Short Film Corner is reserved to short films with cinema artistic values,” but this does not mean your film was selected above its peers for its cinema artistic value. Instead, your film is checked to see it is in fact a film. Cannes is an industry-only event the public are not permitted entry to. Some clever people realised the Cannes SFC could be misused to get a double ticket into the main Cannes Film Festival to mingle and see films – they’d submit any old junk and would be automatically accepted. This loophole became widely abused, so starting around 2008, the Short Film Corner checks you have a real film and not a video of Aunt Dorothy’s 70th birthday party. They reserve the right to say, “Hey c’mon pal, you’re taking liberties with this generous offer” by rejecting your film on artistic values, without further discussion.

But as long as you paid the fee, have a half workable film, and submit early, you will be accepted along with more than 2000 other films. I challenge you to show me otherwise.

Update April 2017:
Some good films do get rejected, but from my research these films were submitted late. Presumably, the Short Film Corner keep an eye on capacity. They want to give the opportunity to as many short films as possible, while staying safe and within venue capacity limits. So here’s a Pro-Tip: submit early if you want to access Cannes.

But it’s Cannes!

It may be in the same physical location, but it’s not “Cannes”. When the public and professionals alike think of “Cannes,” they’re thinking of films that are the best of the best for the year. Amazing films which are without peer. For short films, this would be the Cannes Court Métrage Competition (perhaps up to 10 films worldwide), the Cinéfondation for film school entrants (perhaps up to 20 films), or the International Critics’ Week (Semaine de la Critique). There’s also Director’s Fortnight (La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs), run outside of Cannes.

Official Selection films are screened in a proper cinema and have a gazetted screening time, at no cost to the filmmaker. Anyone in competition at Cannes can win a Palme d’Or – the most prized film award of all.

If you are Not in competition, you:

  1. Will not have a cinema, or screening time
  2. Cannot win an award (eg, the Palme d’Or)
  3. Have not been chosen on merit
  4. Cannot ethically say you screened at Cannes

Anyone in the SFC can pay several hundred euros to book a small screening room, but this is not the same as being given free of charge a screening in a full cinema with the In Competition films. Sure, you might also get someone to play your film on a PC to an audience of one down at the Short Film Corner, but this isn’t a screening in the known film business sense of the word. If you misuse that to say “you screened at Cannes,” then you don’t need me to tell you that you are being dishonest.

Finally, the Cannes Film Festival itself is very careful to ensure the Short Film Corner label they give you is called a label, not a laurel. They also ensure it does not actually look like the Cannes laurel, and does not have “Official Selection” on it:

identite_2_16 vs identite_2_07

What’s the value of submitting to the Cannes Short Film Corner? I got accepted into the Cannes Short Film Corner, should I go?

The answer to this depends on how much it will cost you to get there.

In my opinion, if your only focus is being able to say “I screened at Cannes,” then there is little value to your career or your film in submitting or attending.

If you’re more serious and want to network, then I would say it is borderline if there is going to be a large cost in transport and accommodation to you. You really need to organize your opportunities beforehand. But there are opportunities to network and learn, depending on how hard you are willing to work.

Benefit one – networking with distributors

Each SFC attendee has limited PC time for finding and viewing short films in the basement of a building on the outskirts of the Cannes Film Festival. If you leave things to naturally evolve, probably less than five bored short filmmakers will view your film during the entire festival. Any real distributor is likely not going to bother, so you must find another way.

You should make your own opportunity to network with distributors – if you can find them – and send them an online link to your film. So if you want to make use of the opportunity, you will need to organize meetings with distributors in advance and work hard to be noticed. My experience has been that most distributors will ignore your advances as they get flooded, and the few that don’t will request you contact them outside of the Short Film Corner anyway.

Also, remember that Cannes is not a short film kind of place. No one is really interested, except other short filmmakers and the people taking your money to promote your film.

So what is the point of submitting, or even going, if it is going to cost you a fortune? Personally, I think your limited funds are better spent submitting to more film festivals and winning more awards. Make sure you submit to the Cannes Court Métrage Short Film Competition. It’s free and it’s the real deal, Palme d’Or and all. If you’re accepted, by all means, ask everyone to help get you there! I’ll even send a fifty your way!

Truthfully, you will save money and probably do more to get your film distributed by staying at home and contacting distributors than by spending a week at the Short Film Corner. But if you do go, make contacts, learn new things. Network, network, network. Make your own luck by working hard.

Benefit two – two accredited passes to the Cannes Film Festival

You will also get two accredited passes (two people) to enter the Cannes Film Festival itself (Festival de Cannes) for the duration. That’s the real value in the Short Film Corner. If you see value in this, then go for it – that is what the Cannes Short Film Corner was created for in the first place.

But there’s an entire industry built around the Short Film Corner!

Yes, an entire industry has cropped up, supporting starry-eyed filmmakers promoting their shorts to other short filmmakers at the Short Film Corner. This is the free market in action – where there are people, and there is a perceived demand, there will be vendors selling services to satisfy the demand.

Just because you paid to enter a film market, and then paid a promotions company, and then paid a magazine to include your short film on their list of “ones to watch at the Short Film Corner”, and then paid for an empty screening room for ten minutes, does not mean your film has any artistic merit at all in the eye of the Festival de Cannes or anyone who matters.

Someone is asking me to help them get to Cannes! I want to help. What do I do?

This is the real reason I have taken the time to write this blog. I got tired of seeing generous, well-meaning people waste good money sending family, friends and strangers to Cannes, for absolutely no benefit whatsoever, all because the helping party (and perhaps the filmmaker too) genuinely think they’ve been accepted into Cannes. You may as well be sending them to a free holiday in the Caribbean instead. (Hey, if you’ve got spare cash, I could do with a holiday too!)

If a filmmaker is asking for your time and money for their Cannes campaign, then you have every right to verify their claim. There are some basic questions you can ask your filmmaker. You should at least get a positive answer to a couple of these:

Which program accepted you?

Most Short Film Corner attendees will happily tell you they were accepted to the Short Film Corner. They are not trying to mislead you – they just don’t understand its lack of importance. They may directly tell you all you need to know. Save your money if it’s the Short Film Corner – odds are their film is probably not deserving of your investment.

  • In Competition? Yes! Support them.
  • Cinéfondation? Yes! Support them.
  • International Critics’ Week (Semaine de la Critique)? Yes! Support them.
  • Director’s Fortnight (La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs)? Yes! Support them. (But not strictly part of the Cannes Festival.)
  • Cannes Short Film Corner? No! Save your money, unless you’re a kind benefactor.

Can you show me your film in the online festival program?

If their film is genuinely screening at Cannes, they will be written up in the official program.

If they show you their entry on the Short Film Corner website, keep your money in your pockets and run for the hills!

Can you show me your acceptance email?

The official acceptance email will make clear to which program they are part of.

If the acceptance says Short Film Corner, they have only proven they had €85 and filled out a form. You also have €85 and can fill out a form – send yourself instead! You deserve it!

What day and time will your film be screening? Which cinema? How many seats?

This is not reliable, as it can come down to wordplay.

A genuinely accepted filmmaker will be told which cinema and what time their film will be screening, and it will normally be with other short films. If the filmmaker does not know, or they vaguely answer that the film is “on demand,” they are probably not actually playing at Cannes.

It is plausible scheduling issues may mean a genuine In Competition filmmaker doesn’t know their screening time yet, so be careful. Conversely, Short Film Corner attendees are notified of how they can make own commercial arrangements to book their own micro theaterettes at great cost – but that is not an official screening and is not based on merit.

Why does this confusion happen?

I believe most people who (mis)represent their Short Film Corner acceptance as something important are doing so through genuine ignorance. They are probably new to filmmaking, believe in themselves (don’t we all wish our wildest dreams to come true?), and like any member of the public, don’t really understand the fine details of this strange industry. Chances are, they realize their mistake once they get there – especially if they’ve played at festivals before.

It is also plausible they are a crook and a thief, out to scam a free holiday. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

Why did I write this?

One day, a filmmaker near you will be accepted In Competition to Cannes Court Métrage. That filmmaker will likely be young and resource starved. They will need the help of their generous family, friends, and local businesses to get them there, because Cannes is a very expensive place to stay, and some parts of the world are far, far away.

But that talented, resource starved filmmaker will miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Why? Because everyone will be tired of hearing about the 30 plus local filmmakers that get into Cannes each and every year. Just how much talent does this town have?!

Acceptance to the Cannes Short Film Corner is meaningless and requests to help attend it are wearing out the generosity of strangers.

I consider this piece an investment in the future of a genuinely talented filmmaker – whoever they are.

Conclusion

If you are accepted into the Cannes Short Film Corner, it does not mean your film is special. This is not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The Cannes Short Film Corner is a commercial film market, not a film festival. Acceptance is not based on artistic merit.

If you have a short film, and you paid the entry fee, you will be accepted. You, and everyone else.

Newbies and the uninitiated are confusing the Cannes Short Film Corner with either the Cannes Court Métrage Short Film Competition, or the Cannes Cinéfondation – either of which are worthwhile pursuits and represent the best short films of the year.

The rule of thumb is:

  • Accepted to the Cannes Court Métrage Competition, the Cannes Cinéfondation, International Critics’s Week, or Director’s Fortnight? Do everything can you to get there. Support any filmmaker who has this rare opportunity. They are gifted and their time has arrived.
  • Accepted to the Cannes Short Film Corner? Don’t misrepresent your film as an Official Selection, or In Competition. If it is expensive to get there, reconsider going  unless you just want to “be there” to experience the fun, or work really hard to network (set up your meetings weeks in advance). Anyone with a short film and the entry fee can get into the Short Film Corner.

Bonus: Hall of Shame

It’s not just first time filmmakers that get caught out. Here are some of my favorite personally verified encounters. All of these short films were not In Competition, but were only in the Short Film Corner:

The Trade Magazine

In 2016, I saw a film trade magazine (who should know better!) promote a filmmaker’s acceptance into the Cannes Short Film Corner with a full spread. A stunning feat, considering that particular filmmaker’s country had no films accepted In Competition that year!

The Government Film Commission

Also in 2016, a Government funded film commission posted a puff piece to social media about a local director they were funding to get to Cannes for the Short Film Corner, using public money. Now, a film commission should definitely know better! Fortunately, sanity won – the film commission must have been tipped off, the post was removed and presumably the “lucky” filmmaker didn’t get their free trip. What is your tax money being wasted on?

The Radio Con Man

In 2013, a local student filmmaker conducted a very successful PR campaign to get himself over to Cannes after entering the Short Film Corner. A radio station fell for the routine and were determined to not let this local student’s amazing opportunity pass by (very sweet of them, actually). They organised a local old-school tailor to make him a bespoke suit, and transport to Cannes was provided by a local travel agent out of their own pocket.

At this point, the filmmaker was publicly called-out by experienced filmmakers, and informed of their “mistake”. Rather than admit his “mistake”, the student filmmaker played the victim, claiming he was bullied by less skilled, envious filmmakers, and went to Cannes anyway.

The radio station called the student for a live phone interview in Cannes, and asked, “Did you win any awards? When did you screen?”  The student’s cunning answer, “They’ve got my film screening around the clock down here at the Short Film Corner”. That was true – anyone who wanted to look up his film on a PC could sit down there and watch it around the clock.

The first of their kind

In 2008, a filmmaker – perhaps one of the first to misunderstand the Cannes Short Film Corner and take it all the way to the top – approached another government film commission for assistance to attend the Cannes Short Film Corner. Familiar with Cannes, and genuinely happy to help, they paid for the filmmaker’s transport to attend.

The businessman

The casual lie that “I screened at Cannes” runs deeper than just inside the filmmaking community. People are trading off it to get work.

I was recently cold-pitching an internet campaign to a businessman I know. He has a new brand and is trying to get traction.

“That sounds interesting,” he says, “but I’ll probably do something with my friend Bob. His film was screened at Cannes.”

I would have known Bob’s film if it actually screened at Cannes. But I did not. I knew Bob, but didn’t know he was a filmmaker either.

I sought out his film. It was terrible, the kind of thing you’d expect from someone who had no background in filmmaking. It was an unmanned home handycam job, with on-camera sound and no lights. Bob presented to camera himself.

What do you say, without looking like a sore loser? “That’s no achievement, every film I ever made also went to Cannes”. Or how about, “No, his film didn’t screen at Cannes. And everyone gets into Cannes”. Or even, “Bob’s film sucked. Badly.I’m offended you’d even put me in the same category”. No, you can’t say any of that without coming off like a jealous jerk. My new-found competitor had effectively bottled me up.

About the author – I’ve been filmmaking for over 30 years, starting as a Cinematographer and moving to Directing and Producing. I have made several films, achieved distribution multiple times, received over 20 meaningful awards, and been screened at hundreds of film festivals in every continent except Antarctica. I have never made a film worthy of the Cannes Court Métrage Competition. However, all of my short films since 2005 were accepted into the Cannes Short Film Corner and I never bothered to tell anyone because it’s just not worth talking about – I would look like a clueless fool to my peers.