Grand Valley Students Work Cannes Film Festival

courtesy / Grand Valley State University

courtesy / Grand Valley State University

Ysabela Golden

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The Cannes International Film Festival in France is an invitation-only event, one of the “Big Three” film festivals in the world. But for seventeen students in Grand Valley’s hospitality and tourism program, their ability to work alongside industry professionals on the floor of the event was their ticket in. On return from the festival, which ran from May 14-25, the students are still thinking about the time they spent in Cannes.

“Within that small amount of time, I saw a change in my life and mindset,” said Olivia Thompson. “I learned to push open doors that seemed to be closed and to own myself for who I am.” Thompson, who worked in conference operations – photography and videography – spent a lot of time with her fellow students. “I wouldn’t have had as much fun without them. They became my partners in crime, people that would push me to take risks and smile while trying!”

Though their individual roles varied, all the students had a chance to work with the American Pavilion, the center of activity for all filmmakers originating from the United States. “Everyone at the Pavillion was looking out for us the whole time,” said Amanda Witsaman. “They were really encouraging. I served VIP guests, and I had never worked at a sit-down restaurant before – I also got to work the IMDb party, which was fancier than the day-to-day – and just working with everyone, seeing how hard the chefs work to get everything out on time, was a real learning experience.”

“I want to end up in the music festival industry,” Olivia Witsaman said, “and just getting to work all these events, seeing that I can be a part of a big industry like that, was incredible. My favorite was the Queer Night party – I got to really bartend a lot that night, it was super fun.”

For Emma Zentara, who worked at the front checking in guests, the most interesting part of the Pavillon was where the more affluent guests gather to “buy and sell movies that aren’t going to be out for years. When you walk through that area,” she said, “you have no idea what actors and directors you’re going to be walking past.”

Several students had the chance to experience the films celebrated by the festival first-hand. “During one my shifts,” Olivia remembered, “a guy who worked the premiere tickets asked me if I wanted to see the ‘Rocketman’ premiere. I was so excited – I got to see it with Elton John in the same theatre. It was a really emotional experience, I think I cried the whole night.”

Zentara got a chance to see the Elton John biopic as well, which hit American theatres on May 31. “I also went to the midnight showing of ‘The Dead Won’t Die,’” she said. The horror movie has an even longer gap between premiere and theatrical debut, being released June 14. “It’s incredible seeing a movie before it’s even out in the states. Now that I’m home, it’s so weird to see films just arriving in theatres that I already saw last month.”

Though the students greatly enjoyed the festival itself, some of the trip’s most enjoyable moments were “just walking down the streets of Cannes,” according to Amanda. “I loved being able to do this with my sister, Olivia – we’ve never been able to travel out of the country like this before. We don’t speak French, but it’s amazing how you pick-up communicating nonverbally. You learn how to communicate with just a smile.”