Cannes 2021 jury president Spike Lee on how he survives back-to-back movie viewing schedules


Sprawled out over two weeks, Cannes can be an awfully overwhelming film festival. There are so many movies to see and so many glamorous events to go to that you could easily burn out — or worse, fall asleep during a future Palme d’Or winner.

More responsible Cannes-goers attend one or two films a day and then retire to their hotel rooms, but I am not such a person. I know that the wildest things often happen after midnight here, like the time a few years ago when I watched Channing Tatum and Jane Campion freak it on a beachside dance floor to Lykke Li. Who’d want to go to bed early and miss that?

On Sunday night in Cannes, as my energy spiked and flagged in equal measure, it struck me that we had finally reached the midpoint of the festival: Six days in, six to go. At the Kering Women in Motion dinner that night, I asked the festival’s jury president, Spike Lee, how he was keeping his endurance levels up.

“I knew coming in that I was going to have to see 24 films, so I go to bed early and I’m here to do my job,” Lee said. “How can you see 24 films and then go on hanging out at night?”

I replied that many people here were about to foolishly attempt the task, including the journalist he was speaking to. “Yeah, but you ain’t the president of the jury,” Lee said. “As my mother would say, ‘Take your skinny, rusted Black butt to bed!’”

Reader, I wasn’t quite ready for that yet. Instead, I chatted with some of Lee’s fellow jurors, Mélanie Laurent and Tahar Rahim, about how they were keeping their spirits up midway through the fest. “Friends!” said Laurent, a French actor-director. Plenty of her pals had been attending the screenings, too, and they allowed her a different sounding board than the jury: “We’re on this same big journey together.”

Lee’s initial advice was seconded by Rahim, star of the recent drama The Mauritanian. We talked while he watched the final game of the Euro 2020 soccer tournament on his iPhone. “Good sleep helps,” Rahim told me, his eyes flitting back to the phone as Italy took the lead. “And sometimes, a little bit of soccer.”

Sure, everybody says to get a lot of sleep. But how many festivalgoers actually practice what they preach?

“No one,” replied Eva Husson, director of Mothering Sunday. “You usually sleep four hours a night on average, and then you have to take Red Bull or coffee around 6 or 7 pm because you have to survive an event at 9.”

Husson, who was last at the festival with Girls of the Sun three years ago, also cautioned that after a couple of days of burning the candle at both ends, midfest depression can set in. “Usually by Day 4,” she said sagely. So what can be done about that?

“You just have to know that it shall pass, it will be OK,” Husson said. “You pull yourself together and get your energy from the crowd and make the most of it.” She cocked her head. “Or, have a friend who lives nearby and go to the beach with her, as I will be doing.”

That felt more like advice I could use: Instead of spending all of one’s energy scrambling to get into the next premiere or party, why not sprinkle in some other fun pursuits? For Lee, that involves dressing up. The jury president has already stepped out in a series of head-turning looks, including bright pink and houndstooth suits selected by Louis Vuitton menswear artistic director Virgil Abloh, and part of the fun of the fest is seeing what Lee will wear next.

“I’m very happy to be doing this with Virgil,” Lee said. “Hopefully we get to do something else, I hope it’s not a one-and-done thing.”

Does Lee have some even wilder looks in store for the back half of the festival, just to keep his energy high?

“I can’t tell you, I’d have to kill you,” he said, laughing. “And then AO Scott would never give me another good review!”

Kyle Buchanan c.2021 The New York Times Company

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Cannes 2021 jury president Spike Lee on how he survives back-to-back movie viewing schedules
Cannes 2021 jury president Spike Lee on how he survives back-to-back movie viewing schedules
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