From the simple 1940’s beginnings of a group of ad men wanting to ape the Cannes Film Festival and screen a few commercials, Cannes Lions has over the years reinvented itself, mutating, growing and aggressively changing its focus from the palace where mad men went to do business into a rallying cry for creativity in all its forms.
But this journey hasn’t been without casualty or confusion.
I find myself torn between a scorn for the exclusivity of the Martinez meetings of yesteryear, which were for a very select few, and a genuine dislike of the peacocking, look at me look at me vanity-on-steroids of the festival today.
The grand palais is no longer the creative fortress you wanted to, no, were desperate to break into. It stands surrounded by flashy semi permanent constructs and loud pop ups. Brands and vendors have sprawled out onto the beaches consuming more space than ever before, whilst apps and services vie for attention with intricate theatre and complex games up and down the strip.
And I’m not exaggerating – services and vendors are quite literally everywhere.
But crucially it seems the work isn’t the thing that commands most attention any more.
The air con filled basement is relatively quiet, the blood sweat and tears of agency (and client) teams pinned up in beautiful lines, lonely, unloved and essentially background noise within the milieu of celebrity talks, workshops, demos, lunches, gigs, parties, afterparties, drinks, seminars, DJ sets, house parties, boat parties, cocktails and sunbathing.
It seems opulent beach parties, full production set design and Hollywood celebrities are now the draw. Huge queues for rapper-come-actors and international wrestling stars have eclipsed the traditional crown jewel showcases like the directors showcase. Our focus has shifted to celeb anecdotes and thinly veiled sort-of-relatable stories rather than seeing the work we have all toiled to create in full cinematic Cannes style splendour.
This indifference to the work doesn’t just sit festering at the Palais – it’s infected the Croisette too. I don’t hear people passionately debating the work anymore. It’s more about what Big Willy said or how white Gwyneth’s teeth were. So this move away from the work being the focal point of everything the festival stands for and creating a festival in pursuit of owning creativity – happy to invite all and sundry has created a paradox.
The move to attract new, fresher blood (read: clients, tech firms, brands and start-ups) has forced Cannes to dip its toe into places I never thought possible. Spoon-benders are being billed over creative titans. Magicians seem to be a permanent fixture on the speaker list.
And whilst I understand this shift – I pray that this is the year where they perhaps got the balance a little skewed.
Yes, compete with SXSW and its young, amorphous tech crowd. Yes, expand the remit of the festival so that we recognise creativity in all its forms and we see new and exciting speakers. Yes, move with the extremely rapid pace of technology.
But please don’t wear the ringmasters hat. Lions don’t suit hats.
That said – its not all bad.
I still buy into the spirit of The Lions. Its still there.
I still admire the forward thinking stance that Cannes embodies, the zealous devotion to creativity, what it stands for and what it can achieve. The changes it engineers – like the introduction of last year’s glass lion category. I still walk away inspired and recharged. The fire in the belly from the Young Lions in attendance is still terrifying and reaffirming in equal measure. The festival still has a genuine reason to exist and is still the very pinnacle of global creativity for agencies, creators and people who value craft.
The festival is still very important.
It’s still the best.
I just want it to take off the clown shoes next year.