Cannes 2015: At crowded fest, 'movers and shakers' has new meaning

Cannes 2015: At crowded fest, 'movers and shakers' has new meaning
A helicopter takes off from a Cannes Film Festival party. (Steven Zeitchik / Los Angeles Times)

The helicopter, shiny and charcoal gray, drifted over villa-studded hills, then began angling down. Its target was a faraway lawn dotted with a painted circle, which to the passengers aboard appeared no larger than a quarter.

As it approached its bull's-eye, the chopper bucked back up. "We just have a little traffic ahead of us," the pilot joked to passengers over headsets as he hovered above another craft. When he finally brought down the whirring machine, he did so gingerly, like a child trying to tiptoe into his parents' bedroom, but the trees and grass shrank back anyway.

The event's host stepped to the bottom of the lawn to greet the passengers.

FULL COVERAGE: Cannes 2015

"I hope that didn't take too long," said the host, David Unger, who runs a music management and production company affiliated with Jay-Z.

The Cannes Film Festival has a surprising capacity for diversity. Over its 12-day run, the Riviera town absorbs people of all types — high-end filmmakers and low-budget college students, hungry ticket hustlers and even hungrier models.

The festival offers them opportunities in film, fashion and, yes, frivolity across its busy precincts. The one thing it doesn't do? Get them around very well.

"There's really no good way to move about the festival," said Marika Ruehling, who had driven down with her husband from Holland, as she stood on a quiet spot off the Croisette, the festival's main boulevard. "We've been trying for years."

It's a knotty problem, at least by Cannes standards. The town is too cramped and congested for a car to be of much use. Yet it is too large to navigate conveniently on foot — a typical daily schedule of meetings, screenings and parties requires traversing at least several miles all over town.

And if an event is outside the center, as Unger's was, forget about quick access — shuttle buses and taxis will still be idling on traffic-clogged single-lane roads when the last of the Champagne is poured.

Locomoting has also grown harder as events have spread to farther-flung locations and as attendance at Cannes continues to grow.

So attendees have gotten creative.

Scooters, skateboards, Segways and — increasingly, this year — helicopters have all been pressed into service. Ruehling, in fact, was standing next to a Segway as she spoke — she and her husband had brought the odd-duck machines with them from Holland and were using them to get around.

Uber for the first time this year is offering a helicopter service, flying passengers, for a neat 180 euros per person, to the Nice airport — or, for a few more coins, on longer hauls. (Some of its fleet were used for the trip to Unger's party.)

Vespas and their ilk are also common sights around Cannes. They can be dangerous, but mostly to pedestrians who get in their way. The odd skateboard is sometimes spotted too, its rider coasting with a ubiquitous festival badge around his or her neck.

And a brand called Solowheel now offers what might be described as a miniaturized motorized unicycle. Electricity powers a single small tire while riders straddle between their ankles, their feet resting on small landings. Riders steer and accelerate with their body movements: A forward lean speeds up, a backward slouch slows down. The device is portable and can be folded up and carried, like a heavy attache case.

Solowheel has ramped up its efforts at Cannes this year, and over the past week it has not been uncommon to be on the sidewalk and see a rider fly past, their legs joined together, arms free, like an especially fast overland mermaid.

How to get around the Cannes Film Festival might seem a problem on par with a tycoon's complaint that he can never find any small bills. You can be forgiven for withholding your sympathies.

Still, for many, this festival is, at bottom, a business, and getting around quickly is central to conducting it properly.

Sony Pictures Classics' Tom Bernard, one of the more high-profile industry veterans on the Croisette, has been navigating the chaos for years by renting a bike. It gets him around quickly, and serves another purpose.

"I'm going between meetings and I'll never get anywhere if I'm on foot and keep running into people I'm doing business with," he said. "On a bike almost no one stops me." (Except, perhaps, for a journalist who stepped into his path to talk to him about it.)

Those advocating new methods say that, like the finest auteurs, they've discovered a way to reinvent a form long thought calcified.

"A Segway is too big — what, you're going to pick it up and carry it with you if you hit a few steps?," said Sebastien Achard, the Solowheel sales rep for southeastern France, engaging in the alterna-transporters' preferred game of one-upmanship.

"And a bike? Come on, you're in your tuxedo pedaling and sweating the whole time."

He had a point. Then again, high fashion and the Solowheel might not entirely sync up, either, judging by a woman who might have enjoyed a few cocktails trying to ride one in high heels on a night earlier this week.

Many of these unorthodox forms of transit offer benefits besides convenience, enthusiasts say.

"We were on the [Segways] a few days ago and we could see Paris Hilton go from the car to the boat," Ruehling said, as she began to describe what sounded like one of the more unusual stalkerazzi chases you'll hear about. "Everyone else on foot saw her, but of course they couldn't keep up. And we rode right up to the boat and saw her get on." Where there is glamour, there is also gumption.

All this is to say nothing of water-bound vessels. A number of higher-end yacht parties happen not on boats docked at the town pier but farther out on the open sea. A visit to one requires a small motorboat trip, which may make even hardened capitalists reach for their college Marx paperbacks, as men and women in $10,000 outfits tap their Rolexes, Thurston Howell-style, impatiently waiting at a dock for low-income migrant workers to pick them up and get them to the yacht on time.

Then there are the helicopters. Who exactly has been taking them — besides party guests and, er, curious reporters — is a mystery. Well, a mystery to people who are not Richard Peete. The independent film producer has been choppering all over Cannes, he said. He took one from the Nice airport. "Seven minutes. So much better than the roads."

And late on a night when adult beverages may have been involved, he and a few friends walked to the helipad, located in the center of town, and asked the attendant they could book a trip to Monaco, about 20 miles away. He said they could, and Peete and his friends were quickly airborne.

And what did the group do upon arriving in Monaco?

"Jet-ski," he said.

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