Grady students at the University of Georgia's Cannes Film Festival Study Abroad program
Directors describe opposite paths to Cannes
Date: July 11, 2012
Author: Anna Beaver
Contact: Nate Kohn, email@example.com
Each year Grady College students participate in study abroad programs in Cannes, France. Anna Beaver (ABJ '07), program coordinator, shares her experience in this first-hand account.
All festival long, program director Nate Kohn lines up a stellar cast of characters to speak with Grady students at the University of Georgia's Cannes Film Festival Study Abroad program.
Take for instance two directors who spoke to us this year, whose backstories and journeys to Cannes couldn't be more opposite.
Philip Kaufman, noted director of such films as The Right Stuff, Henry and June, and this year's Cannes film, Hemingway and Gellhorn, was gracious enough to speak to our students amidst a jam-packed schedule of panel appearances, press conferences, and book signings. Hemingway and Gellhorn stars Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen and was made for HBO. Kaufman told us some incredible stories from his days hanging out and making movies with fellow industry greats in Chicago and Los Angeles.
One story that stood out to me was prompted by a student asking him about his involvement in one of the most widely known films in history (the specific name of which I will hold off giving you until later).
Director Philip Kaufman (left) speaks to Grady students at the University of Georgia's Cannes Film Festival Study Abroad program as director Nate Kohn listens.
Phil answers the student's question and goes on to say, "Oh yeah, my friend, George, and I came up with this little idea one day and nothing ever really came of it."
OK — let me pause here and fill in the blanks (in parentheses) of what he was actually saying in that seemingly mundane sentence.
"Oh yeah, my friend, George (Lucas), and I came up with this little idea (Indiana Jones) one day and nothing really ever came of it."
That was until George and Steve (Spielberg) were on vacation together (in Hawaii) and the little idea (Indiana Jones) resurfaced in conversation and the two ended up developing the whole thing through to fruition with Phil's blessing. The ultimate release of Raiders of the Lost Ark earned Kaufman a "story credit."
Director Jeff Nichols describes the unglamorous realities of starting anything from scratch.
"I mean, what?!?!?!" said each of the students, myself included, in our heads with a ton of question marks and exclamation points alternating one after the other.
Are you grasping this guy's nonchalant demeanor? And by "this guy" I mean Mr. Kaufman.
Now let's jump ahead a couple days later in this year's Festival when we have relative newcomer, Jeff Nichols, speak to our students.
Born in Razorback country about a decade before our young Bulldawgs, Nichols has three major film credits to his name: Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud. The latter two films earned featured spots in major competitions within the Cannes Film Festival the last two years in a row - quite a feat.
While still young and new to the industry, Nichols has his small share of Kaufman-esque "famous friend stories," too. Half his buddies from North Carolina School of the Arts are the writers, creators, and/or actors on HBO's Eastbound and Down — Danny McBride, David Gordon Green, etc. Also, Nichols' brother, Ben, is the lead singer of the band, Lucero.
So, before Nichols even utters a syllable to our group, he's got street cred with them and because they, like him, are young and share the same demographics, they trust him. Their worlds and current stages of life are more in tune with one another than any of them are with Philip Kaufman.
This, alone, led our students to pose a much different set of questions to Nichols than they did to Kaufman.
Director Jeff Nichols' film Mud is showing "In-Competition" at this year's Festival.
With Kaufman, our group asked about movies or actors or the state of working in the industry in Kaufman's heyday, a veritable lifetime before these students saw their first movie.
With Nichols, our group of savvy millennials asked this almost-millennial about getting a project off the ground in the current state of the industry and the economy, a question that matters for these soon-to-be grads.
Nichols' genuine response about the completely unglamorous realities of starting anything from scratch (working paycheck to paycheck, moving back in with relatives, hitting up people for money to fund your film) is exactly what these students need to hear to keep their noses to the grindstone.
The humble yet insightful director goes on to point out that there's never a good time to start anything big in your life — a film, a marriage — it's just something you have to dive into and do when the feeling is right and the passion is there.
Our 30 minutes of one-on-one Jeff Nichols time continued and someone asked him how it felt, at 33 years old, to have a film (Mud) showing "In-Competition" at this year's Festival alongside films by such famous directors as David Cronenberg, Ken Loach, and Michael Haeneke. Nichols replied without hesitation, "I'm nervous as hell."
Hallelujah! Another point, honesty.
Nichols went on to say, "I'm not competing. It's a competition, but I'm not competing." He explained he'd already reached his goal by just being invited to the party, as he phrased it, of competing for the Palme d'Or.
He daydreamed for a moment about what he thought the feeling of having the lights come up on him and his cast after his premiere in the 2300 seat Lumiere Theatre and described it as "better than winning an Oscar."
For those of us who made it in to the red carpet premiere of Mud the night after he spoke to us, breathing the same air and reveling in that same as-the-lights-come-up moment with Nichols and stars Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, gave us chills. Seeing Jeff's teary blue eyes up on the big screen during a roaring standing ovation from the crowd, knowing that this is what he had been waiting for and that we, his 30 newest "biggest" fans, were there to see it happen for him was emotional and awe-inspiring.
In a town and at a festival claustrophobic with egos, it is refreshing to have the opportunity to hear from someone so down-to-earth and appreciative of this upward swing in his life and career.
It would be easy for Nichols to puff out his chest and give off an air of arrogance, but he doesn't. He could demand only Italian lemon slices be squeezed in his French sparkling water, but that's just not how he is. He has manners. He has self-respect and, equally as important, he has respect for others.
UGA Cannes Film Festival Program Director and mass media arts professor, Dr. Nate Kohn, reminds our students almost daily in class of his dislike for the word "relatable" and its persistent presence in their film reviews. My apologies, Nate, but I must resist your writing rules for a moment because this word sums up exactly what film director Jeff Nichols is to our students: relatable.
Like Nichols, our 27 students were raised in good, mostly Southern homes. Their affinity for film and desire to pursue their passions beyond the confines of Grady College has already earned them a place in this highly competitive study abroad program.
Getting to walk a red carpet in a tux or cocktail dress is cool, sure, bucket-list-worthy, even. But speaking with people who have cracked the code of filmmaking and are actually DOING it and living it as we speak is priceless.
Anna Beaver (UGA '07) is a graduate of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication with a bachelor's degree in advertising and a minor in French. She serves as program coordinator for both the UGA Cannes Film Festival Study Abroad Program and the UGA Cannes Lions Advertising Festival Study Abroad Program. The other 10 months of the year Anna can be found in Atlanta working any odd job she can get her hands on that will afford her the opportunity to travel to France annually and introduce the newest crop of UGA students to the thrill of Cannes.
May 15, 2013
Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication senior Paige Pulaski served as Distinguished Senior…
May 02, 2013
Grady’s New Media Institute will host its annual Spring SLAM on Saturday.
April 22, 2013
Grady Professor Jennifer Smith and 20 Grady students spent eight weeks last summer in…