CANNES, France — “Matt! Matt! Look over here, over your shoulder, Matt Damon!” The moment he turned with a big smile on his face, we made direct eye contact as chills ran down my spine. Bam! I captured it.
As an Atlanta-based photographer who’s covered major sports, breaking news, national politics throughout the United States, I thought all my previous experience would have prepared me for the Cannes Film Festival. But I was wrong.
This assignment was completely different. It’s completely opposite of what I normally do, screaming and shouting people’s names to look at me, is strange. My piercing high pitched voice breaks through the crowd of deeper voices and for only a second a celebrity looks at me.
Communication with the locals can be difficult because I don’t speak the language, but gestures of where to stand, where to look and where to pay, get me through. Learning a few new phrase — “Un regard par ici” (look over here), “par dessus l’épaule” (over your shoulder), “retournez vous” (turn around) — have been helpful with getting talent’s attention on the red carpet.
When I arrived in Cannes, Spike Lee’s eyes followed me wherever I would go, from a gigantic poster above the red carpet, in shop windows, bakeries, on postcards, flyers and in advertising all around town. The film festival has taken over Cannes.
The scenery that surrounds Cannes was impossible to ignore from the beautiful hillside filled with French style homes, sun-kissed skin, beautiful fashion, sandy beaches, and rows of restaurants with smells of truffle. During a break in the action I’d dig my toes into the sand and chilly water of the Mediterranean Sea. It was dream-like.
Suddenly you are brought back to reality when mopeds and cars zoom down the street with little regard for pedestrian safety. As well as the ongoing pandemic that added a layer of anxiety. Since I’m an American, I’d have to get a COVID-19 test every day, even though I’m vaccinated.
Being smooshed between people on the red carpet with sweat dripping from their elbows onto mine was like being in a political scrum in south Florida, hot and humid until a strong gust of wind relieves the tension around us. Then I’m back to yelling, “Over here! Over here!”
As one of only a few women, I’d shove my way back and forth to capture a moment, while wearing all black in 85-degree weather with sweat filling my black disposable mask. After two weeks, I am covered in bruises and blisters from walking and standing, taking bumps from other’s cameras or elbows into the side of me.
But working with and meeting international and entertainment colleagues was a joy. I had known about the Cannes Film Festival my entire life — the glamor of the red carpet, the celebrities that attended and the outstanding films that premiered — but all of it was mythical to me. I never thought I’d be in the South of France. But this year I got to be a part of the lore, fashion, films, red carpets and it was the opportunity of a lifetime that I’ll never forget.