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Quinnipiac Students On Their Trip to the 2024 Cannes Film Festival

Quinnipiac students Willona Amoakoh, Chris Bavaro and Julia Schnarr in Cannes

Through a partnership with The Gotham, Filmmaker‘s publisher, students from Qunnipiac University attended the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, where they participated in breakfast workshops, interned for sales companies, watched movies and soaked up knowledge on how the international film business operates. Three of the students — Willona Amoakoh, Chris Bavaro and Julia Schnarr — recount their experiences below. — Editor

Willona Amoakoh

I believe the most helpful things for young film workers going to Cannes to know or do are completing a few film business courses ahead of time, establishing an internship placement or assignment, factoring in some excursion time and scheduling at least one red-carpet screening.

I had an adventurous experience traveling abroad to Cannes, France — my first time visiting the South of France and attending the festival. Several phrases that capture my memories are “functional fashion,” “artful landscapes,” “croissants and baguettes,” and “cool blue water that intersects worldwide culture.” During my stay the weather was bright, sunny, breezy and absolutely amazing! I tasted the sweetest fruits, cheese, prawns and dessert without haunting preservatives. The day-to-day bustle of the local markets and walks on the Croissette looped me right in.

I knew very little French, but I made sure my big smile was the first thing I communicated followed by, “Bonjour! Do you speak English?” Fortunately, the draw of the 77th Cannes Film Festival created a space for other foreigners like me to explore the country and making way for some English language exchange. But the brass tacks of it all, Cannes was a fun-filled trip for doing business in the film industry.

My learning experience as an intern for the Film Sales Company was outstanding! My two primary tasks were film tracking and writing coverage. For film tracking, I remained outside the screening room for two whole screenings to monitor traffic coming in and leaving, getting business cards whenever possible, and noting details of arrival and departure times. My coverage responsibility included screening over a dozen films and summarizing the plot and quality of each film in order for my company to decide which films to reach out to get additional information and screener links.

One of my highlights was networking and connecting my company with directors and film producers. It was an honor to help bridge conversations with potential partners. I truly felt my internship role was valuable and useful, especially to newer filmmakers. Many artists in the industry are looking to “shoot their shot.” The filmmakers I met have wonderful stories to tell so I was very proud to help make meaningful introductions.

Another helpful thing that I was able to use to my advantage was the knowledge I gained after completing the two courses on Creative Development and Domestic and Worldwide Distribution and Sales for Film and TV in my graduate film program at Quinnipiac. My Creative Development class prepared me to break down the elements of a pitch deck, embrace fundamental production concepts, understand what is attractive to producers and media companies, and pitch a project within two minutes to distribution and sales companies. My Domestic and Worldwide Distribution and Sales for Film and TV course was an extensive overview of worldwide sales, distribution, marketing,and international film festival/markets for both film and television. I conducted primary and secondary research on these topics. I also chose the option to participate in the short-term study-abroad component which initially brought me to the Cannes Film Festival. I was fortunate enough to be placed with a very helpful company while actively engaging in screenings, panels, and roundtable discussions.

All of these preparations were components that helped me to meet 45 creative and valuable people, from production designers, casting directors, actors, film sales companies, producers, directors, screenwriters, DOPs, and a hair and makeup team who specialize in ethnic products for actors. My experience was worthwhile and confirmed my decision to enroll in the Cinematic Production Management Masters at Quinnipiac University. I now have many professional contacts I will follow up with to pitch my own film projects to. This experience was like no other and could have not happened without attending the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

Chris Bavaro

My name is Chris Bavaro, and this past May I graduated from Quinnipiac University with a degree in Film, Television and Media Arts and a minor in Music. Immediately after walking the stage at graduation, 16 Quinnipiac students and I got on a bus, drove from Hamden, CT to JFK International Airport and flew to the Cannes Film Festival. In the 10 days I was there I was able to see 11 different movies, intern for an incredible film distribution company, and meet some of my heroes in the film industry. Throughout the trip, I also got to form stronger relationships with the students and faculty that were there with me. My time in Cannes gave me a perspective on how the film industry works globally and showed me the multitude of different career possibilities one could have working in this industry, outside of the production of films.

While in Cannes, I interned at Voltage Pictures, a film distribution company. It was an amazing opportunity to work for CEO Nicolas Charter, President & COO Jonathan Deckter, and the EVP of International Sales and Distribution, Alexandra Cocean. Though they are incredibly busy people with meetings every 30 minutes, they still took time out of their day, whenever they had a free moment, to ask my fellow interns and me about ourselves and give us advice about building a strong career in this industry. I am so grateful for the time I spent working for them and for the insight each of them gave me.

Through Blythe Frank, the director of the Cinematic Production and Management Masters program at Quinnipiac, and her relationship with The Gotham Film & Media Institute and our partner Colgate University, every student on the trip was also given festival accreditation and a market badge. Having access to the market screening gave me the ability to watch films that I would have never had a chance to see otherwise. On my first day at the festival, I wandered around the Marché and stumbled into a screening of  The Day The Earth Blew Up: A Looney Tunes Movie. I never would have imagined seeing the movie, and certainly not at the Cannes Film Festival.

In addition to our market badges, we were also given access to our group’s private student lounge, where The Gotham hosted intimate, insightful talks between their Executive Director, Jeff Sharp, and executives from Netflix and Focus Features, and a roundtable with the Gotham’s Producer Fellows. We also had memberships to the American Pavilion, where we could network with other filmmakers and people in the industry. The American Pavilion hosted several different panels, Q&As, student screenings, and parties. It was a stimulating environment to connect with and pick the brains of the other filmmakers and people working in the industry.

The beauty of this trip was the surprises—almost every day something exciting happened when I least expected it. On the first night wandering around, we crossed the street in front of Chris Hemsworth’s car, and he rolled down the window to say hi to everyone. I met and took pictures with Woody Harrelson and Sean Gunn just by running into them on the street. I was able to walk the red carpet for a new Nicolas Cage film, The Surfer, and then sat a row in front of him. I had the perfect angle to watch Nic Cage watch a Nic Cage premiere, and it was magnificent.

My favorite film of the festival, and one of my personal highlights at Cannes was the screening of Jim Henson Idea Man, directed by Ron Howard. I can say confidently that The Muppet Show was the spark that lit my creativity as a child and played a gigantic role in setting in motion my passion for both filmmaking and music. In addition to that, Ron Howard’s impactful work and his versatility as a filmmaker/producer have been a huge inspiration to me. By sheer luck, I ran into Ron Howard in the lobby of the theater right before the film started, while everyone was already in their seats. He gave me a minute to take a picture and talk. I got to shake his hand and tell him not only how much his work means to me but also how much the work of Jim Henson means to me. I can’t put into words how special that moment was.

My professor Blythe Frank, and my bosses at Voltage all said was that it’s equally important to understand the business side of this industry, even if you only have aspirations for creating films. My experience at Cannes brought into perspective how important that side of the industry is. Creatives that have made long-lasting intellectual properties that are still relevant, like Jim Henson, understand the importance of the business side of production. Being at Cannes and immersing myself in the business of the field for the first time opened my eyes to the number of different career paths I could pursue, but still be a part of an industry that I’ve dreamt of working in my entire life. Having a hands-on role in the world of the film business made me feel more confident about my future. It was the first time in my life I didn’t feel like I was completely on the outside looking in.

My experience at Cannes also inspired me to go back to Quinnipiac in the fall to get my masters in Cinematic Production Management. Before the trip, my only real frame of mind for working in this industry was on the creative production side, something that I love with all of my heart, but I still feel like there is more I need to learn. Starting in the CPM program is so exciting to me because it will help round out my skills as a creative, while also continuing to give me more insight into navigating the reality of the business side of the industry.

This trip was one of the most fulfilling ten days of my life. For as much fun as I was having, I also felt a sense of purpose and clarity about my future. Being there made me realize how important getting a master’s degree was to me and opened my eyes to the fact that there is so much more I want to learn about the business aspect of film that wasn’t taught in my undergraduate classes. I also got to form real and valuable friendships with the other students who were on the trip with me. Working at Cannes was equal parts the most fun I’ve had in my entire life and also the most gratifying experience. I couldn’t be more grateful to everyone who was able to make this trip possible.

Julia Schnarr

Thanks to Professor Blythe Frank and the Gotham Film and Media Institute, I was able to experience an incredible opportunity to attend the 2024 Cannes Film Festival. I have been making films for 10 years and started my company, Sunbeam Productions LLC, in 2023. At Quinnipiac University, I am currently studying towards my Masters in Cinematic Production Management. At the Cannes Film Festival, I have found that working as an intern and surrounding myself with fellow filmmakers have enriched my experience as a filmmaker as well as a person.

As much as Cannes is about seeing the stars on screen and watching their films at a red carpet screening next to them in the audience, like I did with The Surfer, starring Nicolas Cage, there is much more to the festival itself. I realized the festival is also a very important place for emerging and seasoned filmmakers to network, experience the immersive technologies that are enhancing our industry, attend panels and learn more about what is trending and popular among our trade.

I have been involved with professional film for almost a decade and have heard the expression, “It’s who you know.” Film connections and contacts do not come from waiting for them to come to you. You never know what opportunities may come from striking up conversation with someone in your field.

At the American Pavilion, there was an opportunity to communicate and network with others from all over the United States who were looking for collaborators on projects. I met everyone from directors, producers, production company owners, and even someone from the art department! I exchanged a number of business cards and got to know many different perspectives in this industry from getting to know people there.

The very rare and incredible opportunity to work with an international distribution company presented itself when my professor put me in touch with Sebastian Assual, the Head of Marketing and Communications at the Highland Group. My job as an intern was to make sure clients were in and out of meetings smoothly during the Cannes Market, oversee that they were tended to, and watch as the incredibly talented staff did business. I also showed trailers for the films that the Highland Group was selling with understanding each territory and country that was interested in specific films. This experience taught me so much about the business side of filmmaking. I was intrigued and inspired by the CEO Arianne Fraser as she worked and gave myself, Sadie Crout, and Chloé Nouel advice about the real world and how best to prepare ourselves for this kind of business. It was incredible the time I was able to work with them, and I learned so much about how meetings run with clients and how films are distributed from a new perspective. The Highland Group was more than generous to me and my friends during our internship, and I couldn’t be more grateful for my experience with all of them during the Cannes market.

The Marché panels and discussions were equally as interesting as I got to listen to industry professionals discuss their tricks of the trade. The most valuable information I received was from Tom Quinn, the CEO of Neon and five-time Palme D’Or winner. His largest takeaways were that audiences of all ages were hungry for more original content and that the success of a film is not strategized to perfection, but one can hope that with a great script and passion behind a project the film will succeed. I asked him what emerging directors should keep in mind when they were starting to work on a film to make it the most successful, realistically. His response was: “Think of the seven reasons why a film won’t work.” In this industry, he explained that it is easier for directors to think of the challenges ahead of their envisioned product and pursue it with those in mind. He also said to “be honest with yourself” when making a film, to make sure a film is authentic to you and your vision as well as the intention behind the work. I found Tom’s talk very inspiring and met two other industry people there as well and exchanged cards with both of them.

The festival itself showed an array of films I liked. Yes, between chatting and running to panels and discussions, I found time to watch some films. My taste is very nostalgic and the first film I saw at the festival was the 1927 silent film Napoléon, which had astounding visuals and soundtrack. The Surfer was my first red carpet screening and I sat a row from Nicolas Cage. It was an experience I will never forget, and the film, in my opinion, was original and amazing. I also saw The Substance, which featured lots of body-horror with a commentary on youth and plastic surgery.

I cannot wait to go to Cannes again. I feel that with the knowledge I have gained and things I have seen and experienced, I am better prepared for my career having been a part of it all in the heart of the grandest film festival in the world. This was also my first time traveling to the Cannes Film Festival, France, and outside of the United States in general. I am grateful for the experience, and it is something I will never ever forget.

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