Alice Lowe and Steve Oram’s Sightseers, directed by Ben Wheatley, premiered in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes 2012. Here, Alice remembers the response to Sightseers – the ovation, Twitter – and the rest of the festival…
So we get a standing ovation at the end of the film. At the time I have to admit I didn’t really know what was happening. But I read it on twitter afterwards. I’m standing there confused but happy that people didn’t hate it. I feel like a bit of a dick and sit back down. Then the screening co-ordinators made us get up again. I just think it’s maybe some kind of charming French game. People around us are standing and clapping and looking at us, like the leper scene in Jesus Christ Superstar, but nothing like that. I just can’t think of a better comparison. All my film references have gone down the toilet. Or are in my rucksack. Which is currently at an unknown location. Richard is crying. He denies this now of course. I look at Steve, and he just looks the same as he always does. When you’ve been writing with someone for five years, their emotions begin to merge into one. Ben, Amy, Claire, Andy, Nira, just look really happy but equally surprised.
We are ushered into the car with all the urgency of Barack Obama’s personal security. I don’t know why. ‘My rucksack’ I whimper, in a pathetic cry. No one hears. ‘I bet Nicole Kidman doesn’t have a rucksack,’ an evil voice whispers in my head. Possibly Tom Cruise. ‘That’s why she’s an internationally successful actress’. ‘Yes, but does she have a London A-Z for emergencies?’ I respond smugly. I decide to fuck the rucksack and see where the night takes me. Possibly towards a cold night on the beach, but what the hell.
The rest of the night is a blur: we go to the after party, talk to many nice interesting people, eat unusual prawns, talk about wanting to make more films, which doesn’t seem so patently absurd now. People apparently say nice things on twitter. Although, typically British, I decide to focus on twitter’s Darren Bolton, who says ‘Sightseers is the most embarrassing thing he has ever seen’. I give undue attention to this negativity as I feel naturally more comfortable with it. Also, Darren Bolton sounds like someone who would have been a bully at my school, so I feel at home with that too. Then someone finds my lost rucksack, so I slip back into my Converse. Definitely more comfortable now.
At 4am, drunk and happy and hotel-bound, we skip down some steps that I notice look like a priest could fall down them. The Exorcist! I’ve re-found my film references. Thank god for that.
The next day is press day for me, Steve and Ben. Two lovely hair and makeup artists at the L’Oreal Studio paint the hangover right off my face, and psychologically I am almost fooled. In the lift back down from the L’Oreal Suite, Ewan McGregor gets in, dressed to the nines, with his beautiful wife. I’m so close to him I can smell the fame. It must be awful to be famous, people sniffing you in a lift. I thank my lucky stars.
The press are delightful and enthusiastic. Me and Steve, still new to this, are like excited puppies talking about the film. But it’s surprisingly tiring. After a team Sightseers dinner with our wonderful French distributor Manuel and his gorgeous and charming girlfriend, we decide to get a relatively early night. We’re going to see Cronenburg’s Cosmopolis at 8am the next day. He’s one of my favourite directors and it seems a mortal sin to not see a film in Cannes, even if we are there for such a short time. Steve meanwhile has already seen two films. And what was I doing during that time? Having make-up applied. Fake tan is slowing down my ambitions as a filmmaker. Is this why there are less women in Cannes? They’re all stuck in the hotel applying bronzer. It’s a disaster and I don’t know what to do about it. I have to get up at 7am and watch Cosmopolis or it means that I am worthless and should be destroyed. I will do this thing.
8am. We’re shooed into the huge cinema at the Palais by Celine, our French press lady. The beginning of the film – I’m not sure, and I’m not sure about R-Pattz either. But as the film continues with it’s strange stylised performances, I start to laugh. Especially the ‘pie-protester’ and the Muslim-convert dead rapper. ‘Coming from the streets… to Mecca’ rings in my ears well after the film finishes. It completely sets its own tone. It’s strange and absurd and original and exactly what I realise Cannes is about. How a festival can, for appearance sake, revolve so much around money, but yet take such artistic risks, is really quite miraculous. I come out with a sense of wonder, and of confusion. What time is it? It’s like… 10.30 am. How weird. I’ve just seen a film. That’s Cannes. Let’s go swimming!
After swimming, we race to the UK Film tent for the prestigious Palm Dog award ceremony. We’ve been nominated! Alongside the (admittedly talented but as I’ve heard, extremely demanding) dogs from The Hunt, Moonrise Kingdom, and Holy Motors. Our flight’s at 6 and we have just about enough time to lose out on an award to a dog. I prepare to throw a table, which is my default action for if I ever get nominated for an award and don’t win it. We meet the delightful Toby Rose, who runs the award and he amuses me greatly. He makes the press and the audience sing a doggy version of ‘My Way’. And then we win! Tears stream down my face as I think of all the times that Smurf licked my face with his tactile and subtle tongue, of the times when I had to repeatedly try to elicit a head turn with the use of a chewed shuttlecock, of the times when I found a salty doggy treat in my pocket well after having finished filming and wondered why my fingers stank of meat… I can’t believe it. We have immense fun talking about working with Smurf and chatting with Toby and the panel afterwards. It’s the perfect end to the festival. Kate Muir from The Times even takes a picture of my caravan handbag. She doesn’t seem to mind that it’s not a handbag. For the UK premiere I vow to make a bigger version that you can scrabble around in for a lipliner like King Kong looking for Fay Wray. We won something! Like a kid with a party bag, I’m really really happy.
As we climb in the cab to take us to the airport, the sky turns grey and some big fat droplets of rain spatter the windscreen. Les ‘Touristes!’ are leaving but the British weather is returning. I’m reminded that I’ve got an overdraft and less collateral than a Cannes tramp. And a broken kettle. I’m still on the outside looking in, but I feel like I’ve been chucked a few croissants now. Really nice ones. Filled with gold and strawberry jam. It’s been an amazing dreamlike trip: one that couldn’t be more different than Chris and Tina’s. But one that I’ll remember for a long time. I’m too excited about everyone else seeing the film, my family, friends, etc, but we have to wait until the UK release. Meanwhile I’ll just enjoy adding Cannes to the Sightseers scrapbook, and remembering that the rocky journey has been worth it.