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23 November 2017
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Writer/director Denie Pentecost on Sexy Thing at Cannes


Denie Pentecost ponders the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same, after taking her film Sexy Thing to the 2006 Cannes International Film Festival. Sexy Thing was funded under the AFC's short film production strand and was selected to screen, as one of 12 shorts from around the world, in the Shorts Competition at Cannes.

If film is about devoting yourself wholly to imagining, Cannes is about imagining a place wholly devoted to film. Well, for two weeks. Markets, premieres, carpets of every colour, parties, distributors, A-list, B-list and aspiring list stars, amazing dresses, more amazing addresses - a celluloid celebration lit first by the paparazzi and only then by the Côte D'Azure sun.

Sexy Thing had its international premiere at Cannes, and having my first opportunity to watch the watchers was one of the most rewarding aspects of the festival: not only because it was the first festival, and not only because it was in the Debussy Théâtre, but because Cannes attracts such an international audience. Similarly, Cannes introduces you to a community of filmmakers separated by geography, but brought together by a shared goal and by the Cannes Film Department, who contribute to the film selection and who are passionate about quality and talent. They were dedicated to maximizing my time at the festival. The experience of an audience and film community that's so disparate but devoted makes all those lonely months sucking a pen and gazing back at a blank page seem worthwhile.

Short films are given genuine time and attention at the festival: there is a dedicated short film corner within the Marché du Film, short films feature in Cinéfondation, and there is, of course, the short film competition for the Palme d'Or. Despite this, the fact that the shorts show in competition on the final Saturday makes a short film stay seem lopsided. The first two weeks are spent in a suspension of marketing and promotional effort - trying to secure distribution rights, to maximize exposure of the film, to meet overseas agents and production representatives. During this time, I felt slightly removed from the festival; not having shown, I felt like an outsider. Also, it's hard to sell a film that most people haven't yet seen. And so, finally showing on the Saturday was a highlight: I was invited up onto stage first, though my film was showing last of the 10 - and almost didn't show at all. The lighting operator, miscalculating after 9 films, started to raise the lights before my film showed, provoking a kind chorus of 'What about Sexy Thing?' from my competitors, and a few abortive exits. The lights quickly dimmed, the film showed, the feedback was fantastic, and two distributors expressed interest in picking up the film.

One worry about being in competition in any festival - and particularly Cannes - is the concern that plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Returning to Australia, you want to return to a life as changed as Cannes makes you feel. Showing in Sydney when I returned and being in competition at the Melbourne International Film Festival in July maintains momentum, but it's a difficult transition to manage. Cannes gives you a hunger for something bigger and shinier than you'd previously imagined.

Now, back to writing the feature…

Catherine McClements in Sexy Thing.