The Cannes Cam and I

by twhalliii
May 18, 2006 3:54 AM
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In 1997, after a fortuitous meeting at a Philadelphia restaurant (long story), I went to work for the Independent Film Channel as a Manager in their New Media Department. Rewind your mind to the booming internet world of 1997; cable providers were starting to offer broadband internet service to high end customers and had built all of these fascinating portals that were seeking content from cable TV providers for their on-line services (the AOL model was the dominant thinking of the time). Tech companies were marketing the first "On Demand" set top boxes and companies like IFC were working hard to assemble on-demand film packages* for the cable companies, but without standardization and always trying to please dozens of companies with different versions of how the system might work. Content was the most important commodity, especially on-line; companies like Atom Films, iFilm, and little ol' IFC were making films available on-line in embedded, branded media players. As an example, in 1998 we streamed the Blair Witch precursor The Last Broadcast on our IFC Broadband portal on various cable-modem systems before helping the filmmakers set up a Hi Definition screening out of market at Cannes in 1999. We were also doing on-line chats during screenings on air on IFC, the pre-cursor of the scrolling, text message based TV shows on MTV today.

And we were also covering festivals. My first week on the job in 1997, I set up an online content package for the Atlanta Film Festival (oh, Dill Scallion, whatever happened to you?). At festivals, we were streaming on-line video coverage, packaging film clips, video interviews, on-line web chats, moderated panels. It was an interesting era in online film history, but also a funny time in thinking about the internet.

By 1999, I had the privilege of lugging a then-new old Sony VX-1000 to a balcony across the street from the Palais in Cannes and, working with some of the slowest, busiest French technicians in history, setting up a web cam for the first time, a device which affectionately became known as The Cannes Cam**. The Cannes Cam was the bane of my existence, as at the time, all we could use was a French language telephone based internet service to deliver the image. If it went down, and it always went down, I had to run to the balcony and re-set the system. If we had big troubles with the phone lines, and that happened sometimes, it was virtually impossible to get a local phone technician to work on the lines. In fact, until very recently, I was convinced that the infrastructure for the internet in France was made up of tin foil and chewing gum, run by a misunderstood hunchback with an eye-patch in a bell tower, madly pulling levers and screaming random obscenities at anyone who would listen. It was not a pretty picture. I was also responsible for writing online content, taking digital stills, writing film reviews, transcripts of panels, etc. In 1999, there were no blogs; we had to design a "dynamic publishing system" whereby I was sending reports via email back to NYC and they would be posted by our tech team to the website. Good times! Whew...

In 2000, aka 'The Summer of The Thong Song'***, I returned and set up the Cannes Cam again, but this time, I had a much better time of it as we lived in the apartment across from the Palais and were able to manipulate the camera and system with much greater ease. That said, we still had a lot of problems. But who am I to complain?; Better to have problems in Cannes than anywhere else. By 2001, I had moved on to another job in technology****, but I loved my time at IFC. I have only been to Cannes twice, and both times, it was to set up the damned Cannes Cam, help entertain clients, and create online content. Not a bad job, all in all, but certainly the beginning of the end of my fascination with technology realted work. I learned that what I really loved was the content, and after two more years in the technology sector, I was able to begin work on the film festival circuit, where I happily remain.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I followed a link to IFCTV.com today and found, voila!, The 2006 Cannes Cam! It is nice to see my little baby alive and, after all these years, still showing an EMPTY BLACK SCREEN on my Mac laptop. My first thought was that the internal timer on the video camera turned the camera off, which used to happen all the time. Then, I thought, maybe the lens cap was still on. But there is no sound, so, no. However, I don't think a feed is coming in at all right now. Or maybe its one of many of the little glitches that make up the great Mac and Windows divide. Who knows...

cannes cam.jpg
Just Like I Remember It: The IFC Cannes Cam


And then, as I was writing this, entry, I hear the sounds of Le Croisette. A quick look back, and once again, and only momentarily, the Cannes Cam is up and running, showing me that view I know oh so well...

cannes cam 2.jpg
Up and At 'Em: The Cannes Cam In Action

And as I finish typing, back to black....

Time is a funny thing... How quickly the feelings flood back! I feel like Proust or something. I imagine that as I type this, some member of the IFC team is scrambling back to an empty apartment across from the greatest cinema in the world, running up a spiraling marble staircase and resetting the web cam in time for tonight's Red Carpet walk. I'm sure the issue is something else entirely. In all honesty, I think the lesson of the Cannes Cam might be a simple one; some images are simply not meant to be seen by everyone. When the Cannes Cam is down, perhaps is it keeping some wondrous little detail a secret, unavailable to those not perched on a balcony on the Croisette. Either way, I am finding the black screen to be oddly comforting, surrounded by images of palm fronds and blue sky on the page. If I can't be in Cannes, which I am not (next year!), this is, for me, very much the next best thing. Like being there all over again.

*This project just launched last year with Comcast IFC On Demand service. I was working on something like this project in 1998... Glad to see it come to fruition! **I believe if you spoke to IFC Film President Jonathan Sehring TODAY and asked him about the Cannes Cam, he would laugh openly and make fun of me, even if I was in the room. ***You haven't lived until you've listened to The Thong Song in France, across the street from the beach. It takes on a whole new, oddly masculine, meaning. ***Very amicably, I might add. A great company and great people with whom to work.

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