In the harbor at Cannes, in a white tent near the Chinese delegation at the festival, a group of international VIPs are gathering. The coterie, who hail from the U.S., the U.K., France, Spain, Australia, Bulgaria and the Netherlands, are huddled around a table with crayons, wooden blocks and plastic sippy cups bearing their names. Over the sounds of boats in the harbor and squawking seagulls, a soothing, French-accented voice asks, “Do you need help to open your banana?”
This is Le Ballon Rouge, a new initiative at Cannes which offers onsite childcare, credentialing for kids and nannies and a space for nursing and changing babies. In an industry that can be especially punishing for working parents and at a festival that is trying to evolve its image as an alienating place for women, Le Ballon Rouge is a bright spot, right down to the branded red balloons that float on its sun-drenched patio in the festival’s International Pavilion.
The space was the brainchild of a group of film industry parents who were scheduling playdates and coordinating child care together via the messaging app WhatsApp while at the Berlin Film Festival in February. “We realized we all have the same problems,” says Sarah Calderon, a single mother and film marketer at Madrid-based company The Film Agency who often travels for work with her 2-year-old daughter.
So far, 60 families are accredited for the 800-square-foot space at Cannes, in which four nannies from the French startup Nanny Please, including one who is a nurse, care for up to 11 children at a time while their parents, who are sales agents, distributors, producers, actors and journalists, conduct business at the festival and market. With infrastructure support from the festival, Calderon’s group, which calls itself Parenting at Film Festivals, raised nearly $20,000 from 14 companies, including UniFrance, Cinando, Pathé and The Film Agency, to equip and staff the space.
“It’s easy to love people and ideas,” says Jérôme Paillard, executive director of the Marché du Film, who worked on the effort on behalf of the festival. “It’s difficult to do something real and useful. When I heard from the parents at Berlin, we said, ‘Let’s try to do a real nursery.'"
The new policies haven’t gone seamlessly. On Wednesday, English director Greta Bellamacina, whose first film, Hurt By Paradise, is screening in the market, was denied entry to the Palais with her 4-month-old and told it would take 48 hours to get an accreditation processed. “It was all very distressing as the festival is a big financial commitment for me and I was unable to do my job for most of the day,” says Bellamacina, whose film is about a single mother trying to balance her creative life as a writer with being a parent.
In a scene in Hurt By Paradise, the main character is turned away from a meeting because she has a baby with her. “We play it for laughs in the film; I didn’t think it would happen for real on my first day at Cannes,” Bellamacina says.
After press reported on her experience, Bellamacina says senior staff of the festival reached out to her. “I really believe they are trying to make improvements,” she says. “The problem seems to be that the official festival policy is not filtering down to the security and registration staff on the ground. The on-the-ground staff need to show a bit more humanity and perhaps a little kindness and understanding if the festival is serious about being mother-and-baby friendly.”
For families with accreditation, Le Ballon Rouge, which takes its name from the 1956 French film, brings some perks, including its sponsor-supplemented price of $34 for a package of 16 hours of childcare. Children get a red hat bearing the Le Ballon Rouge logo and a water bottle. The festival is also planning a kid-friendly screening at the Palais on Tuesday, Petits Heros, a collection of animated shorts, and there’s an evening playdate at the American Pavilion on Saturday night, for parents attending with their children.
The Le Ballon Rouge nannies create a Montessori style environment in the space, says Nihel Bemrah, CEO of Nanny Please, and are also available to book after hours. They speak multiple languages, and in a pinch, “it’s babies,” Bemrah says. “they make gestures.”
There have been efforts at other festivals to make the environment more parent friendly. The group Moms in Film has brought a mobile childcare unit called The Wee Wagon to Sundance and South by Southwest. But Cannes’ initiative is the most ambitious by far, and Calderon and her peers at Parenting at Film Festivals have reached out to the San Sebastian, Toronto, Berlin, International Documentary and Annecy film festivals in hopes of replicating it. Says Calderon: “It’s maybe a seed for the future."