Outside of the applause—and, of course, the occasional jeer—that punctuates the end of any hotly anticipated world premiere, the most familiar sound at the Cannes Film Festival might be the snap of Ellen von Unwerth’s camera.
The Paris-based photographer has been making the rounds at Cannes, capturing the world’s most famous faces—and those about to join that echelon—for the past 13 years. Starting with her first visit, the dazzling spectacle of the French Riviera’s annual fete captivated her.
“There’s so much energy—you run into so many people and everybody’s talking about movies with such great liveliness,” she says.
This year was no exception. The photographer hit the festival—premieres, parties, yachts and all—to shoot some of the most exciting and promising talent for DuJour.
“I try to catch a moment, a little slice of life when people have some emotion and when something exciting is happening,” she explains. “What I like about it is this pressure: You have to connect with the person and get something out of them—I like the adrenaline shock. And it’s not like having someone to photograph for the whole day. In Cannes you have three minutes, so you just do it.”
Occasionally, there are situations that spin beyond even her control. “This year, The Great Gatsby party was amazing—even though it was pouring rain,” says the photographer, who counts the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc among her favorite Cannes haunts. “It looked like a movie set, with all the girls staggering around in their high heels and their party dresses. The umbrellas flipped over and it actually looked like a movie.”
She adds, “Cannes is great when you’re outside and can go to the parties at the beach and the parties on the boats.”
Of course, it’s not all about revelry—people are here for work, too. The 2013 festival featured 20 movies in the competition, including Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis and Palme d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Colour, judged by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee and Nicole Kidman. Part of what keeps von Unwerth returning is the passion actors have about the projects they’ve brought to the Côte d’Azur.
“Everyone’s really enthusiastic about the films and about the storytelling,” she explains. “You can shoot some people nobody knows, and then they’re the biggest actors out there. That’s exciting: You photograph them and suddenly they become huge.”
After a week of party-hopping and air-kissing, however, even the most tireless Cannes cheerleader can have her fill of glitz and glamour. “Every year I say, ‘Oh, I don’t think I’m going to go next year, this is really tiring,’ ” von Unwerth says with a laugh. “But then when the time comes, I always go back again.”
Click through the gallery to see the celebrities captured by Ellen von Unwerth at Cannes and their most memorable recollections from the French Riviera.