For 11 crazy days and nights each May, movie producers, screen legends and socialites from all over the world make the pilgrimage to Cannes on the French Riviera. Their official purpose here is to attend the iconic annual film festival. Unofficially, they’ve flocked to the Côte d’Azur for a non-stop party with the planet’s most star-studded line-up.
To document the festival fever, we enlisted the services of ace nightlife photographer Keffer, a man who has documented Paris’ club culture like no other for more than a decade. “Rick Ross is at Gotha today,” he says within minutes of our arrival in Cannes. “I’ll get us VIP entry.”
As conversational icebreakers go, it’s a good one: P Diddy protégé Ross is a multimillion-selling rap star, and Gotha is the go-to address in town, a venue at the pinnacle of the nightlife hierarchy.
Level one at Gotha: the dancefloor. You might get in if you’re well connected or with the right people.
Level two: the VIP area. You’ll need to be comfortably off to make yourself cosy here with a good bottle of something. As comfortable as Gotha regular Karl, for example. “I used to come here with my dad when I was a teenager,” he explains, breaking into a wry grin. “After taking over my father’s business, I still come here. But nowadays I pick up the bill!” And it’s a bill of Lotus Elise proportions, naturally.
Finally, there’s level three, otherwise known as ultra-VIP. Here, it’s €50,000 for a table. Anyone who hasn’t been on an Oscars shortlist recently will be politely ushered out by two elegant but very large men who will ask to look at your smartphone. “Mobiles have changed everything,” says Keffer, “and not just in Cannes. Stars are afraid someone will take their photo in a private setting.”
The following day, we’re basking beneath an impossibly deep azure sky on the terrace of film distributors UGC. From the terrace, there’s a marvellous view across the bay of Cannes. French folk-pop duo Lilly Wood & The Prick have announced they will be performing. It’s 4pm, so high time to get the party started.
Backstage, Keffer meets DJane Nubia, a friend of both Lilly Wood (real name: Nili Hadida) and The Prick (curiously, not his real name either; that would be Benjamin Cotto), who is dancing on a sofa. Basquiat originals line the walls like so many posters.
Nubia recommends the club at the hotel 3.14 Cannes (the one with the Instagram-worthy pool on the roof). Keffer will be heading along there later this evening to watch the burlesque show, hear some first-class electronic music, and rub shoulders with the club’s amazingly beautiful clientele. The photographer is a big fan of the venue, so decides to stay till morning.
The next day, Keffer wants to check out Nikki Beach, the seafront club at the celebrities’ hotel of choice in Cannes, the Intercontinental Carlton. Among the guests is Robert de Niro, who is holding the party for his upcoming movie, Hands Of Stone, at the hotel. De Niro is shielded from the throng by a barricade as strong and immovable as his movie’s title – a phalanx of Nikki Beach staff surround the Hollywood legend.
As you look out across the harbour, one mega-yacht catches your eye. It’s 126m long and has its own basketball court onboard, plus three helicopters and space for submarines. The vessel, named Octopus, belongs to Paul Allen, the man who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates.
Allen may only be 40th in the list of the world’s richest people right now, but his $17.5 billion fortune probably provides some kind of consolation. For a start, it allows him to organise massive events, and Allen’s party is the hottest ticket in Cannes: 100 per cent stars and no cameras.
Everyone wants to be there – apart from Keffer, obviously. After all, as he explains, no self-respecting photographer would go anywhere without his camera.