CANNES • In a sunny corner overlooking the yacht-filled harbour, a handful of Cannes’ youngest visitors are bouncing around a vibrant-coloured carpet in the first-ever crèche at the world’s biggest film festival.
The brainchild of three film industry mothers struggling to juggle being a parent with the gruelling annual run of festivals, Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon) is a light, airy room “where children are the new VIPs”.
Kids had previously been a very rare sight at the annual celebrity-filled festival, which thrives on glitz and glamour but has done little to meet the practical needs of movers and shakers with babies or toddlers in tow.
But for the first time this year, the festival has opened the special day care centre to lend a hand to parents in the film industry.
It follows a similar nursery, “playhouse and nap room” set up at the Sundance film festival last year by the US-based Moms-in-Film group, which had railed at the lack of child-friendly facilities at Cannes.
Takes Women to Make This Happen
It’s the morning of the opening of the Cannes crèche and a handful of youngsters are playing with soft toys, while others try to nap in a space which also has fenced-off outdoor areas shaded by parasols.
Three young nannies and a nurse from the Paris-based service “Nanny Please” are on hand to sing, colour, draw and make lunch, helped by two local volunteers, with the children housed in a pavilion by the harbour.
Coming from Los Angeles for her first visit to the Cannes festival, Gail Greaves said she had been planning on hiring someone to watch her two-year-old daughter Arabella.
But with the festival running for 12 days, going private can quickly get expensive.
“You can’t really do much when they’re crying,” she said.
“I was going to bring a nanny or get one locally, but you’re looking at €20 to €30 (RM141.44) an hour.”
But searching online, she found Le Ballon Rouge and quickly booked a place. Accredited festival-goers can obtain special passes for their children to use the daycare service which is open from 10am to 6pm and costs €50 per day.
“This is amazing! They have all of this — and other kids to play with,” Greaves smiled.
“It takes women coming together to make something happen.”
Three film industry professionals with young children came up with the idea a few months ago while sharing tips about how to handle the work-life balance. Together, they founded “Parenting at Film Festivals”.
“We were just comparing notes on how hard it was to be a parent at a festival,” said Michelle Carey, an Australian film programmer and one of the three women who founded the group.
During last year’s festival, she had to dash back to her hotel room some 20 minutes away just to feed her infant son, which was both difficult and impractical. And she wasn’t alone.
“In January, we started talking with other friends in the industry, just sharing tips, then at the Berlin film festival, we met several festival representatives,” she told AFP as her two-year-old son raced around the room giggling.
Coming up with a plan, the three approached the festival organisers and Cannes’ sprawling film market and by April, the initiative was in place.
They have also set up a baby room inside the Palais des Festivals, where the red carpet premieres take place, offering a private space for mums to feed and change their babies.
“It’s particularly good for young mothers who may be returning to work after giving birth,” Carey said.
But Cannes’ big gesture has not been without its teething problems, with a British director saying she had been refused entry to the festival site with her four-month-old son on Wednesday.
She said she was asked for €300 for a delegate’s pass for him and when she accepted, was told it would take 48 hours to process, she told The Guardian.
So far, 50 parents have signed up to Le Ballon Rouge, which is named after an Oscar-winning French children’s film, with 17 children booked in, Carey said. One of the parents is a member of one of the festival prize juries.
The infrastructure was funded by the film market, while the childcare costs were raised through a crowdfunding initiative with contributions from more than 12 companies and institutions.
Supported by the 5050/2020 collective, which is pushing for an equal place for women in the film industry, the move comes a year after Cannes signed up to a gender equality pledge.
But Carey said the initiative to offer parent-friendly services was entirely led by her and her fellow mothers.
“We went to them and offered a solution,” she told AFP.
“If we hadn’t gone to them, they wouldn’t have been able to do it themselves.” — AFP