Forget festival fatigue - the south of France has lost none of its magic, and MIPIM is its networking capital. But what’s diffferent this year is that it will be the Brits who will be leading the way
To Cannes, for Mipim and a blush of sunshine to end our grizzly winter. It’s a respectable tradition. The British and the Russians have being going to the south of France since the late 18th century for winter sun.
The largest Russian orthodox cathedral outside of Russia is in Nice, the Promenade des Anglais was funded by the congregation of Nice’s Anglican church to give their wives a seaside walk and the local unemployed something to do. When the British Lord Chancellor Henry Brougham had to hole up in Cannes in 1834, as Italy was in quarantine, he liked it so much that he built a villa and persuaded his friends to join him and do the same for their winter retreats. That was when British politicians had style, money and friends.
Cannes has become a machine for conferences (“festivals”), hospitality and making money - all levered off the glamour of the film festival. Cannes was not the first Mediterranean town with a film festival. Venice held the first in 1932, but that was tainted by fascism, so in 1938 Cannes launched its film festival in one of the casinos. The Palais des Festivals (the “bunker”) was built in 1947 - and thereafter rebuilt regularly to house Cannes’ burgeoning conference businesses.
Now there are seven major festivals a year from Porn to Tax. For each of these the town is reworked with huge bespoke marquees and events. At its Boat Show, the bay of Cannes is turned into an aquatic catwalk at night and each boat struts its stuff sailing along the beach, for the promenaders’ delight, picked out by limelight with loud musical accompaniment and, of course, fireworks.
The energy and industry of the town is amazing. Brighton, look and learn.
For Mipim, the town hosts 20,000 delegates who buy tickets to the event and at least another 20,000 that don’t. That’s like a four day long premier league football match fuelled by champagne and beer. Mipim’s claim is that it sells more alcohol than any of the other festivals. It must be all those agents. It can’t be the architects.
There is the Mipim of the villas in the hills. This is where the power brokers with the serious money do their stuff. Many never make it to Cannes - they have no need to, as people are ferried up to them
Why do we all go? Mipim is a networking-fest and a communication machine that works on many levels. There is the Mipim of the Palais with all its stands and tents.
Countries, regions, towns and firms from Europe, the Middle East and further afield pay a lot of money for a piece of turf in Mipim - so they work it hard with rendezvous, receptions and chance encounters.
People plod around the stands for hours to buy or sell their wares, or just to try and figure out what’s going on.
Then there are the set pieces in the conference programme. These range from big beasts like Boris Johnson on megaphone sales missions, to open discussion groups on expert subjects. There is the Mipim of the bars and beach restaurants in the “banana” - central Cannes. I’ll host a lunch for about 20 for people that I should see in London, but don’t.
I’ll do it at Plage Goeland (Seagull Beach), my favourite restaurant, run by one Monsieur Grizzetti - an ex-professional footballer and his charming family. It’s low key but they will make a fuss of us. It will be great. We’ll also give a drinks party and go to many more. We’ll do six months’ networking in four days.
Lastly, there is the Mipim of the villas in the hills. This is where the power brokers with the serious money do their stuff. Many never make it to Cannes - they have no need to, as people are ferried up to them.
They host pool parties among the pine trees and dine at Colombe D’Or at Saint-Paul-de-Vence among the Picassos and Braques. Tom Bloxham is bound to be “hosting” at Maison Bulle - his sumptuous, huge, concrete and Perspex bubble house with its ancient architect Antti Lovag “in residency”. The south of France has lost none of its magic.
So what’s going to be different about this year at Mipim? It could be tense. The UK is mainly out of recession but the eurozone certainly isn’t. Will this lead to sterling envy? The countries “honoured” this year are Russia and Turkey.
The Russians (still) love the Riviera and usually have an ebullient presence - big chaps with leather jackets, huge watches and skinny, high cheek-boned Svetlanas.
But the Ukraine will put a dampener on engagement with them. Turkey has been booming and recognised as the “T” in the MINT group of emerging powerhouse nations - but corruption, looming elections and a doubling of interest rates has put a, hopefully temporary, pause on its progress.
We’ll see. My bet is that the UK will be seen as leading the way and we, at least, will have a very upbeat Mipim.
Jack Pringle is principal, managing director EMEA at Pringle Brandon Perkins + Will