Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cannes Profile

Cannes Film festival
By Patrick Z. McGavin

Final update June 11, 2004

Exhausted, avid for any kind of break, the natural tendency is to seek out familiar faces. The sight of George Christensen proves pleasant and oddly affirming. A romantic Chicago figure for being a die-hard cinephile and indefatigable bicyclist, Christensen is a volunteer usher at Facets and during the Chicago International Film festival. He has an athlete’s thin, tapered body, and long, lanky blond hair. His dedication is legendary. A couple of years ago he drove for two-days through a fierce snowstorm from Chicago to Park City, Utah to attend the Sundance Film festival.

Cannes plays primarily to the professional elites, though it attracts a class of dreamers and romantics eager to define their own experiences. Christensen has traveled all over the world on his bicycle, though mostly in third-world countries. “Going to Europe is so conventional,” Christensen says during coffee one afternoon. Christensen left Chicago in late April, and joined a friend, a younger film enthusiast and bicyclist, in Paris. The two completed the trek from Paris to Cannes on their bicycles over a period of about ten days.

The festival as quest fits a pattern with Christensen. Once before, he flew to Helsinki. Christensen rode his bike 700 miles, passed the polar circle, in Lapland, for the Midnight Sun Film festival. He has also taken his bike on festival sojourns to Berlin and Rotterdam. “It’s a great asset to zip from one venue to the other,” he says, almost nonchalantly.

“Biking here, it was the first week of May, but in the mountains, it was cold enough to snow. We were not even that high up, about 4,000 feet. We had about a 20-mile descent from there, and the first couple of miles were in sleet. We had frozen hands and we were shivering uncontrollably. We had an hour descent without being able to generate any body heat. What pushed us was knowing in a couple of days that we’d be in Cannes at the beach,” Christensen said.

Christensen graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in the mid-'70s. He hoped to become a sportswriter, though the freedom and allure of the open road was too compelling. In 1977, Christensen took his first significant bike journey, a national cross-country tour. He has been hooked ever since, working as a Cannonball bicycle messenger to help subsidize his epic trips. At Cannes he bought a market badge that cost roughly $350. He has been watching about five or six movies a day. He has seen about eight to ten Competition films; the rest have been parallel programs and official festival sidebars. To save money, he and his friend stayed at a campground a couple of miles outside the city.

“I have to be careful about where my obsessions take me,” he says, pausing. “I’d rather live a writer’s life, and not have to write.”

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