For the second year in a row, TikTok handed out film awards of its own at a ceremony overlooking the smooth waters of the Mediterranean. Its young creators have been on the red carpet interviewing stars alongside journalists from traditional media. The festival’s opening ceremony was live-streamed directly on TikTok, and celebrities have made TikTok their primary platform for documenting their adventures at the festival; on Tuesday, for instance, Eva Longoria asked her TikTok followers for help in selecting an outfit for a red carpet event.
All of this is part of TikTok’s ongoing quest to position itself not just as a social media platform but as a premiere entertainment destination.
“At Cannes you have the most established filmmakers, you have directors, you have talent, you have studios, you name it,” Rich Waterworth, TikTok’s general manager for Europe, told The Washington Post. “The whole world of cinema is coming together here and sharing their creativity … and that’s why we exist.”
Debate among politicians in the United States may be about TikTok’s ownership by a corporation based in China. But the conversation at Cannes is about how TikTok can position itself as one of the world’s foremost venues for creative video. The app has over 1 billion monthly users worldwide. The festival ends Saturday.
TikTok has worked overtime to highlight its role as a place for the next generation of Hollywood talent to be discovered and nurtured. The company sent a slew of employees from around the world to the festival, flying teams in from Australia, Britain and Los Angeles. Staff helped TikTok creators secure invitations to important festival events, and several TikTokers have walked the red carpet at movie premieres. TikTok A-listers including Chris Olsen, a star who was named TikTok’s Sexiest Man by People Magazine in 2020, and the D’Amelio family, whose daughters are among the most followed users on the app, have been spotted in Cannes this week.
The film festival itself has had a fraught relationship with social media. Selfies are still formally banned from the red carpet, but some social media creators like Reece Feldman, who has 1.8 million followers on the app, still documented their red carpet experiences on TikTok. Outside the Hotel Martinez, where many celebrities are staying, lines of fans waited for hours in the hot sun hoping to record a single viral clip of their favorite star. Many of those had the TikTok app open on their phone, ready to film at the first celebrity sighting.
TikTok became an elite sponsor of the event last year for the first time but had a rocky start. French Cambodian director Rithy Panh, who was set to judge last year’s TikTok short-film competition, temporarily resigned from the event, claiming that TikTok executives were trying to influence the jury’s choice in the winner. The two parties eventually smoothed things over, and Panh rejoined the jury.
Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux told Variety in March that the festival had partnered with TikTok “to address younger and more international audiences.” And the app’s “numbers are really impressive. We also know that TikTok raises a lot of questions from governments because it’s a Chinese firm,” he said.
But Waterworth brushed off the concerns when asked about them this week and said that the “dynamics are not the same” surrounding the app outside of the United States. He also stressed the global nature of TikTok’s user base.
A TikTok star and filmmaker who goes by the name Samba, who was judging the app’s short-film awards at Cannes, said that he’s already seeing TikTok’s impact on the content young filmmakers are creating, especially when it comes to sound design, color and editing. Young filmmakers who leverage TikTok create films that are fast and engaging, with rapid pacing, bright colors and always shot vertically, Samba and other judges said.
“Filmmaking is going more and more in the way of vertical videos,” said Younes Zarou, a 25-year-old German TikTok star with over 52 million followers who is attending the Cannes film festival, referring to TikTok’s format. “TikTok was the first mover in that space, and now other platforms request vertical videos.”
Zarou said that he believes that soon major motion pictures may be presented in vertical format for people to consume on their phones. “Maybe in the future they can make a movie move in the vertical style, and for two hours you can watch the movie on your phone vertical.”
Lucas Millions Dutra, a 23-year-old TikTok filmmaker who wrote and co-created one of the films that won TikTok’s short-form filmmaking award, agreed. “People think they have to go to widescreen formats for long-form content,” he said. “But I think there’s power in short-form [vertical] content that we’ve obviously seen. I think TikTok is going to inspire more filmmakers to feel like they can start doing short form.”
Several film-related trends have gone viral on TikTok in recent months, most notably one where users create short films in the style of director Wes Anderson. On Tuesday, the Associated Press tracked down Anderson and asked if he was aware of the trend and if he’d watched any of the videos from the young filmmakers mimicking his style.
“I haven’t seen it,” he said. “I’ve never seen any TikTok, actually.”