What place does all this back-slapping and glad-handing have in a business that has been so decimated this past 12 months? What value does it have in a society that has been so brought up sharply by the events of, and fallout from, September 11? It's not a question to be answered glibly with a throwaway "life goes on."
Many who have lost their jobs this past year, and perhaps have some distance from the business, will regard "awards season" and Cannes with bemusement bordering on resentment. Cannes, in particular, may appear so far removed from the "real" world as to appear to be another planet. So, what is its point?
It is futile to pretend there is no element of boondoggle to the week, or that there won't be a lot of World Cup-watching in bars. Of course there is, of course there will be, but since when did it become a crime to have fun at, or through, work? However, Cannes only takes on meaning if you use it for what it can be: it is the great networking hub - as long as you don't just hang out with your mates from Lotus; it is the great education center - as long as you do attend screenings; it is the great source of inspiration - as long as you do go to see the winners, both in the print exhibition and the film show.
This last point applies to all awards shows, and in this year, let's remind ourselves of the original point of awards: yes, to recognize achievement, but surely they are primarily there to inspire others. Have a look at our run-through of the recent winners (starting p. 16) and our Cannes predictions (p. 30). Who would not want to emulate a "Tag" or an "Odyssey" or a BMW Films?
What's also clear is that so much of the best work in our global industry is increasingly in the hands of a couple of dozen (or fewer) leading directors on both sides of the Atlantic. We all see their work, but who are they? Creativity polled you, the industry, to produce our first Top 100 U.S. directors survey, plus our Top International directors. No real surprise at the top: Bryan Buckley and Spike Jonze over here, Frank Budgen and Jonathan Glazer over there. Look at the top tens, and it is clear this industry is overflowing with directing talent.
Before all the whining letters start, please note we tried to contain this survey to directors primarily working in commercials - that's why there is no Ridley or Tony, Fincher or Bay. Unsurprisingly, the very best commercials directors remain happy to retain a long-term career in commercials (think Joe Pytka), and are not desperate to be movie directors and diss advertising.
Sometimes, as Buckley admits in a fascinating, funny and honest feature interview (p. 36) this is more a result of luck than judgment. Who knows what direction his career would have gone if he had been able to get his movie off the ground, instead of being on rewrite 17? For now, we are lucky to have him. He and the others on the list are worth celebrating.
Those of us fortunate enough to still have jobs and be working through the recession, still need heroes and idols inside and beyond work. Buckley's is Francis Coppola; mine is David Beckham! Well, there is more to life than advertising, but soccer, as Bill Shankly, the former manager of Liverpool, famously observed, is "not life or death, it's more important than that!" Except, of course, he said "football"!
Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of Ad Age Global and Creativity