Say the words, “Cannes Film Festival” and it conjures up images of celebrities walking the red carpet, beautiful views of the French Riviera and luxurious accommodations that only the rich and famous can afford. In reality, that definitely happens, but there’s much more to this prestigious event, particularly when you peek behind the scenes.

A group of 16 Rosen College students are participating in the Cannes Hospitality & Event Management Program through The American Pavilion, a 5,000-square-foot facility for the American film community at the Cannes International Film Festival. Over 900 students from all over the world apply to The American Pavilion’s highly competitive student programs, but only about 30 percent are accepted. This is the first time that Rosen College students will participate in this program and as a result, UCF will be the most represented institution in Cannes with the largest group of students.

Students will travel to France in May, arriving on May 11 for a two-week program during the festival, which runs from May 14 -25. Prior to the start of the Festival, students will participate in a two-day orientation and tour of Cannes, as well as workshops and seminars designed to help them gain a greater understanding of producing a global event. Once the festival begins, students will have the opportunity to learn and practice their skills at one of the most glamorous events in the world, assisting in the planning and execution of VIP meals, parties and private events.

“The students in this program witness a microcosm of a much bigger dance of events going on right outside the door with people doing business there from around the world,” said Michael Bremer, director of student programs for The American Pavilion. “When you put on an event, you think of venue, food and entertainment, but then a celebrity might make a spontaneous request that requires you to think on your feet.  Students will come back with a more expanded view on how so many events can coexist on the same day and in the same place.”

For Gabriel Huntting, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in hospitality and tourism management, it’s a chance to gain international experience without sacrificing his studies.

“Studying abroad is pretty inconvenient for grad students, so I saw the internship with The American Pavilion as an ideal alternative,” Huntting said. “It’ll be an effective way for me to travel, network abroad and intern without missing any class time or delaying pursuing my degree.”

For others like Ralph Mahalak, a junior majoring in hospitality management, it’s the ultimate learning experience.

“I hope to learn some new skills in dealing with such a large-scale event, as well as gain some valuable real life experience working with VIPs at one of the most luxurious events in the world,” said Mahalak.

Rosen College instructor and Chef Katherine Wilson, who attended the Cannes Culinary Program as a student 15 years ago, is serving as a mentor for the Hospitality & Event Management Program. She and a group of about a dozen mentors, which include faculty and industry professionals, will volunteer their time to guide students through this uniquely intense experience.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since I last crossed the pond to the French Riviera as a culinary student, said Wilson. “I am so excited to be going back once again as a hospitality and events/culinary mentor with 16 wonderful Rosen College students.”

Students are responsible for all program fees, transportation and meals. Housing and breakfast are provided. Although the costs might be prohibitive for some, others feel it helps ensure that those who attend are truly invested in the experience.

“It is a steep financial commitment and I am fortunate enough to have some additional scholarship money that I could put toward the cost of the program,” Mahalak said. “I don’t mind the cost too much because it really filters out people that truly want to be there and have a great experience since we are all sacrificing so much.”

“I see this program as a worthwhile investment because it relates specifically to what I hope to pursue in my career in hospitality,” said Huntting. “I’ve learned from experience that opportunities like this are simply too advantageous to pass up. Just being able to learn and network at an event of this caliber is rare.”