Movie stardom is still just a fantasy for most young actors but those with the right stuff can still make their dreams come true at the Cannes Film Festival.

The 12-day cinema showcase on the French Riviera has long cultivated the myth of the starlet plucked from obscurity by a big director combing the beach. The reality is more like speed dating, or a giant champagne-fuelled hunting expedition.

“You need new faces,” British filmmaker Brian Skeet says as he studies a giant interactive screen with photos of 250 young actors accredited to the festival. He can click on the most intriguing headshots with a tap on the screen to see further photos.

Pierre, a young actor with an angelic expression who is searching for work, looks a bit dubious as he listens to Skeet’s idea for a film about a young man seduced by a married woman in her 50s. “You have an interesting face,” says Skeet, wearing a straw hat, checked Bermuda shorts and a shirt with a fish print. Meanwhile his assistant Kathryn Clinkscales gazes at the picture of an actor with emerald eyes named Fabian who she says will be “perfect” for the role of the husband’s murderer.

A young Parisian actress with a knock-out smile, Valerie Nataf, prefers to count on her natural pluck when lobbying for roles, calling the huge interactive screen rather “gimmicky”. “I am practically out of business cards!” she says. It’s her fifth time at Cannes and the most fruitful, she says. “I’ve finally grown up, I’m not afraid to approach people. We’ll see what comes of it when I get back to Paris.” Before even leaving town, she’s received messages from two filmmakers and a producer she met at the festival. Pounding the pavement for actors in Cannes means hitting a marathon of cocktail parties to mix and mingle. Under France’s heavily subsidised cinema industry, each region has a stand at the festival which organises rounds of drinks which are well-attended by directors hungry for financing.  Nataf managed to score a seat at the festival’s official dinner at the fabled Carlton Hotel, where she was placed next to Malian director Souleymane Cisse. Scoring an invitation to parties for the big movies in competition can also be an invaluable opportunity to network. Nataf made it to the soiree for acclaimed French director Jacques Audiard’s drama “Dheepan”. “I shook his hand and gave him my card before I went to have some champagne!” she raved.

Another actor, Jules Miesch, gushed about his time at the reception for “The Little Prince”, where he danced with other budding film stars who might one day be able to help him clinch a role. He has been hanging around the section of the market dedicated to short films where he hit it off with two young directors. “We’re of the same generation, we have the same interests and they’re a bit more open to talking,” he said, looking encouraged.

But he says the luxury hotels along the seaside Croisette main drag tend to be the best hunting ground. “I start with the lobbies then work my way to the patios when people are having coffee,” Miesch said.  That’s where he reconnected with a producer he knows and met a director he admires for the first time. Nataf, Miesch and everyone else with big dreams in Cannes are also here, quite simply, for their love of movies.

At a ticket counter, the actors can queue up early in the morning for spots at screenings of the competition films, with the lucky ones scoring invitations for the red-carpet gala screenings that the movie stars attend.  Nataf said her favourite contender this year had been the harrowing Holocaust drama from Hungary, “Son of Saul”. Miesch loved “Sicario”, a drug war thriller starring Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt. But if he were on the jury, he said he’d give the Palme d’Or top prize to Gus Van Sant’s mystical but poorly received “The Sea of Trees” with his idol Matthew McConaughey.