Celebrating Life, Health and Friendship in Cannes

Anneliese Bruner celebrates with her friend Allyson Brown, who was in Cannes to screen her first feature film, “No, Not Me,” a Liberian love story.


By Anneliese M. Bruner

When I returned home from Paris in 2015 after Airbnb’s second annual meeting — Airbnb Open — I didn’t know when I would visit France again. I had missed the first Open, in San Francisco, and had immediately regretted it. As a committed Airbnb host, I vowed not to miss the next chance to connect face to face with other folks from this community I was part of.

In 2015, Paris held the record as the world’s largest Airbnb community, and I made plans to attend when the City of Light was announced as the host metropolis. The gathering took a dark turn when terrorists attacked the city, and the meeting was cut short.

We were having fun at the Open, learning best hosting practices, swapping funny hosting stories, and celebrating the company’s success, which we felt we shared. At the opening session, CEO Brian Chesky told his now well-worn origin story of hosting to help pay his rent, a Cirque du Soleil performer flawlessly executed an excruciatingly slow and delicate feat of balance and precision, and we were hyped to support the platform and learn from each other. Author Marie Kondo was to be a featured speaker and activities like visiting the historic atelier of Yves St. Laurent were on the roster of things to do.

The evening of Nov. 13, 2015, a Friday, I was dining with a group of fellow hosts at one of the ubiquitous storefront restaurants in Paris. Large-pane windows allowed passers-by to see in as well as letting patrons watch what was happening on the street. We were talking and laughing, bonding with new friends over our shared experience of hosting and the day’s excitement.

Folks’ phones suddenly started buzzing with notifications, and panic hit the eyes of people reading their messages. Gunmen with Kalashnikovs targeted restaurants and a popular music venue, The Bataclan, and a bomb exploded outside the Stade de France.

Sitting in front of our restaurant’s plate-glass window, we were sitting ducks; the gunmen were still on the loose and could strike anywhere next. While others pondered their course of action and wondered what would happen, I left.

Walking briskly, with several fellow hosts following my lead, I reached the Metro station and high-tailed it back to my friend’s apartment in the 17th Arrondissement, where I was staying. I was exhausted and went immediately to sleep. One hundred thirty people lost their lives that night.

Celebrating Life, Health and Friendship in Cannes

Anneliese Bruner and Allyson Brown have been friends for 50 years.

Today, I am in Nice waiting for my friend, Allyson Brown, to come downstairs to meet me in the lobby of our hotel. We are traveling to Cannes this afternoon to be there for the screening of her first feature film, “No, Not Me,” a Liberian love story that also delves into issues such as female genital mutilation and child soldiers. She invited me to tag along to help her celebrate, and I couldn’t be happier for her success.

During this trip, I will also celebrate a milestone birthday with the utmost gratitude for life, health and friendship. Over nearly 50 years, our friendship has been peppered with “les vagues de la vie” — the blessing of motherhood, the heartbreak of failed marriages, the grief of parents passing away, and the celebration of creative success.

Of all these, it is the last one that binds us most powerfully. Her film marks the culmination of years of ambition to bring her creative vision to life. She worked as an executive in the insurance industry with her dream of being a filmmaker always in the background. Her attainment of a master’s degree in filmmaking from Johns Hopkins in mid-life attests to her focus and grit. Her drive to write, finance, and produce the film is amazing.

I can proudly say that I never doubted that she would do it. I, too, had a back burner project while supporting my family and, later, my children as a single parent. I toiled for years as an editor, honing my writing craft and waiting for my time to bring my book project on the Tulsa Race Massacre, “The Nation Must Awake,” into the world. She has said that she never doubted that I would. We have believed in one another, one of the greatest measures of friendship.

We are about to go have lunch in a restaurant in the South of France to celebrate life.

Anneliese M. Bruner is a writer and editor who works to elevate the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre and trumpet her great grandmother’s historical role as the first survivor and writer to report multiple eyewitness accounts of what happened. She also advocates for reparations for descendants of survivors of the massacre.