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The world’s most prestigious film festival opens this year on May 9 with Baz Luhrmann’s eye and ear popping tragic romantic musical, Moulin Rouge. And continues with dozens of films from around the world, while hundreds more are taken to the market for sale to other countries.
But the winning films can’t count on a commercial success to follow, reports Andrew L. Urban in this preview of Cannes 2001.

A few years back, my friend and film journalist colleague Nick Roddick* wrote a well researched article about the films that had collected kudos at Cannes in past years, only to find that the great majority of them had failed at the box office.

Why? I don’t really know and no-one else does, either. If anyone did, this wouldn’t be the showbiz where Australia’s Camera d’Or winning film (Best First feature) of 1996, Love Serenade, sank at the box office like a stone. The cash prize of $70,000 that writer/director Shirley Barrett took home, was almost more than she made from shooting the film. Some say that films that win festival awards are not commercial, but that is a grossly simplified generalisation. For some, such as Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge this year, the festival is a stamp of creative approval; its studio backed marketing muscle and the film’s advance buzz ensures it a strong chance at being one of the few festival films to go on to cash it in.

There are some Palme d’Or winners that did enter the mainstream consciousness, of course, like sex, lies and videotape (1989), Wild at Heart (1990), The Piano (1993) and to a much lesser extent, the film with which it shared the prize, Kaige Chen’s Farewell My Concubine. There are a few others, but most of the 53 winning films of Cannes past did not make it into popularity lists: films like Sous Le Soleil de Satan (1987), Barton Fink (1991), Rosetta (1999) or even that marvellous and powerful eccentricity, Underground (1995).

Yet Cannes continues to be the altar of international cinema, where the movie faithful gather to pay homage, even if it means walking out as a symbolic huff - something the French do exceptionally well. And speaking of national traits, one of the most notable aspects of Cannes is its truly global scope. Well, as global as the selection allows where the selectors are Western European, middle class foodies. (And if you think the latter is a flippancy, let me assure you it’s a statement of fact.)

Fast Festival Facts
Features viewed: 854 from 76 countries; shorts viewed: 944.

In Competition: 22 films from 11 countries, including Australia’s Moulin Rouge;

Un Certain Regard: 22 films from 18 countries (5 first films)

Out of competition in Salle Lumičre: 1

Special screenings: 4
Midnight screenings: 5

Golden Age of American Comedy: 16

Geographic eclecticism is rampant: for example, a film from Thailand is in Un Certain Regard. Asia and the West are both well represented, as is Australasia. If you were lucky enough to attend the festival purely to see movies, the programme is a feast: the Official Competition, Un Certain Regard and the two short Competition plus the Cinefondation (shorts and features from film schools) would satisfy any cine-aste. And you’d realise why people flock to Cannes from all over Europe, cursing through the traffic jams and rubbing shoulders with wheeler dealers selling B grade films, putting up with slow service in bars and restaurants, paying $8 for a coffee.

The upside is very up, and the festival’s objectives are laudable. It sets out to pursue a policy of risk-taking and innovation exemplified this year by two first-time films in competition for the Palme d’Or: Shreck (US) and No Man’s Land (Bosnia), as well as films from three auteurs who have directed a maximum of three films; Baz Luhrmann, Sean Penn, Marc Recha.

This year's main retrospective will focus on The Golden Age of American Comedy, which blends sophistication with a pure spirit of subversion. It will enjoy the place of honour all through the Festival in Salle Buńuel, screening both old and new, masterpieces and new, unreleased films.

As part of that retrospective, Melanie Griffith will be the guest of honour on Saturday May 19. Accompanied by her husband Antonio Banderas, she will present Mike Nichols' Working Girl, in Salle Buńuel. She will be awarded the Festival Trophy during the reception.

And in collaboration with the Cinecittŕ Holding, the Festival will pay tribute to one of Italian cinema's most prolific figures, Vittorio De Sica, who this year would have been 100 years old.

Every year, the Cannes Market brings together close to 7,000 participants from 70 countries - including 2,000 buyers - and organizes 1,200 screenings of 650 films (on 28 screens) - 50% being international premieres.

Australian films screening in the market this year:

The Bank - stars Anthony La Paglia, David Wenham, dir: Robert Connolly

Cubbyhouse - stars Joshua Leonard, Belinda McClory, dir: Murray Fahey

He Died With A Felafel In His Hand - stars Noah Taylor, Emily Hamilton, Romane Bohringer, dir: Richard Lowenstein

Australia’s newest sales company, Nick Giannopoulos’ IndeGo Films, is launching at Cannes this year, with four completed films, although none are screening - except on video. “We were unhappy with the screening arrangements available to us at this late stage,” says Peter Taylor, Distribution and Sales Executive of IndeGo Films, which is to be based at the Australian Film Commission’s 8th floor offices overlooking the Mediterranean.

(Urban Cinefile’s Editors Andrew L. Urban and Louise Keller are in Cannes covering the Festival this year.)

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Watch our Australia at Cannes 2001: SPECIAL PRESENTATION

Andrew L. Urban attends the FIRST SCREENING in Cannes

See the list of FESTIVAL FILMS

Feature Films Jury, Cannes 2001
Liv Ullman, President (Director, Norway)
Charlotte Gainsbourg (actress, France)
Sandrine Kiberlaine (actress, France)
Julia Ormond (actress, UK)
Moufida Tlatli (director, Tunisia)
Mimmo Calipresti (director, Italy)
Terry Gilliam (director, US)
Matthieu Kassovitz (director, France)
Philippe Labro (writer, France)
Edward Yang (director, Taiwan)
Director/actress Maria de Medeiros will preside over the Caméra d'Or Jury

* Nick Roddick, once editor of Australia’s journal or record in Australian cinema, Cinema Papers, is now Editorial Director of international trade publication, Moving Pictures, and editor of Preview magazine, both based in England.

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