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Film Festivals

Gatsby Bling & Baldwin at Cannes

seduced posterWhile the actual opening night of the Festival de Cannes was marred by sheets of rain pouring down, the first few days were disrupted by more headline-worthy events: a guy with a gun (blanks, apparently) who invaded a festival TV talk show with competition jury members Christoph Waltz and Daniel Auteuil (all was put right in mere moments); but a more glittery invasion was the theft, from a hotel room safe, of about a million dollars worth of Chopard jewels. Chopard is a major sponsor of the festival, and designs the Palme d'or award. While officials try to get the loot back, it put me in mind of the glitzy nature of some of the first films screening in the festival.

The Great Gatsby was an over-the-top visual experience: first of all, it was directed by Baz Luhrmann (of Moulin Rouge fame), a filmmaker known for his ravishing visual style. And the film was presented in 3D, which gave even more pop to the contemporary spin on the excesses of the Jazz Age. Even though it was one of the rare occasions when a film did not make its world premiere at Cannes (the film opened in the U.S. the previous Friday and in France the same day the festival opened, so that thousands of regular français  saw the film hours before the glitterati climbed the red carpet to view it in the Theater Lumiere on the Croisette), it certainly charged up the crowd for the 12 days that lay ahead.

The glitz factor - or in this case, truly the bling factor - was on full view in the opening film for the section know as Un Certain Regard: Sofia Coppola's Bling Ring, based on the Vanity Fair article about valley teens using stars' L.A. homes for freebie shopping sprees while the celebrities were out of town on publicity tours, or just out for the evening at a party (thanks TMZ for making movie and reality starts' whereabout known on a 24 hour basis).

The film literally sparkles with loot (a very different kind of loot that was sought out in last year's Un Certain Regard entry, Gimme the Loot, Adam Leon's debut feature). The movie has the feel of something made very easily by Coppola; you'd think she shot it over a weekend with some well-heeled friends. I doubt that's really the case, but the feel of filmmaking speaks to the crazy ease with which these kids ripped off the stars' homes - and the insanity of celebrities thinking they can leave doors unlocked.

While not about shiny bling, James Toback's wry home movie-like documentary Seduced and Abandoned, does let us in on the big money end of movie-making. In a film that began in Lincoln Center in New York. Toback and his partner in a new film venture, Alec Baldwin, discuss the juncture of art and commerce that is cinema, and about the plot of their new film: a war-zone Last Tango in Paris (yes, I think that's how to describe it). In order to get funds for the new movie, Toback brings Baldwin to mecca - that is, the Cannes Film Festival itself - to talk about this classic merging of movies and money (which is really how it's always been). While there's barely a tiara in sight - and the film is only shot in 2D, thank you very much - you can see a timeline from the simple days of celebrities playing on the beach with the rest of mankind, and the current environment of E! News, and international versions of the same where the ego stakes are raised higher and higher.

Soon enough the films that evoke simplicity and pain will come; in fact, they've started screening them already. But the show that is Cannes has began as a "really big show," in the words of Ed Sullivan!

What Makes a Winner at Cannes?

blue posterWhen all was said and done, the Festival de Cannes closed with awards that were not particularly surprising. Although there had been (and continues to be) debate about the merits of Abdellatif Kechiche’s erotic coming of age story of obsession, La Vie d’Adele – Chapitre 1 & 2/Blue is the Warmest Color), it was not a shock that it came away with the festival’s highest honor, the Palme d’or. What was unusual was that the jury – headed by Steven Spielberg and including directors Ang Lee, Lynne Ramsay, Naomi Kawase and Christian Mungiu and actors Nicole Kidman, Daniel Auteuil, Vidya Balan and Christoph Waltz – in fact named not only director Kechiche but both lead actors, Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos, as winners of the prize. An unusual move, but quite a fitting move, as it is the work of these young women that helps to make this film so powerful.

Two American films in the main competition won awards: Bruce Dern received the Best Actor prize for his work in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska as an old man suffering from dementia who, convinced that he’s won a million dollars in a sweepstakes, tries to walk from Montana to Nebraska to claim his prize. And Joel and Ethan Coen won the Grand Prize (akin to second prize) for their look at the New York folk music scene of the early 1960s through the eyes of a singer on the brink of either stardom or total collapse, Inside Llewyn Davis.

The award for best actress went to Berenice Bejo (she was last seen on the Cannes screen in The Artist, which of course won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2011) for her performance in The Past, a film directed by Asghar Farhadi (whose last film, A Separation, won the Best Foreign Film Oscar).

Other prizes given out on Closing Night include Best Director to Spanish filmmaker Amat Escalante for his third feature film Heli (his first feature, Sangre, was shown in New Directors/New Films in 2006), Best Screenplay to Jia Zhangke for A Touch of Sin, and the Jury Prize to Hirokazu Kore-eda for his touching  story  of young boys switched at birth, Like Father Like Son.

As for making their way to screens in the U.S., some titles already have US distribution, but even without, many of them will certainly appear in other festivals and from there onto screens for theatrical runs in the states. Look to the skies, er, screens in the year to come!

The Documentaries of Cannes 2013

The Last of the Unjust

There are not a large number of documentaries at the Cannes Film Festival, but what they lack in numbers, they make up for in style and seriousness of purpose. Since Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 won the Palme d'or in 2004 (and that was a documentary win almost 50 years in the making), there has not been a documentary that has even come close. It won't happen this year, either - there are no documentaries in the competition.

Read more: The Documentaries of Cannes 2013

The Cannes American Pavilion Honors & Remembers

chris dodd am pavPart of the landscape of the Cannes Film Festival are a series of tents along the water, each one a "pavilion" dedicated to a national cinema, a regional cinema, and various international film organizations. You could spend time at just about every one, stopping by for the happy hours that almost every pavilion sponsors. The American Pavilion, known familiarly as AmPav, stands apart from just about every other pavilion, in that it charges a membership fee for entry and use of its facilities - which include computers, wifi, and fee copies of the International Herald Tribune (a godsend for those of us who are addicted to the New York Times daily crossword puzzle - and I know who I am!)

This year the pavilion was officially opened in a ceremony attended by former Connecticut Senator and current Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) chairman Christopher Dodd. Against the backdrop of the Mediterranean, he declared the venue open for business. And business does take place at the pavilion. While the aim may be to interact with the international community, walking through the pavilion on any given day it seems to be mostly Americans doing business with Americans.

AmPav also presents a wide array of panels, where various professionals discuss a series of topics. One of the more interesting panels was "Industry in Focus: Women in Film." Normally you hear the same stories again and again at these kind of film panels, but this was different. Panelists included Rosie Wong, head of the Sundance Film Festival industry office, Anne Hubbell and Amy Hobby, co-founders of Tangerine Entertainment, Kate Gerova, creative director of Birds Eye View, and moderated by Jacqueline Lyanga, director of AFI Fest.

Rather than complain about what's wrong with the industry vis a vis women, these industry pioneers spoke of inspiration (Amy Hobby reached back to Mary Pickford, the first female artist/producer, for inspiration) and positive new initiatives that go beyond empowerment. For instance, Tangerine Entertainment actively seeks out women directors and projects and makes them happen financially. And the talk demanded equal footing in all areas; myths about women and budgets were debunked: Anne Hubbell noted research that found no difference between women and men in the success or failure rate of filmmaking with equal budgets.

Roger Ebert was a longtime presence on the Croisette and on panels and talk at AmPav. His death earlier this year brought many tributes (the Hotel Splendid, where Ebert stayed for more than 30 years, honored him by naming his room the Roger Ebert Suite, with a plaque on the door - the only such plaque in the hotel). At the American Pavilion, Ebert was honored with an all-festival tribute. On Thursday, May 23, many people who knew Roger, or worked with him, or just loved his criticism, showed up at the pavilion for a photo call - a thumbs up in memoriam. A perfect way to pay homage.

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