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Martin Scorsese Masterclass in Cannes

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The Search For (Some, Any) News on Cannes......

During my current experiment of trying to "do" Cannes while not actually being there (in others words, virtually if not physically), it is quite astonishing to me that so little actual coverage is available to the average American consumer. Yes, we did catch a glimpse of Tom Hanks on the red carpet, and read much speculation about the fate of THE DA VINCI CODE, but it seems that anything that is not part of the tyranny of celebrity gossip finds scant space in American newspapers or television screens.

Yes, Mary Hart of television entertainment news magazine Entertainment Tonight flaunts her designer gowns and borrowed jewelry in increasingly short spots on that nightly program, but the coverage has been exclusively the same kind of Hollywood clap trap that the show always covers. On the day that Richard Linklater's FAST FOOD NATION was finally beginning to stir up some Cannes awards buzz (at least according to the film websites I've been reading)what did Ms. Hart devote her 90 second spot to? The presence of Beyonce Knowles and Jamie Fox in Cannes to promote the as-yet unfinished DREAMGIRLS, a big budget Hollywood adaptation of the iconic 1970s Broadway musical.

Forget that Pedro Almodovar had just presented his wildly admired VOLVER, forget the controversy surrounding the sexually explicit Chinese film SUMMER PALACE, forget the new Ken Loach. To the casual viewer, Cannes was there to host Beyonce, Fox and Brett Ratner, in town to promote the third installment of the X-MEN series, opening in two weeks.

Ok, ok....there have been slim articles in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times that go beyond the strictly Hollywood focus of the mainstream media, and there are some terrific websites like filmfestivals.com, fest21.com, indiewire, filmstew and the trade publications (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Screen International) that are fantastic resources for those in the business, or those motivated to learn more. However, for the casual movie fan, there is scant Cannes coverage, and very little awareness of the international nature of the event.

In fact, in my favorite Cannes interview quote of the week, one actress who will appear in the DREAMGIRLS film, responded to the question of "How excited are you to be in Cannes?", with the reply, "When they told me, we were going to Cannes, I wondered what was so exciting about going up to Canada?". School geography teachers, take note.

While this is hardly a crime, it does blunt what I think is Cannes' enduring importance as a cultural event, which brings together the widest array of film talents from almost every film community on the planet. Yes, a lot of it is hype, and buy and sell, and shameless promotion, and many of the films will not have lives beyond the festival circuit. But, in the end, as Manohla Dargis said in her column in the New York Times on Friday, "In between the critical grandstanding and the public-relations hyperbole of Cannes, there actually is room for art...and filmgoers in the first days of the Festival have again been able to tour the cinematic world."

So, what is it about American culture that makes us so exclusionary, so consumed with reflections of our culture alone? Why do "foreign" films make up less than 2% of the films playing at cinema multiplexes? Why are there virtually no international television programs to be found on the 500-channel American television cable box (with the exception of high-minded British dramas and Spanish-language soap operas)? In short, why is there so little interest in the rest of the world, until it effects us personally (illegal Latin Americans at the border, Muslim extremist terrorists threatening to blow us up, an inescapable natural disaster like last year's tsunami)?

I won't attempt to answer these "big" questions myself, and would prefer to hear comments from the readership, but in more narrow terms, strictly concerned with the pathetically meager coverage of the Cannes Film Festival in the mainstream US media, maybe money is at the root. After all, in the past five years, almost all of the big winners at Cannes have had total US box office takes that would not even equal the catering budget of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3.

Let me list the Palme D'Or winners for you: DANCER IN THE DARK (2000,Lars Von Trier), total US box office: $4 Million; THE SON'S ROOM (2001, Nani Moretti): $900,000; THE PIANIST (2002, Roman Polanski): $28 Million; ELEPHANT (2003, Gus Van Sant): $1.2 Million. The 2004 Palme D'Or winner is the exception that confounds the rule, but Michael Moore's FAHRENHEIT 911, which grossed over $220 Million in the US, is that rare duck of a film which would have made its money, Cannes or no Cannes.

And what about last year's winner? L'ENFANT by the Dardenne Brothers, opened in the US on March 22 to the most enthusiastic reviews of the year. In the two months that it has been playing, the film has grossed less than $400,000 (although it is still in release by arthouse mavens Sony Pictures Classics). The film will continue to play for the next few months in a slow, deliberate release by one of the most savvy distributors in the country, but may never even crack the $1 Million mark.

Of course, it is not fair to compare box office results between sophisticated and difficult arthouse films and the mega-budget media onslaughts that accompany even the lamest of Hollywood releases. But, as has been whispered in the specialty distribution business now for the past few years, the "market share" of people willing to come to theaters to view international films is diminishing rapidly. While many more people may eventually see L'ENFANT on DVD, the fact is that fewer international titles are even getting anything but token releases in the first place.

So, while international cinema becomes more prolific (as reflected in the growing film output worldwide and the continuing stream of superb films that one can view at such citadels of film culture as Sundance, Berlin, Venice, Toronto and other topflight film festivals), the US market continues to shrink. So, maybe that's why there is so little coverage of Cannes, the most international of all the film celebrations. In the US, where money and celebrity are the touchstones by which most things are evaluated, Cannes is just an artsy, fartsy showcase of films that will ultimately reach a microscopic (if devoted) film audience. What to do? Any answers out there in cyberspace?


Sandy Mandelberger
24framespersecond

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