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Fireworks light up the sky at the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 15. (AFP)
Syria docu makes fest current Everything is forbidden in ‘Timbuktu’

CANNES, France, May 16, (Agencies): An old man’s white hair suddenly changes to red in “Eau Argentee, Syrie autoportrait” (Silvered Water, Syria self-portrait) by exiled Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed, shown at the Cannes film festival on Thursday.
The amateur video may be shaky, grainy and lacking peripheral view, but the viewer instantly knows the man has just been shot in the head, another victim of the civil war in Syria that has already claimed more than 150,000 victims.
This and countless other images of the conflict are woven together in the documentary by Mohammed, who left his country in May 2011 for Paris over fears for his safety.
The film is brutal, visceral and hard to watch.
“Since I left Syria, I’ve become a coward,” Mohammed says in a voiceover. But his film is a courageous and must-be-seen living document about the destruction of a country, a people under siege and the power of reporting.


Plagued by guilt for having left his countrymen at a time of crisis as the peaceful protest movement morphs into a civil war, Mohammed turned to amateur clips uploaded to YouTube to see what was happening at home. His film is a patchwork composite of the powerful fragments he found.
Key among them are images filmed by a young Kurdish woman living in Homs whom he met in an online chat. “Simav”, whose full name is Wiam Simav Bedirxan, begins to film what she sees as her city turns into a pile of rubble.
“For the regime, a camera is a weapon,” Simav says. Her images and those by other witnesses risking their lives to document their Syria are a scathing indictment of Assad.
The film shows the destruction of Syria’s once-busy, third-largest industrial city, along with images of killings, guerrilla warfare and torture.
A man on his knees is beaten and kicked as he is forced to kiss a poster of President Bashar al-Assad; another, his eyes covered and his feet and wrists bound, is suspended in the air from a rake; a naked teenager huddled in the corner of a cell is kicked and sodomized with an object by soldiers.
Even the animals bear signs of cruelty and deprivation: cats with half their face missing, limping and burned animals, a skinny kitten whose mewing goes unnoticed in abandoned Homs.
Accorded a special screening by the prestigious 12-day festival on the French Riviera, the film is one of several to bring the chaos and barbarity of current events to the big screen. A documentary about the uprising in Kiev’s Maidan square, “Maidan” by Sergei Loznitsa, will be screened next week.
“Timbuktu” by Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako is a fictionalised tale of rebels in Mali imposing their version of Islamic law on an uncomprehending local population during the 2012 takeover by al Qaeda-linked militants that led to France’s military intervention.
The Arab fighters — separated by the colour of their skin and their language from the locals — are seen patrolling town with loudhailers, announcing a host of repressive new laws — a ban on smoking, an edict that women must wear socks.
“Everything is forbidden,” one shouts through his speaker.
A female fish seller is dragged away after complaining about their order to cover her hands with gloves. For an unknown infraction of sharia law, we see a man and a woman buried up to their necks and stoned to death.
Despite the tension, moments of grace flow through Sissako’s film, like the group of young men who play soccer without an actual ball to circumvent the ban on sport, or the woman who breaks into song while being whipped for singing. Far from caricatures, the Jihadists are portrayed as three-dimensional beings displaying moments of sensitivity, caring and even humour.
“I think it’s important to realise that a Jihadist is a human being,” Sissako said at a news conference. “They’re fragile, yet at the same time a person who treats people badly may sometimes be racked with doubt.”
Sissako choked up while explaining his film, whose main characters, a peaceful man and his wife and daughter, find their lives turned upside down after the Islamists’ arrival. “The real courage is to be found with those who live this on a daily basis, not just one day or two, but for a long time. And they wage a silent combat, which is a real combat waged by humankind. That’s where the optimism lies in the film.”
 


The Associated Press is all over the Cannes Film Festival — from its glitzy premieres to the celeb parties and quirky moments in between. Here’s what reporters have seen and heard:
Lupita Nyong’o stuns at Calvin Klein
Glowing Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o shone bright at the Calvin Klein celebration of Women In Film event in Cannes. She wore a shimmering blue Calvin Klein strapless dress with a slashed bodice styled with silver sandals. To complement that look, the “12 Years a Slave” star wore enviable teardrop cut out crystal earrings. During the exclusive event, she hung out with fellow WIF attendees Julianne Moore, Rooney Maara and Naomi Watts.
Paramount buys Adams Sci-fi thriller
One of the hottest properties in Cannes has been acquired by Paramount Pictures.
Paramount has purchased the North America and China distribution rights for “Story of Your Life,” a sci-fi thriller to star Amy Adams. Directing is Denis Villeneuve, the Canadian filmmaker who made last year’s kidnapping thriller “Prisoners” and the 2010 Oscar-nominated, French-language mystery “Incendies.”
Based on a short story by science-fiction writer Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life” is about a linguist (to be played by Adams) recruited by the military to translate invading aliens. It’s being produced and financed by FilmNation Entertainment in partnership with Lava Bear Films.
Paramount, which said it expects to release the film in 2016, paid $20 million for the rights to the film, according to Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.


Gong Li Doubling Up
Gong Li is a participant at Cannes, but next month, she’ll have higher profile role at a film festival closer to home.
The Chinese actress will head up the jury at the 17th annual Shanghai Film Festival, which begins June 14. She said she agreed to it reluctantly because she fears she may get too emotional.
“It is a respect to a film, to a piece of art work. However, it can only be given to one person. So when you’re judging the award, you feel bad, because I, too, am in the business,” she said Thursday. “So I hope when I’m the president of the jury, I can pull it together and not be so emotional.”
Here at Cannes, she won’t have to deal with such weighty matters. She is a L’Oreal ambassador and also has a film showing out of competition here.
“Coming Home” reunites her with Chinese director Zhang Yimou, with whom she made some of her most notable films like “Raise the Red Lantern,” ‘’The Story of Qiu Ju” and “To Live.” Gong plays an amnesia patient whose husband returns home after years of being away in prison.
The film premieres at Cannes on Tuesday.
Kendall Jenner wows
As France is electrified with buzz of a possible Kim Kardashian and Kanye West wedding in the country this month, sister of the bride-to-be Kendall Jenner has taken the other side of the country by storm in Cannes.
The tall, raven-haired 18-year-old wowed crowds in the French Riviera, hitting the red carpet Wednesday for the “Grace of Monaco” premiere in a black-and-white Chanel silk crepe dress from the cruise collection.
The TV reality star and aspiring actress would conveniently be able to whizz up the country to attend if her more famous sister weds in Paris, as is rumored.
Michael Jackson doc sold
A documentary chronicling Michael Jackson in his last years has been acquired at the Cannes Film Festival.
“Michael: The Last Photo Shoots” follows the late superstar as he prepared for his ill-fated comeback. It features interviews with his photographers as well as stylists and friends.
Renowned photographer Bruce Weber photographed Jackson in 2007 for the re-release of “Thriller” on its 25th anniversary, and celebrity photographer Matthew Rolston shot him the same year for Ebony magazine, his first US magazine interview in years.
Lightning Entertainment has acquired the international sales rights. Its executive vice president, Ken Dubow, said in a statement Thursday that the documentary will provide fans with “a rare behind-the-scenes look into his life.”
 


Behind the scenes at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday:
A little local difficulty: It’s usually Champagne, lobster and big-money deals all the way for industry movers and shakers on their annual jolly to Cannes. Not this year.
Instead movie world bigwigs endured coffee from plastic cups, sandwiches and gruelling road trips as transport workers went on strike on Thursday.
Execs on their way to the French Riviera had flights cancelled or found themselves stranded in airport lounges mid-journey.
Heroically, some resorted to wheeling and dealing of a different sort to get there.
One Cannes-bound CEO embarked on a 14-hour road journey while another who managed to get to the airport at Nice only persuaded a taxi driver to pick him up by agreeing to lie flat in the back so he wasn’t branded a scab by other cabbies.
A London film festival director, Claire Stewart, bemoaned the perennial fly in the Cannes ointment.
“There’s always something, some protest or strike during Cannes, but this year it’s really extreme. It’s affecting everyone,” she said.
Cannes regular: When it comes to the Cannes Film Festival, there are plenty of celebrity spotters and film buffs who hang around, but none have been as faithful and determined as 97-year-old Simone Lancelot.
The still-sprightly cinema lover has been to no less than 66 festivals and her life is intricately tied to the glitzy event, now in its 67th year.
“The year I gave birth, there was no festival. Everyone says that it was because I wasn’t there that they didn’t go ahead with it,” she joked, strolling along the famed Croisette seaside promenade.
Her first festival was in 1947 and she points out that stars at the time — mainly French — would go up not 24 steps but just two to the then festival hall, not far from the so-called Bunker where it takes place now.
She’s passionate about cinema, which she discovered when she was eight by watching silent movies that fairground entertainers used to bring to her village.
Golden wrinklies: Gallic cinema would appear to be in need of some spring chickens if the results of one poll on the best-known French faces are anything to go by.
The normally youth-obsessed movie world’s best-known French stars turn out to be mostly in their seventies and eighties.
In order, Gerard Depardieu, Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Brigitte Bardot, came out as the actors with the highest international profiles.
The only member of younger generation to get a look in was “Amelie” star Audrey Tautou, a mere baby at just 37, who made it onto the list in sixth place after Bardot, according to the poll by French film export agency Unifrance.

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