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Jury member Leila Hatami poses as she arrives for the screening of Jimmy’s Hall at the 67th International Film Festival, Cannes, southern France
‘Maidan’ has cast of thousands Young actors hit ‘overwhelming’ Cannes for first time

CANNES, France, May 23, (Agencies): Seeing people shot down as the insurrection in Kiev’s Maidan square built to a climax might not be everyone’s idea of a movie night out, but watching it filmed on the epic scale of Russian director Sergei Eisenstein’s films is breathtaking. That is exactly what the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa had in mind for his documentary film “Maidan”, screened this week at the Cannes International Film Festival. His film is a fly-on-the-wall view of the Maidan uprising, which started last year and led to President Viktor Yanukovich fleeing the country in February.  It has a cast of thousands — the very people who protested in the square day after day, week after week, to oust the Russian-backed Yanukovich.

Loznitsa, whose previous feature films have dealt with fictionalised but gritty topics such as a man during World War Two being accused of collaborating with the Germans, said his inspiration for “Maidan” came from “Strike” by Eisenstein, the Soviet director best known for his epic “Battleship Potemkin” which practically invented the term “cast of thousands”. “The question is how I created drama. Well, there is a great example that exists in our culture, in the culture of Russian cinema, and it’s the film ‘Strike’ by Eisenstein, where you have these great masses of people in action,” Loznitsa told Reuters.

Loznitsa’s film takes more than two hours to play out and it has its longeurs, especially at the beginning when the protest in Kiev’s main square against Yanukovich’s decision to scrap an association agreement with the European Union assumed a lighthearted, carnival atmosphere. People are shown cooking huge vats of food, carrying around trays of tea to the huge crowd and listening to protest songs. Anti-government speeches blasted from a central stage over a massive sound system can be heard constantly on the soundtrack but the people making those speeches are almost never seen, which Loznitsa said was by design.

“As far as the politicians were concerned I had the impression that it wasn’t them who were the leaders and in control of events. They had no hand in the turn of events and what inevitably happened,” he said. “The film was going to be about people. I didn’t want to have a number of main protagonists and that’s why I needed long takes, long static takes to show the people.” The mood of the protesters turns distinctly darker, and the film’s pace picks up, as the occupation of the square stretches into February of this year. A march on parliament by the protesters to demand Yanukovich’s ouster provokes battles with police and shortly afterwards riot police move in to clear the square. It is in these scenes that Loznitsa’s fly-on-the-wall viewpoint with a widescope, cinema camera really pays off.

The screen is filled with details as the unflinching lens records a policeman being shot on a rooftop, a protester asking people for a light for his Molotov cocktail and later, during the police effort to crush the protest, several people falling to the ground as they are struck by police bullets. There is no narration, except for the constant speechifying and ranting over the protesters’ sound system, but at various points the screen goes dark and text notices sum up the stage the protest has reached. One of the last such texts says that during the protests, which led to Yanukovich’s flight, more than 100 people were killed, a similar number went missing and hundreds were injured. Russian media saw the same events in different terms, portraying protesters as nationalist militants and provocateurs; no heroes in the Eisenstein mould, but an anti-democratic mob. “The picture is just information, all reports are just information,” Loznitsa said when asked what his film had contributed to the understanding of what happened in Ukraine. “What I add is a proposition to reflect about this event — what it was actually.”

How not to trip on the red carpet in vertiginous heels, which star-studded Champagne party to go to, and how to bring yourself back down to earth next week when it’s all over. Just a few of the dilemmas faced by young actors at Cannes this week, experiencing their first festival on the French Riviera Aisling Franciosi, one of the Irish stars of director Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall” — which is among 18 films in competition for the festival’s top Palme d’Or prize — said she didn’t allow herself to get excited until the day she arrived in the south of France. “I remember I was on my way to set, because I’m in season two of “The Fall”, and our producer Rebecca called me and said ‘are you free in the middle of May?’ “Obviously, I just said ‘yes’ straight away, not knowing if I was or wasn’t. But then I had to wait to see if the schedules would work.
“So I didn’t allow myself to feel excited until I was on the plane and it was actually happening,” she told AFP on Thursday, a few hours ahead of the film’s premiere.

Franciosi, 22, from Dublin, described the experience of being in Cannes as “surreal” and at times nerve-wracking. It is not only the young actress’s first time in Cannes — “Jimmy’s Hall” is also her first film role, although she has had parts in several television series. “I did have a couple of moments where I was not exactly panicking but it’s kind of daunting particularly because I’ve never been on a red carpet,” she said. “I’m staying in an apartment with some of the others and that’s good because you can say ‘I’m getting a bit nervous’, or you can get excited together.” Franciosi said friends told her all she needed to do on the red carpet was “put one foot in front of another” “But that becomes increasingly difficult the more nervous you get,” she said. “It sounds simple but I was like ‘I have to walk and look at the cameras at the same time?’” she joked. Another first-time actress in Cannes this week is Natalia Ryumina, 29, originally from Latvia, but now based in London.

Ryumina came to Cannes armed with a corseted Vivienne Westwood evening gown loaned to her for the red carpet. Two films she has parts in have been shown in the Cannes market, the business arm of the festival.
“It’s a great place to make contacts. I got invited straight away to a Latvian party and to a Scottish party,” she said. “There are so many people coming from Russia for example, from Canada, from the US, that you don’t get the opportunity to meet in London. “I even ran into my agent at the Scottish party. I didn’t even know he was here!” she said. The trained opera singer, who is fluent in Latvian, Ukrainian, Russian and English, said she was usually cast as a baddie, with recent roles including a corporate hatchet-woman and a Russian sniper. She said she was looking forward to “posing” on the red carpet in her Vivienne Westwood dress. “I will feel very glamorous in that. I’ve been to red carpet events before but nothing like Cannes. It’s very overwhelming.”

Films from students at the University of Texas at Austin, NYU Asia and schools in Italy and the UK have won the top prizes in the Cinefondation competition at the Cannes Film Festival, a jury headed by director Abbas Kiarostami announced on Thursday. The competition consisted of 16 student films chosen from a field of 1,631 entries. “Skunk,” by Annie Silverstein from UT Austin, won the first prize, which carries with it an award of 15,000 Euro. Second prize, which brings 11,250 Euro, went to “Oh Lucy!” from Atsuko Hirayanagi at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts Asia, in Singapore. The third-place award, which includes a 7,500 Euro prize, went jointly to “Lievito Madre” by Fulvio Risuelo from Centrao Sperimentali di Cinematographia in Italy and “The Bigger Picture” by Daisy Jacobs from the National Film and Television School in the UK. In addition, Silverstein’s first feature film now has guaranteed entry to the Cannes Film Festival. In addition to Kiarostami, jurors included writer-directors Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Daniela Thomas and Joachim Trier, and writer-director-actress Noemie Lvovsky.

The winners:
First Prize:
directed by Annie Silverst in the University of Texas at Austin, USA
Second Prize:
directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi
NYU Tisch School of the Arts Asia, Singapore
Joint Third Prize:
directed by Fulvio Risuleo
Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, Italy
directed by Daisy Jacobs
National Film and Television School, United Kingdom.

CANNES, France:
Sharon Stone showed up in a daring dress, John Travolta flew in on his plane, and even Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst made an appearance to support the Cannes film festival’s largest charity ball to raise money for AIDS research. At the 21st annual event organized by amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, the film world’s glitterati assembled on Thursday night to raise $38 million for charity, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein announced. The amfAR gala, held at the luxurious five-star Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, perched over the blue water of the French Riviera not far from Cannes, is the biggest fundraising event at the world’s largest and most prestigious film festival. The benefit was first hosted by Elizabeth Taylor. With celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Kylie Minogue, Dita Von Teese, Adrien Brody, Paris Hilton and even Catherine Deneuve in attendance, the event was the place to be as the prestigious film festival began to wind down, with top prizes to be awarded on May 25.

AmfAR has raised some $120 million in the 20 years it has thrown the gala during the Cannes film festival. The go-to event relies on celebrity power and high-profile donations, and the 900-person guest list on Thursday included models, actors and the who’s-who of the film world. Champagne, a Pablo Picasso sketch, a motorcycle and a trip on a yacht were auctioned at the high-profile event, as DiCaprio puffed on an electronic cigarette, surrounded by two bodyguards, and Lana Del Rey and Robin Thicke performed to the crowd. Raising the most money, at 11 million euros ($15 million), was the auction of a gilded skeleton of a woolly mammoth in a steel and glass box, by artist Damien Hirst. The winning bidder, Ukrainian businessman Leonard Blavatnik told Reuters he was not sure where he would put the massive beast. “I don’t know yet. It was unexpected,” said Blavatnik, who sat next to Cannes jury president Jane Campion at the event and was congratulated by Justin Bieber after his win. A Picasso sketch went for 380,000 euros, an Andy Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe was sold for 350,000 euros, a cellar of champagne found its winning bid at 150,000 euros, and a pair of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld gloves found a bidder at 10,000 euros.

“Ladies, ladies, ladies, look at my necklace,” cooed Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, ex-supermodel and former first lady of France, introducing a Bulgari serpentine necklace, which ultimately was auctioned for 400,000 euros.A bevy of designers donated dresses they had created in red for the event - from Gucci and Lanvin to Louis Vuitton and Roberto Cavalli. The 42 designer dresses were auctioned for 3.5 million euros. “It’s not expensive, believe me,” said the winning bidder in a thick Russian accent, who did not want to give his name. The event drew the tried and true of Hollywood, as well as new faces like Conchita Wurst, the bearded Austrian winner of Eurovision Song Contest.

“It’s really lovely,” said Wurst of the event. “This is the life I always wanted.” Burlesque star Dita Von Teese wore a black dress dotted with pink roses, and socialite Paris Hilton walked through the cocktail party before the event dragging an enormous long pink train that tripped up many a tuxedoed guest. Travolta, in a blue tuxedo and attending with wife Kelly Preston, said he had just arrived by plane. “I have a Challenger jet. I fly five times a week,” said the “Pulp Fiction” star. Stone, who at one point admonished the noisy crowd to “stop doing deals” during the auction, nevertheless thanked them for supporting AIDS research for the past 20 years. “I know all of you have lost someone to AIDS,” she said. “Now we are at the beginning of the end of AIDS.”

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