CANNES, France, May 17, (AFP): The Hollywood elite jetted into France on Wednesday for the Cannes Film Festival, with a Michael Moore documentary “take down” of Donald Trump among announcements stirring up a buzz as the 12-day movie marathon kicked off.
This year marks the 70th birthday of the world’s biggest film festival, with A-listers including Nicole Kidman, Clint Eastwood and Will Smith set to grace the glitzy French resort amid “unprecedented” tight security.
Miramax supremos Bob and Harvey Weinstein were due to officially announce their backing in Cannes of the new documentary from leftist provocateur Moore, billed as an expose of the US leader.
In “Fahrenheit 11/9” — a nod to the date Trump was elected, as well as Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” that won the Palme d’Or in 2004 and smashed box-office records — Moore has pledged to take down a president who has so far managed to survive an avalanche of scandals and controversies.
“Facts, reality, brains cannot defeat him. Even when he commits a self-inflicted wound, he gets up the next morning and keeps going and tweeting,” Moore said in a statement quoted by Screen International magazine.
“That all ends with this movie.”
Italian star Monica Bellucci is set to host Cannes’s opening ceremony on Wednesday night, with French drama “Ismael’s Ghosts”, starring Marion Cotillard, as the opening film.
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is leading the jury charged with picking a winner amongst the 19 films vying for the coveted Palme d’Or top prize, on a panel that also includes Smith, “Interstellar” star Jessica Chastain, and Chinese actress Fan Bingbing.
Stars are arriving under tighter security than in previous years, 10 months after the truck attack in nearby Nice killed 86 people.
Concrete barriers — in the form of giant flower pots — have been set up to try to block a similar assault, and snipers have been positioned above sensitive sites.
Patrick Mairesse, a top regional security official, said the goal was to be as “invisible as possible, to cause as little nuisance as possible — so the party can stay a party.”
Elsewhere at the festival, veteran British actress Vanessa Redgrave is to unveil Wednesday her first film as a director — “Sea Sorrow”, a documentary about Europe’s migrant crisis.
This year’s programme also points to changes shaking up the film industry, including the march on Hollywood by streaming giants Netflix and Amazon and the arrival of virtual reality.
A row over Netflix, which has hailed Cannes’s acceptance of two of its movies as proof of its new status as a major industry player, dominated the run-up to the festival.
The company has refused to screen the two movies in French cinemas because of rules that mean films cannot be streamed from subscription services in France until three years after their traditional box-office release.
A backlash from French cinema chains prompted Cannes organisers to change the festival’s rules from next year onwards to insist on a theatrical release — a move that could effectively ban Netflix from taking part in the future.
Netflix’s movie “Okja” about a mysterious giant beast, starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, is nonetheless among the most talked-about at Cannes, along with Sofia Coppola’s American Civil War thriller “The Beguiled” featuring Kidman and Colin Farrell.
The Australian actress is the undisputed queen of this year’s Cannes, starring in three movies as well as the TV series “Top of the Lake”, which is getting a special screening.
Others in the running for top honours include “Happy End”, another film set against the backdrop of the migrant crisis by “Amour” director Michael Haneke, who is seeking a record-breaking third Palme d’Or.
Another highlight will be Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu showcasing a virtual reality project that allows the viewer to walk in the footsteps of refugees.
New York directors Noah Baumbach and the Safdie brothers, who have films in the running for this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes, spotlight the vitality of independent cinema in America’s cultural capital.
Thousands of miles from the bright lights of Hollywood, New York has for decades been an inspiration for greats in US cinema, a tradition that binds Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese to today’s independent community.
They meet at the KGB, a bar in the East Village, or at showings at the Film Forum, which has been welcoming cinema lovers for nearly 50 years on Houston Street.
“There’s absolutely a circle of film geeks,” said filmmaker Nathan Silver, who moved from Massachusetts to the Big Apple just days before the Sept 11, 2001 attacks and whose latest film “Thirst Street” is just out.
“A lot of directors are using the same cinematographers, composers. I rather enjoy it. I like being able to go to a movie and recognize everyone who’s in the theater.”
Fellow New Yorker Oscar Boyson has co-produced two of Baumbach’s films and two feature films with Josh and Benny Safdie, including “Good Time” — the bank robber flick in the running for this year’s Palme d’Or.
“It feels that there’s a lot of support and people do assist each other,” said Jonathan Wacks, founding director and professor at New York’s Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, the only film school in the United States built on a working film lot.
“It feels different from (Los Angeles) in that regard. In LA, people are very scattered. They’re fighting their own battles,” added Wacks.
Housed at the Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, it opened in 2015, the first public graduate film school in New York.
If New York is nearly always represented one way or another at Cannes, it is the first time in years that two director teams, so closely identified with the city are going head to head in the competition lineup.
Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories,” stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman, and is a comedy about siblings dealing with an aging father. Ben and Joshua Safdie’s “Good Time” stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Robert Pattinson.
Other luminaries in the contemporary New York indy cinema world are Geremy Jasper, part of this year’s Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, Laura Poitras, who won the 2015 Oscar for best feature documentary, Bennett Miller, who won best director at Cannes in 2014 and Benh Zeitlin, who won the Golden Camera in Cannes in 2012.
Part of the vitality stems from the state’s offer in 2004 of tax incentives to encourage that tradition of cinema and television production to grow further.
The Steiner Studios, which opened in 2004 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, is the largest in the United States outside Hollywood. In Queens, the Kaufman Astoria Studios, built in 1920, is working flat out.
“The industry went bananas,” said Wacks. “It’s now an $8 billion industry,” he told AFP of the push to make the New York film industry more indigenous and less dependent on flying out people from Los Angeles.
The Feirstein takes students from diverse backgrounds, including those who can’t afford more established film programs at New York University or Columbia, the two biggest colleges in New York.
“We think of ourselves as being idea-driven rather than technical driven,” said Wacks.
The school has only four full-time faculty, but last year, 62 different people taught at Feirstein, many of whom live in New York.
“It’s certainly not true for all New York filmmakers, but there is a tradition in New York cinema of talking,” said John Vanco, senior vice president and general manager of the IFC Center, one of the main art house cinemas in the city.
Inspiration comes also from the city’s nervous energy, its metropolitan bustle and from the streets.
“You’re constantly running into bizarre people and bizarre situations because everyone is squeezed in tight places with a bunch of strangers,” said Silver.
A lot have a love-hate relationship with the city of 8.5 million that feeds their creative juices.
“It drives me out of my mind but in the right way,” said Silver.