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Documentaries are coming into their own at this years’ Cannes. In 2004, when Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 won the French festival's Palme d'Or, it was big news. Since then, very few, if any, documentaries have been shown in the official competition. In fact, most are shown as special screenings, out of competition.
This year is no exception, with a passel of titles premiering here out of competition. The topics vary, but many of the documentaries deal with filmmaking and filmmakers: We've already spoken about Katrine Boorman's film Me and Me Dad about her father, director John Boorman.
That monograph is joined by documentaries about Roman Polanski (Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, by Laurent Bouzereau), Jerry Lewis (Gregg Barson's Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis) and Woody Allen (a film with the obvious title Woody Allen: A Documentary by Robert Weide).
Festival director Gilles Jacob has a documentary in the festival (not his first time), A Special Day, one of a number of festival anniversary films he has presented on the Croisette. This one follows 34 Cannes veterans on the anniversary of his film, To Each His Own Cinema, shown at the 60th Festival de Cannes, back in 2007.
While not a study of individual filmmakers, it is a who's who of Cannes veterans, with appearances by Abbas Kiarostami, Gus van Sant, Aki Kaurismäki, Wong Kar-Wai, Zhang Yimou and others too numerous to mention (although we won't forget to mention Jane Campion, the only woman to win the coveted Palme d'Or, reminding us that there are no films by women in this year's competition).
Two docs deal with the theme of environmentalism: Fatih Akin's Polluting Paradise, which has already been picked up for U.S. distribution by Strand Releasing, and Candida Brady's Trashed, which is produced by actor Jeremy Irons, who also appears in the film.
Ken Burns takes on a politically charged topic with his The Central Park Five, about a now infamous New York City crime and the rush to judgment that ensued. Sébastien Lifshitz takes a smart and loving look at French gays and lesbian pioneers and examines their lives in small provinces as they discuss their lives lived before there was anything like a French Stonewall in The Invisibles.
Visionary filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d'Or in 2010 for his dream-like narrative feature Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives, is here with a documentary, Mekong Hotel, that mixes fact and fiction as he rehearses a film at a hotel near a flooding river. This work is more of an essay film, as is Claudine Nougaret and Raymond Depardon's Journal de France, which has been described as a voyage through time.
One documentary, Sofia's Last Ambulance, about overworked EMTs in Bulgaria's capital, is playing in Critics' Week, a section selected by a group of film critics. Semaine de la Critique, as it is called in French, has its own juries, and at last night's closing ceremonies they singled out Sofia's Last Ambulence for the Critics' Week Visionary Award. The film is director Ilian Metev's first feature length film, so it is also eligible for the Camera d'Or prize for first features, to be given Sunday night.
That's what's happening with documentaries in the official sections. However, in the Cannes Market -- where the business of film takes place, documentaries have gained a larger presence.
About five years ago the market started hosting a brunch, inviting documentary filmmakers as well as programmers and documentary festival heads. This has turned into a hot ticket at the elegant Carlton Hotel on the Croisette, where valuable networking takes place.
Documentary festivals are everywhere now, and here you can sit at a table and dine with representatives of the many documentary programs throughout Europe - Visions du Réel in Nyon, Switzerland, FIDMarseille in Marseille, France (naturally),and CPH:DOX-Copenhagen in Denmark.
This year the market featured a "Doc Corner," where you could hear Philipp Engelhorn from Cinereach talk about funding or catch doc programmer and former doc producer Thom Powers discuss the ins and outs of documentary festivals.
Programmer Nicole Guillemet, who has been working with the market's documentary project since the beginning, told me she hopes that in a few years documentary film will have its own pavilion on the beach, alongside national cinema pavilions.
[Marian Masone is Director, Festivals/Associate Program Director at the Film Society of Lincoln Center]
As Cannes winds down, award dinners wind up. Last night it was time once again to tramp on over the the Grand Salon of the Carlton Hotel to celebrate more winners. This dinner was for all the participants of the many programs of the festival's Cinéfondation, the festival's arm for nurturing new talent. One of the newest programs is the Atelier, started in 2005. Each year fifteen projects are selected and the filmmakers are invited to Cannes to take part in meetings with producers, distributors, programmers and the like. The aim is to get real support going for these films.
Some of the participants this year include Marco van Geffen, whose film project, In Your Name, is the second part of a trilogy (the first part, Among Us, is already completed). The project won the Arte Prize for best project in the Atelier. Marco told me that it is a real honor and great support for the project. They hope that with this kind of support they can begin shooting in October 2013.
At dinner I met another Atelier filmmaker. Shivajee Chandrabhusham was in Cannes with his project The Untold Tale, an Indian film that takes place around the world over a span of 60 years, so international funding is a must. The Atelier has been a great experience for him, yet he feels a lot of responsibility being in the program: this is serious stuff. Chandrabhusham and his producer/wife, Triparna Banerjee, have already identified a french producer at the Atelier, which is very helpful. In fact, the mantra at our table, which included some French funders, was "everyone should have a French producer!"
One of those funders was Jacqueline Ada, with CNC (Centre national du cinéma). While the CNC does many things for cinema in and outside of France, Jacqueline's area is foreign film support, so her work is crucial to most of the Cinéfondation participants, including filmmakers in the festival's Residence program, such as Simon Paetau. Paetau, whose short film, Mila Caos, premiered in New Directors/New Films two years ago, is one of six filmmakers spending 5 months at the Cinéfondation's Residence in Paris. The object is to give these filmmakers a dedicated space to work on writing their scripts - first or second features.
Jéro Yun is a South Korean filmmaker at the Residence working on two scripts: Secret de mon père Nord Coréen and Red House.They are not required to finish, and while they are there Cinéfondation director Georges Goldenstern brings in loads of filmmakers, film programmers, and other film professionals to talk to them. And they also have time to talk to each other; peers mentoring peers can work wonders. During their residencies Goldenstern brings the filmmakers to festivals and their markets, so that they can pitch their stories. This group came to Cannes, where they presented their projects at the CNC pavilion.
The Cinéfondation also presents four programs of short films during the Cannes festival, from film school students around the world. Yesterday the winners were announced by the Cinéfondation and short film jury, headed by one half of the highly regarded Belgian filmmaking team, Jean-Pierre Dardenne. First prize of €15,000 went to Taisia Igumentseva of VGIK film school in Russia, for her film The Road To. Second Prize (and €11,250) went to Abigail by NYU student Matthew James Reilly, and Cuban EICTV student Miguel Angel Moulet won €7,500 for The Hosts. As an added bonus, the first prize winner's first feature film is guaranteed a slot in some section of the Cannes festival. Not too shabby.
In short, keep your eye on the Cinéfondation: this is where they grow talent in Cannes.
When all is said and done, everyone will talk about the rain at Cannes this year. Three days of rain (so far), including a storm with raging winds that caused some screenings to be cancelled, and one of the cinemas is, in fact, a huge tent-like structure on the roof of another building.
You don't want it full of people with high winds outside.
One of those cancelled screenings was the premiere of Gonzalo Tobal's Villegas, a first feature playing out of competition. That is, out of the main competition. The film is one of 25 films vying for the coveted Camera d’Or prize (for best first feature film).
Some of these first features have already had premieres at US festivals.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin) and Room 237 by Rodney Ascher premiered at Sundance in January, while Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot won SXSW’s grand prize. (Both Beasts and Loot also played in New York at New Directors/New Films).
Among those films premiering in Cannes are:
Villegas, mentioned above, was finally screened on Monday morning, and another screening has been added on Wednesday May 23 at 10pm; this one in the Buñuel Theater - tucked away inside the main "Palais" building, so no worries about being blown away.
Now the challenge is to get the word out about the added screenings.
This was director Tobal's worry when we spoke at an after-screening drink at the soggy Argentine pavilion.
He also talked about his creative path in making the film.
In an unusual beginning to a project, he told me that he didn't have the story down (which concerns two cousins, returning home for their grandfather's funeral, and struggling with their relationship to one another now that they are adults, as well as each one struggling with their own path towards adulthood). He knew, though, the tone he wanted the film to have.
Villegas is a real town in Argentina, and Tobal knew he wanted to use that location for a film - a small inland town with farms and ranches.
It was both the landscape of the area and the building structures of the farm (there is a lovely scene inside a silo filled with grain) that he wanted to incorporate into the film. And he knew he wanted to work with Esteban Bigiardi and Esteban Lamothe, his two lead actors.
About five years ago, when Tobal's own grandfather died while Tobal was living in Paris, the story of going back to the family started to take shape.
Katrine Boorman grew up with her subject, so the idea for her documentary was always in her head. She brought the celebrated filmmaker onstage as she introduced the film. Boorman is a Cannes veteran who has twice won the festival's directing award -- known here as the prix de la mise en scene -- in 1970 for Leo the Last and in 1998 for The General.
After thanking her crew, and the rest of the family, the filmmaker's father took the microphone to tell us that he told his daughter that she could make the film, interview him, and ask him anything -- as long as she didn't show it to anyone.
With this screening in the Cannes Classics section, I guess the cat is out of the bag.
[Marian Masone is Director, Festivals/Associate Program Director at the Film Society of Lincoln Center]
Yelling to the Sky – Oprah-Ready
Take two teenaged daughters, a bruised Black mother, and a drunken White father. It adds up to a lot of yelling, a new indie film genre, and a potential cast visit to Oprah.
Yelling to the Sky is the debut film by Victoria Mahoney, and it features Zoe Kravitz in the role of Sweetness O’Hara. Move over, Scarlet.
David D’Arcy saw Yelling to the Sky at the 2011 Berlinale, without earplugs.
* click on the player to hear the podcast
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