Films chosen by committee headed by Jacob, Fremaux

HOLLYWOOD — There are major changes afoot at this year’s Cannes Film Fest — even the pic-selection process is shifting.

Traveling to Los Angeles was once something of a low priority for fest topper Gilles Jacob, who has not visited the States on a goodwill mission or a search for product in five years. Though Jacob could rely on some long-standing relationships with select execs and talent, his policy left him out of the loop on certain titles and bruised a few egos.

But this year, Jacob, in his new role as fest prexy, has dispatched his new artistic director Thierry Fremaux on two trips to Hollywood. Fremaux made a trip in late January and again in late March to seek American films and strengthen ties with studio execs, filmmakers and talent agents.

The olive branch has not gone unnoticed.

With a more transparently democratic selection system, Jacob’s personal preferences are no longer expected to dominate quite so much. Instead, films will be chosen by a committee headed by both Jacob and Fremaux and may now include films that might once have been overlooked.

So far, the new process seems to be working. Although some fest watchers initially speculated Jacob’s appointments were mere window dressing, Fremaux appears to have a real voice in the selection process.

Jacob tended to choose as he went along (meaning word had a way of leaking out in advance).

The advantage of that system was that distribs, given a firm commitment, had more time to make plans for a pic’s launch. The downside was that if Jacob saw a great film in mid-April, it may have been left out in the cold, since he’d already committed all the key fest slots.

Now that selections are being made jointly by Fremaux and Jacob and the Paris-based committee — and with many screenings still to come — there are fewer locked titles than there normally are with 2-1/2 weeks left before the lineup announcement April 19.

Nonetheless, a large number of Cannes regulars still look likely to be in the frame for this year’s fest. Think such faves as the Coen brothers (“The Barber Movie”) and David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”).

Also in the very-likely category is “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys,” starring Jodie Foster. The directorial debut of Peter Care was expected to be a centerpiece at the 2001 Sundance fest, but it bowed out when its animated portions couldn’t be completed in time.

Other nearly sure bets are Fine Line’s “The Anniversary Party,” the digitally-shot directorial debut of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming; and David Atkins’ “Novocain,” which stars Steve Martin as a dentist whose life gets turned upside down by Helena Bonham Carter.

Cannes may include DreamWorks’ animated “Shrek” in an out-of-competition screening.

And there’s the possibility of three films by French New Wave vets Jean Luc Godard (“Eloge de l’amour”), Erich Rohmer (“L’Anglaise et le duc”) and Jacques Rivette (“Va Savior!”).

Godard’s pic is rumored to be headed for Un Certain Regard, in accordance with the filmmaker’s wish not to compete.

Foreign distributors and paparazzi alike will also be licking their chops over the screening of footage from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” for New Line Cinema, a promotional event on May 13 that will include appearances by the entire cast, including Liv Tyler, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellen.

Other stars could turn up for Sean Penn’s “The Pledge” which stars Jack Nicholson, Benicio del Toro and Mickey Rourke. Pic was originally skedded for Berlin, but dropped out due to a legal dispute between Franchise and Intertainment.

Also being tipped is Fred Schepisi’s “Last Orders,” starring Michael Caine, and Bart Freundlich’s ‘World Traveller,” with Julianne Moore.

Michael Gondry’s Charlie Kaufman-penned “Human Nature,” featuring Tim Robbins, Patricia Arquette and Rhys Ifans would also sprinkle stardust over the Croisette, as would the Castle Rock-Warner Bros.’ Val Kilmer starrer “The Salton Sea,” directed by D.J. Caruso.

Also anticipated are “Millennium Mambo,” by Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien, a Cannes regular best known for “The Puppetmaster”; Russian helmer Aleksandr Sokurov’s “Taurus”; Thai director Wisit Sasanaitieng’s “Tears of the Black Tiger”; and Japanese director Ryosuke Hashiguchi’s “Hush!”

At least one star-studded movie, though, won’t make it to Cannes: The Gerard Depardieu and Guillaume Canet starrer “Vidocq” won’t be ready in time.

(Alison James in Paris contributed to this report.)

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