MONTREAL — Two of Canada’s best-known auteurs, David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan, will be on the Croisette this year with new films, but the different roads to the Riviera that they traveled illustrate the potholes that even fest shoo-ins face in the indie film world.
Cronenberg’s “Spider,” a Canada-U.K. co-production, reps the provocative Toronto filmmaker’s first entry at the Cannes festival since the highly controversial screening of auto-erotic pic “Crash” in Competition in 1996. Canada’s only feature in Competition this year, “Spider” has a troubled production history.
Egoyan’s latest, “Ararat,” deals with the 1915 murder of some 1.3 million Armenians in Turkey, and, despite its subject matter and ambitious scope, was easily financed.
It has also kicked up some controversy, as the Turkish government threatened legal action against the fim’s producers if the film asserts that Turkey was guilty of genocide against the Armenians.
Turkey has never officially acknowledged the massacre, saying its predessor, the Ottoman government, simply deported the Armenians, although it admitted that up to 300,000 were killed by militia not associated with the government. Almost every Western government has called the event genocide.
“Ararat” was pre-sold in most major territories, including the U.S., where Miramax bought rights. The main source of financing for the $10 million pic came from Alliance Atlantis, which funded the film as part of its pact with producer Robert Lantos’ Serendipity Point Films.
But for “Spider,” which stars Ralph Fiennes and boasts an arguably more commercial helmer in Cronenberg, the road to Cannes was fraught with money problems and headaches.
The project originated with first-time feature producer Catherine Bailey, a British radio and TV producer. She pitched the film to Fiennes while they were working together a few years ago on a radio production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman.”
Fiennes loved the script by Patrick McGrath, based on his novel of the same name, a psychological thriller about a disturbed fellow named Spider, who is tormented by delusional memories of his childhood.
In spite of Fiennes’ presence in the lead role and the thesp’s enthusiasm, “Spider” was turned down by three of the main U.K. film funders: FilmFour, BBC and the Film Council.
Then London-based film sales company Cobalt signed on, Cronenberg joined the project and “Spider” looked to be in good shape. But the problems weren’t over. In the midst of pre-production in summer 2001, with sets half-built and the helmer prepping in London, Cobalt pulled out.
Bailey and Luc Roeg, one of the executive producers, spent a frantic five weeks cobbling together new financing and the filmmakers were eventually bailed out when Capitol Films took world rights. Financing also came from France’s Metropolitan Films, which paid a hefty price for that territory; Canadian film funder Telefilm Canada; and Toronto-based film investment and production company Grosvenor Park.
Bailey says they were always hoping to launch at Cannes.
“It’s a director’s festival and this is a director’s film,” says Bailey. “There’s also a lot of French money in it and there’s a big market for David’s films in France. It just seemed like the appropriate place to go.”
For “Ararat,” it was only the Cannes selection process that was rough.
Pic marks the first time that Armenian-Canadian Egoyan is explicitly tackling a major social and political issue on the bigscreen.
Many observers expected the pic to make its bow in the Cannes Competition, as have most of the Canadian director’s major works. But, just days before the fest lineup announcement, Egoyan asked to have his film shown out of competition; he felt it was wrong to have a film depicting the Armenian massacre in a competitive environment.
But Egoyan still believed the Croisette is the ideal spot for his film.
“It’s a great place for ‘Ararat,’ not only for artistic reasons but politically, it’s also really amazing because France has acknowledged the Armenian genocide officially,” says Egoyan. “So I will be fortunate to be in a place where I don’t have to defend that. It’s in the public consciousness there.”
This will not be the first time Cronenberg and Egoyan rub shoulders on the Croisette. In 1996, Egoyan was on the Cannes jury that gave Cronenberg’s “Crash” special jury prize for “audacity.” In 1999, Cronenberg was jury prez bu Egoyan went home empty-handed.