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Cannes fest unites film legends

World's greatest directors attend 'Cinema' premiere

Cannes’ day-long salute to filmmakers Sunday offered a little fireworks and a little melancholy, but mostly it was a celebration of film, as more than 30 of the world’s greatest made the fest’s 60th anniversary an occasion to remember.

The Palais was helmer heaven as the world preem of “Chacun son cinema” (To Each His Own Cinema) saw more heavyweight directors climb the red carpet than usually do for an entire festival’s worth of opening nights.

At the top of the steps welcoming them was the pic’s producer, Gilles Jacob (wearing his other hat as Cannes Film Festival prexy), artistic director Thierry Fremaux and managing director Catherine Demier.

Jacob conceived the omnibus pic as a way for the festival to mark its anniversary without too much self-congratulation.

Movie contains 33 films by 35 directors (two of the films are by brothers, America’s Coens, and Belgium’s Dardennes).

The film ceremony was short and simple but effective, with helmers taking their place in a row of movie theater chairs set up on the stage facing the screen. French actress Juliette Binoche, dressed in a fuscia pink evening gown, introduced them by name and a standing ovation ensued. Then the lights went down and the main feature began.

The pic went down well with the cinephile public at Sunday morning’s press screening. That was followed by a lunch for journos, an afternoon roundtable discussion for the press to meet the helmers, then the 7 p.m. preem.

The omnibus film was scheduled to screen on Canal Plus Sunday night, and it will air on Franco-German pubcaster Arte next Saturday night.

Studio Canal will be releasing it on DVD in France this week.

Pic has an unusual legal status, with each three-minute segment being the copyright of the directors-producers involved, but the whole film belonging to the festival.

The day’s fireworks came at the morning press confab when Roman Polanski, one of the contributing helmers, scolded journalists for their stupidity before walking out of a press conference.

“You have all these great directors here and you know so little about us,” he complained before exiting.

Polanski’s exit was certainly dramatic, but several folks at the press confab sympathized, agreeing that many of the questions were inane. Others pointed out that a room full of journalists looking for soundbites from 33 individuals was doomed to failure.

But arguably tongues were wagging just as much about two other contributors to the omnibus film, Michael Cimino and Lars von Trier. After being absent from the limelight for years, Cimino was virtually unrecognizable from his former self; von Trier did not attend Cannes, with word that it’s due to his fear of flying, with others saying he is currently hospitalized with deep depression.

After a lunch for the journos, the fest offered roundtables in the Les Ambassadeurs room.

The conversations were alternately animated and awkward, like a dinner party consisting of total strangers. But the helmers were all good sports. When asked about their intentions in making the film, Brit Ken Loach laughed, “I think we were just desperate to get something down in three minutes, just to do something that wasn’t totally embarrassing.”

Sweden’s Bille August said the extreme time limit was daunting but educational: “What I learned was simplicity.”

Japan’s Takeshi Kitano said it was tough to tell a story in three minutes, with a preordained theme — with the added burden of coming up with something original that none of the other contributors would do.

The melancholy came at the press meet, as David Cronenberg expressed pessimism about the future of cinema-going.

“I believe the cinema is no longer the cinema. The form of the cinema is a thing of the past,” he said. His short film was about the last Jew in the world who holds a gun to his head in the last movie theater in the world.

The “Chacun” shorts features a recurring theme of empty and/or derelict movie theaters, presaging the decline of movie-watching as a collective experience in theaters.

Despite that, the over-arching theme was one of love for cinema, and the emotions it stirs.

Asked at the press confab about his personal rapport with the cinema, Atom Egoyan opined that in the not distant future huge halls and movie palaces, the few that are left will be preserved just for “the latest franchise,” a la “Spider-Man,” and certainly not for classics.

In short, few will ever have the opportunity to see something like Carl Dreyer’s “Joan of Arc” on a big screen. His short in fact is a rift on the changes technology is bringing us, showing a young person watching the Danish auteur’s classic in a theater and sending images of it over to a friend’s mobile as he watches another movie in another moviehouse.

(Timothy M. Gray contributed to this report.)

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