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Trump Controversies Make Waves in Cannes

At premieres, beach parties, wine-soaked dinners and business meetings, the topic du jour at this year’s Cannes Film Festival: Trump. Buyers and sellers, studios executives and stars confess they’re glued to their smartphones, waiting for email alerts and updates on the latest White House scandal.

“I’m obsessed with it,” said Stuart Ford, CEO of sales and production company IM Global. “The first thing I do in the morning is check the news. The last thing I do at night is check the news.”

Some of the films searching for distribution along the Croisette grapple directly or indirectly with Trump and the populism that fueled his rise. Buyers are circling “Promised Land,” a documentary by Eugene Jarecki that centers on a cross-country trip against the backdrop of the 2016 presidential election. Michael Moore also Skyped in for a talk with Harvey and Bob Weinstein on Friday to whet buyers appetites for “11/9,” an anti-Trump documentary.

Even films that don’t have an explicit connection to Trump allude to his stormy presidency. Focus Features chairman Peter Kujawski introduced “Pope Francis: A Man of Word,” a documentary about the Catholic leader, by saying, “At a time when our political leaders seem to be doing little actual leading, we have to look to others for guidance.” Trump was not mentioned by name, but it was clear whom he was talking about.

Todd Haynes, director of “Wonderstruck,” which premiered at the festival, said he had an “obsessive compulsion” about staying aware.

“It’s almost a weird way of relaxing,” he said. “I don’t know how that’s the case, but I just have to turn it on. I just have to know what’s happening and hear it…These are monumental times, dangerous times, that I think we’re in.”

The web has changed things for the news-obsessed, making it easier to stay connected.

“I see alerts that pop up in my phone,” said Tom Bernard, co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics. “Much better than the old days here before the internet. Then you had to wait until the Herald Tribune hit the newsstand and get the news a day late.”

There’s certainly a lot to digest. A week that started with the revelation that President Donald Trump had revealed classified information in a meeting with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office has hurtled towards its conclusion at a dizzying pace, with new bombshells hitting within hours of each other. Each day has has brought fresh fodder for the cycle — from reports that Trump tried to convince fired FBI chief James Comey to drop an investigation into ex-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s possible ties to Russia.

With a six-hour time difference between the French Riviera and Washington, D.C., the eye of the scandal, it can be hard to know what’s being missed. That’s led to frustration on the part of some news-watchers, and lots of late nights of scrawling through websites or watching CNN to try to learn the latest development.

“It is a bit unsettling to feel like I don’t know what is happening, but know that seemingly big and important things are happening,” said Mimi Steinbauer, president and CEO of Radiant Films Intl.

“I’m watching Rachel Maddow at some point before I go to bed or in the morning to get caught up,” she added.

At cocktail parties, the hot dish isn’t about what films are selling, but what’s the latest with Comey, Flynn, and the other president’s men whose names keep bubbling up. Talk of Trump and his travails has inevitably seeped into press conferences and presentations. Jake Gyllenhaal used the “Okja” premiere to declare his support for the special prosecutor. “I’m very excited about the appointment of Robert Mueller,” he told journalists at an event that is usually more about recounting on-set antics than Beltway happenings.

Some festivalgoers are taking advantage of the geographic remove to tune out the 24/7 news cycle and cable news bloviating.

“Jet lag and the time difference help us stay away, at least for a beat, from the hourly and daily updates, which we are constantly aware of at home,” said Uri Singer, president of Passage Pictures.

Most of the executives feeling the need to get their Trump news fix are Americans, bewildered or alarmed by the unorthodox president. For foreigners, Trump’s antics are familiar, reminiscent of strongmen leaders or banana republic despots.

“This is a typical politician of the contemporary world: populistic and irresponsible. But we know this kind of politician very well,” Alexander Rodnyansky, the producer of the Russian film “Loveless,” which plays in the Cannes competition.

When he meets Americans, Rodnyansky, familiar with life under Vladimir Putin, has a message.

“‘Welcome to our world,” he tells them.

Leo Barraclough and Stewart Clarke contributed to this report.

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