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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Allen defies Cannes boycott call
Tiffani Thiessen, Woody Allen and Debra Messing
Woody Allen's co-stars have joined him in Cannes
Woody Allen has defied a call for all Jews to boycott the Cannes Film Festival, saying he does not believe the French are anti-Semitic.

The actor and film director was speaking at a press conference to introduce his new film, Hollywood Ending, which will officially open the 55th festival on Wednesday night.

The American Jewish Congress had led calls for all Jews to stay away from the event, claiming anti-Semitism is as bad now as in World War II.

Cannes jury member Sharon Stone, whose husband is Jewish, also questioned the point of the boycott.

Making each film is very difficult

Woody Allen
Allen said he did not support the boycott and that the recent election defeat of the extreme right in France had proved its people were not racist.

"The French people should be proud of how they responded in the last election against the right wing," he said.

Stone also said she believed the election result showed France was kicking back against racism.

Michelle Yeoh and Sharon Stone
Michelle Yeoh and Sharon Stone are sitting on the Cannes jury
"I think the anti-Semitism causing the row was due to France's recent election," she said. "The fellow who won did so by an overwhelming percentage of votes.

"In our country, we call that a landslide.

"France is a place I want to be, not a place I want to boycott," she added.

Debut appearance

Film stars, directors and media are gathering in the south of France for the start of the Cannes Film Festival, the movie world's most glamorous annual outing.

Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Zeta Jones, Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio are among the big names expected to make the trip to the French Riviera town.

This year marks Allen's first appearance at the festival in the south of France.

He said that after 25 years of his films showing at Cannes it was about time he attended.

David Lynch with his wife, Mary
David Lynch has arrived to judge films in the competition
"The French have been so supportive of my films for so many years," he said.

"I felt I wanted to give some gratitude back."

Allen has directed more than 35 films in a career spanning five decades.

"Making each film is very difficult. The fact you have made so many doesn't make it any harder or easier although it gets easier as technology improves," he told BBC News Online.

Controversy expected

The screening of Hollywood Ending will be followed by Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones at just after midnight local time, in line with the long-awaited film's global release.

Another highlight will be a 20-minute preview of Martin Scorsese's delayed Gangs of New York.

A documentary by satirist Michael Moore about the Columbine school massacre in the US is expected to stir controversy.

Cameron Diaz is expected at the festival
Cameron Diaz is expected at the festival
UK and North American films dominate the competition for this year's prestigious Palme d'Or prize.

Twenty-two feature films have been selected for the competition, including UK director's Mike Leigh's All or Nothing, Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People and Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen.

Acclaimed US director David Lynch will head the panel of nine judges.

The jury features five other directors, plus Stone and Michelle Yeoh.

Cannes will also see 10 film-makers competing for a $1m feature film production deal at the annual Chrysler Million Dollar film festival.

They must cast, shoot, edit and premiere a five-minute short film, having selected their cast from a pool of local actors in Cannes who were pre-screened by a casting agent.

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See also:

15 May 02 | Film
Cannes' first day: In pictures
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