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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 19:12 GMT 20:12 UK
Does Cannes still matter?
Björk and Lars von Trier
Björk and Lars von Trier won at Cannes in 2000
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By Helen Bushby
BBC News Online Entertainment staff
Cannes film festival is one of the film industry's most hyped and glamorous events of the year.

Thousands of movie-makers flock to the French Riviera, from big names like Martin Scorcese and David Lynch down to struggling directors and producers desperate to clinch a deal.

But much of what goes on is unseen by the public - entrance is strictly regulated by the organisers and is available only to those from the film world.

Ken Loach
Ken Loach: One of the three established British film-makers selected
So how important is the festival - is it more than just a string of photocalls topped off with the competition winners?

Patrick Frater, international editor at Screen International, defended "the world's leading film festival" to the hilt.

"Cannes achieves an awful lot, but you don't necessarily spot the results straight away," he told BBC News Online.

"It has a very long track record of discovering and showcasing film talent."

As for all the attention it attracts, he said it was arguably the "biggest media event of the year in most years - apart from when there's a World Cup".

The international press flock to Cannes
This could be partly because anything goes - the showier the better.

Mr Frater noted that Cannes is "driven by excess and circus for two weeks", and a common sight is people flinging their clothes off for the cameras.

"They think it catches the photographer's eye - and it usually does," he added.

But Mr Frater did concede that the nitty gritty of the festival - the deals, the market, the screenings - is of far more interest to the film world than your average multiplex audience.

"It's not for the public - it's filtered by the press for the public."

The Film Council's Ian Thomson was equally effusive about the festival's merits.

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor
Kidman and McGregor's Moulin Rouge opened 2001's festival
He praised its glitzy reputation, saying it helped raise the film industry's profile internationally.

"For the cinema-going public, they like to see the glamorous side of it - they like to see Hugh Grant on the beach with his shoes off."

He added that a big plus point was the sunshine, saying "it's a good marketing ploy to have good weather - I think that's what makes Cannes so unique".

But although Cannes is undeniably glamorous, it is also a "world-class showcase for art-house films", according to Screen's Patrick Frater.

"That's why it's becoming less and less useful for studio films - there are none in competition this year," he said, adding that Shrek and LA Confidential had been part of the festival in recent years.

Sean Penn
Sean Penn's film The Pledge was a hit with critics in 2001
The festival "is not about commercial films - it's about quality, auterism, and so on," he said, adding that as many studios bring out summer blockbusters, it was the wrong time of year for them.

"They won't want their films held up to critical ridicule or scrutiny too much," he added.

There is still a big US presence at Cannes, however, although according to Mr Thomson it does not swamp the competition.

"The festival does world cinema a lot of favours by putting these tiny films next to big Hollywood features and directly comparing them for their creative elements," he said.

"It's all about whether the film's good or not."

The commercial side of Cannes is also vital to the festival's success and as the biggest market at the biggest festival of the year, it does big business.

Cannes film markets
7,000 participants from 70 countries
2,000 buyers
1,400 screenings
700 films (of which 50% are international premières)
35 screens

But despite all the hype, Mr Frater said Cannes did not create as many waves in the UK as it did around the rest of the world.

"There is less interest in all this in the UK - it's a culture thing," he said. "Britain doesn't have strong cinema culture - we think of going to the cinema to seen an American film."

This view has not deterred the UK filmmakers keen to tout their wares in Cannes.

A large group of them attended the Cannes Survival Guide, organised by Raindance Film Festival in London during the week before the festival.

Steve Coogan
Steve Coogan is in 24 Hour Party People in 2002's festival
Directors, producers and actors were dying to hear as many pearls as wisdom as they could.

Despite being told it was a "brutal business" how tough it would be to get noticed, they were not deterred.

"Producers are like second-hand car dealers," they were told. "They're everywhere and will tell you what you want to hear."

But, of course, as Mr Thomson noted, the festival "puts unknown film directors and talent into the international spotlight".

This is why Cannes matters to all members of the industry, from the top to the bottom - it gives everyone a chance to get noticed.

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See also:

27 Mar 02 | Film
Coogan's Manchester party time
18 Apr 02 | Film
Yeoh added to Cannes jury
11 Jan 02 | Film
Lynch heads Cannes judges
21 May 00 | Entertainment
Dancer's surprise win at Cannes
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