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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 May, 2005, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Shock invite for Nightmares director
By Caroline Briggs
BBC News entertainment reporter in Cannes

The Power of Nightmares
The Power of Nightmares began as a three-part documentary
Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 thrust documentary film into the spotlight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004 when it won the Palme d'Or for best film.

This year, the Bafta aard-winning The Power Of Nightmares, by British documentary-maker Adam Curtis, is one of the political heavyweights in the Official Selection.

The powerful film looking at how fears over an organised Al-Qaeda terror network have come to dominate US and UK politics was shown on the BBC last year.

But organisers approached Curtis and asked him to make the three-part documentary into a single film to be shown Out of Competition at the festival.

Curtis is on the Riviera to watch the film premiere under the glare of the world's media at the Palais on Saturday night.

Editing challenge

He told the BBC News website he was surprised to be asked by the festival selectors to take part, as he considers himself to be a journalist and not a film-maker.

"If you were rung up out of the blue by the guy who runs the Cannes Film Festival and he asks 'can you turn it into a film, we want to show it in the Official Selection', you say 'yes' - then you ask questions."

People like me are interesting because we are describing the world in a new sort of way such a way
Adam Curtis
Curtis admits that condensing the three one-hour episodes into one movie was a challenge.

And he said he found the idea of including a documentary such as his in the festival an interesting one.

"I'm really interested in why this lot - the cineastes and arty lot - are interested in politics and factual stuff, and I think it is because they have run out of ideas for fiction.

"People like me are interesting because we are describing the world in a new sort of way."

Curtis used Gus Van Sant's Last Days - which is in competition for the Palme d'Or - as an example of what he believes is lacking in current films.

The film is loosely based on the final days of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide in 1994.

Beautiful evocation

"I thought it was a good film, but I thought it is typical of a lot of films of our time - they don't really know what to say about the world," Curtis explained.

"They can describe it beautifully, and Last Days was exactly that. It was a beautiful, beautiful evocation of the horror of an event, but it didn't explain it to you, and it almost didn't explain to you deliberately.

"It was sort of like, 'I'm going to just show what it was like to be there', and that is what Last Days was like."

Curtis said Van Sant's direction was typical of the current emotional climate about the importance of the individual running through the veins of society.

"Film-makers have other responses to the world other than their own emotions. We are living in a time when emotions rule everything.

"In a sense Mr Van Sant is being completely honest and true, which is probably what a good artist does, but actually the only way you can be true at the moment in terms of being an individual is to say 'well I feel this', and that is his feeling about Columbine or about Kurt Cobain.

"I think the really difficult thing to do in our time is analyse why people like Mr Van Sant only have that response."

Gus Van Sant
Curtis believes Gus Van Sant relies on personal emotions for his movies
Curtis said The Power of Nightmares attempted to explain the modern world and put it in context with the individual.

He said: "I think the cineastes and film-makers are getting quite interested [in The Power of Nightmares] because a lot of their fiction has run into a dead end.

"The film I have just made is about the relationship between individuals and society.

"Film doesn't seem to want to 'do society' any longer, its sort of given up on this, it is just about 'I feel this', which seems to be a condition of our time.

"I haven't seen a movie that deals with society for 20 years."

Fanatical individuals

The Power of Nightmares explains how Curtis believes the vision of an Islamic terror network has been distorted by politicians intent on creating a climate of fear.

I will have to make it absolutely clear that I am not saying there is no terrorist threat, but it isn't as simple as you are being told
Adam Curtis
The film makes it clear there are fanatical individuals willing to conduct acts of terror, but shows there is no formal terrorist Al-Qaeda organisation.

Talks are underway at Cannes with distributors who are keen to show the film in the US. Curtis said he hoped any screening of the film would open up a "critical debate" in the US about the existence of Al-Qaeda and the wider terrorist threat touted by politicians.

"I will be questioned a lot, but maybe this is rather optimistic, I think there is a sense in the backs of people's minds that things don't quite add up.

"I will have to make it absolutely clear that I am not saying there is no terrorist threat, but it isn't as simple as you are being told. The threat has been over-simplified in the wake of September 11.

"I hope that would receive a decent critical response, rather than an emotional response."


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