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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
British films vie for Cannes glory
By Darren Waters
BBC News entertainment reporter in Cannes

Ken Loach
Ken Loach is one of two British film-makers in competition
The Cannes Film Festival opens in France on Wednesday with its traditional mix of glamour, hard-nosed business, blockbuster cinema and art house gems.

Screen sirens on the beach, Hollywood's leading men on the Croisette and thousands of wannabe Martin Scorseses hawking their films across town - it can only be Cannes.

For 10 days, anyone who is anyone in the film business, as well as thousands of no-ones-quite-yet, descend on the French resort for the annual film showcase.

Blockbuster-in-waiting The Da Vinci Code opens the festival on Wednesday but after the film's stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou have departed the red carpet, the rest of the festival's visitors get down to the brass tacks of film promotion and sales.

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"Cannes is important because it is the most important film festival and most important film market at the same time," says John Woodward, the chief executive of the UK's film promotion body, the Film Council.

"For 10 days everyone involved in film production in the world is in the same place."

Charles McDonald, of PR giants McDonald and Rutter, will be in Cannes for the 21st time, helping to promote some of the biggest names in the competition, including Pedro Almodovar's Volver and Richard Kelly's Southland Tales.

"Much as I love Berlin and Venice, Cannes in the key festival because it combines a massive market as well as the festival," he says.

"Cannes maintains a balance between high-profile American films and the art house."

'Fresh talent'

The British film industry is celebrating two entrants in the official competition for the Palme d'Or and UK involvement in two other films shown in competition at Cannes.

Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley and Andrea Arnold's Red Road are both in competition for the Palme d'Or.

Andrea Arnold
Andrea Arnold is one of Britain's up-and-coming directors

"It's incredibly important that two British films are in the competition. Their appearance is symbolic of the health of a particular section of British film production," says Mr Woodward.

Neither film has blockbuster success written all over them - both are slices of social history, with Loach's film examining the struggle by workers in Ireland in the 1920s to achieve independence from Britain while Arnold, who won a short film Oscar in 2005, looks at contemporary life in Glasgow.

"Andrea Arnold is a very interesting, fresh young talent," says Mr McDonald, whose company is representing both Loach and Arnold at the festival.

"The important thing is not to get too excited about the fact there are two films in competition so that in years when we get nothing at all we don't slit our wrists," he adds.

In years past when Britain had not a single representation at Cannes the death of the British film industry was signalled.

But Mr Woodward says: "When you have two films in competition at Cannes it says something very powerful about the strength of British film-making.

"There are about 100 British movies in the market this year being bought and sold internationally.

"It's a good time to step back - especially after the hiatus over tax uncertainty - and take stock of what is a healthy picture.

"It is healthy culturally but also the number of films in the market shows a sign of confidence also."

Growing impact

The UK also has involvement in a third film in competition, Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation.

The Film Council gave script development money to the project and the US film is co-produced by BBC Films, which also made Red Road.

The Da Vinci Code opens the film festival

"This is the first time we've had two films in the main competition at Cannes and we're obviously delighted," said David M Thompson, head of BBC Films.

"This is a testament to our films' continued impact on the international stage."

With Cannes heavyweights such as Almodovar and Nanni Morretti in the running for the Palme d'Or the British talent is in great company.

Film-makers such as Richard Linklater, Richard Kelly and Sofia Coppola have also received the recognition of Cannes this year.

And with a jury which mixes art house luminaries such as Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai with US and British actors such as Samuel L Jackson and Helena Bonham Carter perhaps a new talent will receive the ultimate Palme d'Or accolade this year.


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