Saturday, May 19, 2007

Samir Farid is the Arab think-tank of cinema

Samir Farid from the world cinema summit

Yesterday saw the opening of the Cannes Film Festival, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, the event hosts the greatest number of the most high-profile figures in its history.

The date has personal significance, too. It's been exactly 40 years since I first came to Cannes, in 1967; since 1971, indeed, I haven't missed a single session; and, especially prior to satellite television and DVD, the festival was the main source of my knowledge of cinema. In this and other ways it's been an integral part of my life. It is true that the festival doesn't makes as many films available from Asia, Africa and Latin America as it does films from North America, Europe and Australia. In 1967, however, nothing at all was available in Egypt. In fact by the time I got there on 20 May, a decree had been issued banning all American movies in preparation for the June war. And much as the festival owes me for its fame in the Arab world -- I was the first Arab to write a daily report from there -- I owe the festival so much of my knowledge of world cinema.

The date also marks festival president Gilles Jacob's 30th year in Cannes; he started as secretary general in 1977, following a job as the film critic of L'Express. Worth mentioning, too, is the late founder, Robert Favre le Bret, whose efforts helped sustain the status of the event; Jacob became president in 2002, while critic-scholar Thierry Frémaux took over his former position as artistic director, thereby, perhaps, completing the golden triangle. This year, together with other administrative personages, they watched 5,583 films (1,600 features and 3,983 shorts) from 95 countries, selecting 91 (64 and 27, respectively) from 31. Besides this, 20 old films will be screened following the restoration of their negatives, and they have been spread over six programmes.

The first is named simply "Ten Selected Films", the second honours Lawrence Olivier (1907- 1989) on the occasion of his 100th anniversary -- it includes three Shakespeare adaptations in which he starred: Hamlet, Henry V and Richard III -- and the third honours John Wayne (1907- 1979), also for his 100th birthday. The fourth programme celebrates the 50th anniversary of Andreij Vajda's Kanal, which received Cannes's Special Jury Prize in 1957, in the presence of the Polish director, while the fifth is a late commemoration of the 100th birth anniversary of Henry Fonda (1905-1982), in which Sidney Lumet's Twelve Angry Men will be screened in the presence of his daughter Jane Fonda as well as Lumet. The sixth programme features the launch of the World Film Foundation, another Martin Scorsese initiative to be presented by the director himself. Scorsese will also give the director's lecture-- by now an established event --on directing, to be followed by Sergio Castellitto and Howard Shore speaking on acting and music, respectively; Shore will be joined by Canadian director David Cronenberg.

On the fifth Europe Day (26 May), European culture ministers will attend meetings, some of which will be open to the public, while in preparation for the closing, a series of events will take place: on the night of 20 May, for example, a music concert will be held, together with the screening of the film Chacun son cinema or To Each His Cinema simultaneously in the festival and on television. In this film 35 directors -- only one, Jane Campion, is a woman -- each tell a three- minute story. They include the Palestinian Elia Suleiman, the Egyptian Youssef Chahine, the Chinese Zhang Yimou and the Danish Lars Von Trier -- none of whom will be able to attend. Present, on the other hand, will be the Brazilian Walter Salles, the Mexican Alejandro Gonzàlez Iñàrritu, the Canadians David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan, the Americans Michael Cimino, Joel and Ethan Coen and Gus Van Sant, the Israeli Amos Gitai, the Iranian Abbas Kiarostami, the Italian Nanni Moretti, the Japanese Takeshi Kitano, the Taiwanese Hou Hsiao-Hsien, the Chinese Chen Kaige, Wong Kar-Wai and Ming- Liang Tsai, the French Claude Lelouch, Raymond Depardon, Olivier Assayas and Raoul Ruiz, the Greek Theodoros Angelopoulos, the Danish Bille August, the Belgian Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the Irish Ken Loach, the Polish Roman Polanski, the German Wim Wenders, the Finish Aki Kaurismöki, the Portugese Manoel De Oliveira and the Russian Andrei Konchalovsky.

Several of these are Palme D'Or winners: Kaige, Wenders, Anglopolous, Lelouch, August (twice), Kiarostami, the Dardenne brothers (twice), Campion, the Coen brothers and Van Sant. They form what can be called the golden directors' club, in which Scorsese is also a member. Four other feature films -- by the Italian Ermanno Olmi, the German Volker Schlöndorff and the French Claude Lelouch, all of whom have won the Palme D'Or -- pay tribute to Cannes on its 60th birthday. Participating in the competition this year are Coen and Van Sant as well as the other Palm D'Orians like Quentin Tarantino and Emir Kusturica. On the fringe are films by still other Palm D'Orians -- Steven Soderberg and Michael Moore -- as well as the the British Michael Winterbottom, winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin festival. There are also new films by the Russian Aleksandr Sokurov, the Hungarian Béla Tarr (both in competiton), the Canadian Denys Arcand, and Un Certain Regard participants: the Taiwanese Hsien, the Italian Daniele Luchetti, the Swedish Roy Andersson, the French Barbet Schroeder. For the first time this year, the Cannes festival is organising an open conference titled "Cinema and Tomorrow's Audience" starting on 16 May, and launching a new website: besides its orginal one:

If this is not the summit of world cinema, what is?