Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Cannes’d heat

This is the week where I whine about not being at a film festival. The Cannes Film Festival winds up its 12-day run on Sunday, and the Seattle International Film Festival kicks off with its opening night this evening and continues for an additional 24 glorious days.

I never have and probably never will have to make a choice between these two film fests. They only overlap by only a few days, so I suppose it is theoretically possible to do both without missing too many days of either—if you can cope with the jet lag. But it is a challenge that I am unlikely to take up. These two film festivals provide a very stark contrast, and if I had the opportunity to pick one of them to attend, the choice would not be particularly difficult.

The truth is, despite my occasionally stated dream to attend the Cannes Film Festival, it is not really a festival geared to film audiences. It is for people in the film industry and in the press. More than one article I have read lately about Cannes has described it as “a trade show with movie stars.” Even if I managed to get to the Côte d’Azur at the right time in May, there is no way I would actually be getting into any of the main screenings, unless I managed to wrangle some serious press accreditation, and maybe not even then unless I got a major publication to send me. (Not holding my breath.) I would mainly be restricted to hanging out as near to La Croisette as I could, trying to catch a glimpse of a passing celebrity or, more productively, attending various side events. Still the allure is there.

The Seattle film festival (like many others) is aimed squarely a film fans like, well, like me. Getting in to see any of the scores of movies screened is absolutely not a problem—unless maybe you are clueless enough to wait until the last minute to buy a single ticket to something really popular. But for the serious film fan, any one of numerous types of passes can be purchased and the film world is subsequently your oyster—as long as you manage to show up on time for the crowded events.

As I perused the list of films showing at Cannes this year, I was struck by how many of them I have already seen or could have already seen or will be able to see very soon if not immediately. Already-released films that are being shown out of competition include Dawn of the Dead, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, The Ladykillers, and Bad Santa. Films that are being released everywhere within minutes of their Cannes screenings include blockbusters like Troy and Shrek 2. And then there are the older films shown in the festival’s retrospective category, Cannes Classics, like The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Ordet, The Battle of Algiers, Bye Bye Brasil, Blow Up, The Big Red One, and several others. Of course, part of the fun of a good film festival is seeing older films for the first or second time in an appreciative setting. But we also want to see new stuff too. And the truth is that there are other festivals that can show us as much or more new stuff as Cannes can.

A definitely good reason to go to Cannes is that the weather is just so darned nice. But who cares what the weather is like if you are going to be sitting in cinemas? Well, it is nice not to get rained on while you are walking to the cinema or while you are standing in the queue to get into the cinema, but if the weather’s too nice, it just makes it harder to make yourself go indoors. No, if we want heat at a film festival, we want the searing heat of a good cause célèbre. And that is where Cannes excels. This film festival usually manages to cause some uproar that gets noticed around the world. This year, I suppose the heat is coming from Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 9/11. As a disclaimer, I should remind readers that Moore is some sort of distant almost-shirttail relative of mine. On the other hand, in the interest of being fair and balanced, I should also point out that I have a first cousin once removed by marriage who appears on Fox News sometimes as a retired military analyst.

Moore warmed up, so to speak, for Cannes by getting some great free publicity when Miramax made the red-hot-off-the-presses announcement that Disney had decided a full year ago that it was not going to distribute Moore’s film. In a sequence that could have been staged for one of Moore’s carefully choreographed documentaries, major media outlets around the world were carrying the story of Moore being “censored.” The New York Times’s movie critic A.O. Scott (or maybe just the headline writer) wittily dubbed the episode “Eisner and Me.” Of course, there is no danger that this film will not be seen, but Moore and Miramax know just as well as Mel Gibson that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Since his rant at the Oscars more than a year ago, Moore has come in for some heat from a number of other sources, and not just right-wing ones. Not only have some of his documentary techniques and resulting distortions been criticized, but the man who has made a career of embarrassing the rich, powerful and hard-to-get-an-appointment-with has himself apparently become, if not powerful, then at least rich and hard-to-get-an-appointment-with. That’s the gist anyway of an upcoming documentary by Mike Wilson, with the not-too-timid title Michael Moore Hates America, which turns Moore’s own well-known tactics against him. It’s basically a remake of Roger & Me with Moore recast in the Roger Smith role.

Moore’s new film, by the accounts I have seen anyway, doesn’t leave itself as open to the criticism of his earlier ones. Moore appears much less on camera, and the film’s myriad charges against the Bush administration (too lax before 9/11, too aggressive after 9/11, too buddy-buddy with the Saudi royal family, etc.) are more on point. I will want to see the film before passing judgment. For others, just knowing it is by Michael Moore will be enough not to see it. Others will see it and have a lot of their ideas shaken. And still others will see it and be grateful that it saves them the bother of thinking for themselves. Hopefully, they will all at least see it before criticizing it or, for that matter, praising it.

Love Moore or hate him, it’s not a bad thing for a filmmaker to shake things up once in a while and spur a discussion. As warm and pleasant as Cannes is, it can always do with a little Moore heat.

* * *

I will write something about Tony Randall next week.

-S.L., 20 May 2004

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