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Australia took centre stage at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, reports Andrew L. Urban, but the posters and prices have come down along the Boulevard de la Croisette, and the films begin to test their commercial prowess. (But Fest organisers need to lift their game in some departments, Andrew adds.)

Opening the Festival, Moulin Rouge divided the critics and made Fox nervous about its commercial prospects, on the eve of its world-wide roll out, starting this week in Australia. Funny and inventive, high on energy and contemporary songs, the film takes the screen musical to its ultimate conclusion: fantasy. It was the most glamorously positioned film at the festival, and generated the most words and pictures, thanks to Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, not to mention Baz Luhrmann himself.

Elsewhere in the festival, David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Best Director [shared]) cornered the market on thriller-gone-quirky, and Nanni Moretti delivered a great and sad film (La stanza del figlio, Palme d’Or). In the former, it is Australian actress Naomi Watts who is attracting attention, just as Miranda Otto is getting plaudits for her excellent support role in Michele Gondry’s comedy, Human Nature, co-starring with Tim Robbins and Patricia Arquette. (To release in Australia soon.) Of these three films, only the latter has a chance at mainstream success, although Lynch fans will soak up his growing inscrutability.

"ravishing and powerful"

Antipodean success also touched New Zealand, whose Christine Jeffs made her feature debut with Rain, in Directors’ Fortnight, hailed as “the next Jane Campion” and “a major discovery”. It was also a major sales item, with Fireworks paying big bucks for US rights. A coming of age story of a 13 year old girl, the film is ravishing and powerful, but probably only for an arthouse audience.

In the middle of the festival, Miramax announced it had purchased rights for the US, UK and some of Europe for Phil Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence, an adventure drama about three Aboriginal girls who are ‘stolen’ but escape. It was shot last year in South Australia but is not yet finished. IT isn’t at Cannes, of course, but the festival is a good place to make a splashy news announcement.

"an eclectic mass of pedestrians"

It is also a good place to crawl the Croisette as the sun sets, mingling with an eclectic mass of pedestrians ranging from the tuxedo-wielding competition film guests to the downtrodden backpackers rubbing shoulders with film fevered attendees. Only those on company accounts or the well heeled manage to enjoy the luxurious Carlton Terrace overlooking (snobbishly) the Croisette and the Mediterranean just across it. Here, a gin and tonic costs 90 francs; that’s about $26 Australian. I phoned a company executive friend of mine to bail me out.

In the film market, Australia’s The Bank, by Robert Connolly and starring David Wenham and Anthony LaPaglia, did good business, as did Cubbyhouse, the demonic possession thriller starring Joshua Leonard (Blair Witch) and Belinda McClory (Redball).

"the most stylish and best fun"

As well as films to see, there are events to attend; like seminars and official functions. The parties are sought after as usual, and one of this year’s most private (in terms of numbers) was at the Australian Film Commission penthouse, where Jimmy Barnes joined Ian Moss on acoustic guitar for a handful of songs. Jimmy was in town to promote an upcoming Australian gangster / black comedy called Foolproof, by Tim Boyle, which is to launch his acting career, a la John Bon Jovi. They did a great gig.

In the party league, the opening night Moulin Rouge party was the most stylish and best fun. A special marquee was built on the docks of the old port, in which - true to Luhrmann style - no detail was overlooked. Private booths were reserved for Baz and his cast, next to Rupert Murdoch and another for Lachlan. Fire-eaters, jugglers and champagne alternated with a backyard barbecue where a sausage sizzle signalled the film’s nationality.

"a major hit"

The teaser event of the festival was a 25 minute clip from The Lord of the Rings, presented by director Peter Jackson, who attended a press conference along with many of the stars, such as Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee and others. (Cate Blanchett was unable to come.)

The footage is impressive and suggests a major hit in progress. It has been a huge undertaking, and Miranda Otto (who also worked on the film) described Jackson as “the strongest man I’ve ever worked with,” capable of maintaining focus and retaining his cool under intense pressure: the world’s largest single movie production, at a staggering cost of US$270 million. It will be released as three movies, starting December 2001.

And as the posters come down, so do the prices. Until next year.


They do some things very well, the French, but organising and handling large numbers of festival patrons is not one of them. A Festival that attracts over 3,500 media alone, and claims to be the most important film event in the world, simply can’t manage the queues that are a sadly necessary part of the event.

Every day, there are ugly scenes as media queues are gnarled by lack of information and non-existent queue management. Even Festival events are a disaster: films screening in Un Certain Regard, for example, are as popular as the Competition films, and the queues are always a source of tension, frustration and time-wasting. It need not be so. It should not be so. The Festival is worth some US$400 million to Cannes.

There is a distinct lack of expertise in the area of crowd management, made the worse by a natural arrogance that seems to be fed down from the top to the foot-soldiers who guard the entrances and doors, that leaves a nasty taste. The Festival organisation ends up looking stupid and uncaring, which infects the media and the patrons caught in it with a sense of disrespect.

The Festival has always shrugged its collective shoulder at this complaint, which feeds that disrespect - and it’s just not good enough. The Festival management should either get expert advice from outside or send someone to Disneyland, where crowd management has been refined to an art form.

Published May 24, 2001

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Lord of the Rings

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor - Moulin Rouge

The Bank


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