The true story of a murdered journalist was the high profile film in the Cannes spotlight on Monday. As expected, Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart," screening out of competition here at the Festival de Cannes, drew considerable attention for its world premiere. In a story that riveted news agencies around the world five years ago, Wall Street Journal South Asia Bureau chief Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered by al Qaeda days after his kidnapping in Karachi as he delved into research on a story relating to shoe bomber Richard Reid. Following his death, Pearl's wife Mariane recounted the story in her memoir A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl, which she hoped would introduce their son, Adam, to the father he would never meet. Brad Pitt eventually bought the rights to the book and set up the film at Paramount Vantage, tapping Michael Winterbottom to direct, with Angelina Jolie cast as the author.
"I trusted [Winterbottom] with this project," said Mariane Pearl at a press conference in Cannes Monday morning. "I knew this wasn't just about me, but that [the story] was important for Americans as well."
Jolie is already winning raves for her commanding performance as Ms. Pearl, who was five months pregnant when her husband was taken. Also a seasoned journalist, Mariane kept vigil with Asra Nomani (Archie Panjabi) at her home in Karachi, which soon became a staging area for dozens of local investigators. Despite her pregnancy and obvious personal anguish, she was hands on in the investigation and search for her husband.
"I asked [Jolie] to play the role. We met independently of my meeting with Brad [Pitt] and I felt like we had a connection," Pearl explained. "I said, 'please do it, you're the only one who could do it.'"
"I was nervous whether I could get it right, but I worked very, very hard," Jolie said during a packed press conference in Cannes' Palais des Festivals. She explained that the Pearl's support and ultimate confidence in her performance was crucial. "I spoke to her days after she saw it, and she told me it was all alright. For her to tell me it was done right, I can't tell you what that means to me."
One particularly dramatic moment during Monday's press conference came when journalist Chris Burns stood up and said he was depicted in the film. Following the murder of Daniel, Mariane did an interview giving her thoughts on her husband and to assure skeptics in Pakistan that she and her husband were not CIA spies as the kidnappers had alleged. The journalist had crossed the line of sensation during the interview asking, "have you seen the footage of your husband's death?" The same journalist stood and introduced himself and apologized to Mariane. "I forgive you," she said to light applause.
The presence of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in front of journalists for a rare public appearance together lead to some questions touching on their high-profile personal relationship. Asked how it felt to be in Cannes under the gaze of extensive media attention, Pitt said flatly, "It doesn't feel much different to be here because we usually have a camera following us [everywhere]. But we're proud to be here for this film and that is what is first and foremost...I was taken by Mariane's story since seeing it on CNN, and it was our goal to see this through." [Brian Brooks]
PAVILION PROFILE: Turkey Looks to Boost Visibility with Bigger Pavilion
This time last year Turkey was in a Pavilion space half its current size, but 2007 brought along a newfound confidence and along with that, the need for expansion. With 100 square meters, Turkey has created a "welcoming home" of sorts for their Cannes line up of filmmakers to relax, work, and network. Not only has their square footage increased, but so has their advertisement of their films. Visible on the market floor and in the trade paper Variety, Turkey has made some clear financial commitments in order to augment their exposure to the Cannes international community.
This year, Turkey's collaborative film with Germany, "The Edge of Heaven," by Fatih Akin, which is about a young man who goes on a search for his father's girlfriend's political activist daughter, is in the festival's official competition and will have its gala screening (with all the trappings accustomed to those nightly events) on Wednesday, May 23rd in the Lumiere. Another film that brought Turkey back to Cannes is the Director's Fortnight selection "Egg," by Kaplanoglu Semih. Centered on Yusuf, a poet, the man returns to his home village, which he hasn't visited for years, following the death of his mother. A young girl named Ayla, who had been living with Yusef's mother for the past five years, is waiting for him in their decrepit house. Ayla has a mission for Yusuf, he must perform a sacrificial rite and visit a Saint's tomb that his mother, Zehra, was not able to fulfill before she died.
Currently, Turkey's main interests are enhancing visibility and shopping around their seven screenings at the market, pitching ideas to other filmmakers, and searching for co-producers. The Turkish Pavilion offers a daily happy hour that goes from 6-9pm. They boast that when the rest of the International village is desolate, they are busy and alive with attendees sipping on Turkish wine and coffee. Turkey's box office is perhaps itself a mirror of this liveliness as well. In 2005, Turkish film was 40% of the country's domestic box office revenues. In 2006, the percentage had increased to 51.8% of the box office, a figure that gives the country an enviable home grown film industry in comparison to many of its neighbors. [Ashley Adams]
The latest from the 2007 Festival de Cannes is available anytime in indieWIRE's special section.