Cannes 2003 Diary Day 2: A Harmonious Jury (at Least Before Opening Night) and The Start of Acquisition Deals
by Stephen Garrett
The Croisette is getting thick with tourists and stargazers as Cannes once again roars to life. Even as press and industry alike continue to file into town (some more slowly than expected, thanks to the transit strike in France), the festival has commenced press screenings and the market is unspooling its gamut of highbrow offerings and genre-gobbling schlock.
And companies are wasting no time in using Cannes as a launching pad for business deals. Among the first out of the gate is Wellspring, which announced the acquisition of hip-hop mogul Damon Dash's directing debut "Death of a Dynasty" for all international territories (excluding North America). Although the fact that the culturally elite distributor (better known for cinematically adventurous fare such as "Pola X" and "Russian Ark") is taking on a hip-hop comedy may seem like an odd pairing, Wellspring CEO Al Cattabiani begs to differ. "Our library is filled with culturally significant films that capture the spirit of their times," he said in a prepared statement. "Hip-hop is the most vibrant, creative culture in the world right now, so it's entirely appropriate -- and exciting -- for us to handle this film."
The film -- which had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last week to mixed reviews -- boasts such seminal rap artists as Jay-Z, Flavor Flav, Jam Master Jay, and Dr. Dre. Head of Acquisitions Marie-Therese Guirgis, who is repping Wellspring in Cannes and who helped negotiate the deal, said that the company will be doing a lot of street marketing during the festival as well as throwing a party. "Because of the film's built-in marketability, it's perfect for a place like this," she explained.
First Look Media also announced two deals. The company acquired worldwide rights excluding Japan and Thailand to Oxide Pang's "The Tesseract." The film, adapted from the book by frequent Danny Boyle collaborator Alex Garland, stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Saskia Reeves. First Look previously released Pang's "Bangkok Dangerous" (made with his brother Danny) in 2001, and Palm Pictures is set to release the Pangs' "The Eye" in June. First Look also acquired rights to Simon De Selva's "Lethal Dose (LD50)," starring Katharine Towne (daughter of famed screenwriter Robert) and Melanie Brown (formerly known as Scary Spice.)
Back in the Palais du Festival, the official competition jury -- headed by Patrice Chereau and also including Steven Soderbergh, Meg Ryan, Denis Tanovic, and Jean Rochefort -- held its traditional press conference and talked briefly about expectations for this year's selections. "We have met, we have drawn up our battle plans, and we are ready to see movies," said Chereau with a sly smile. Those in the group were very respectful and polite with each other, despite the urging of the press to show the beginnings of inner tensions. "It has been harmonious," said Chereau. "But don't worry -- it's just the first day." The contentious and darkly funny Tanovic couldn't help but add, "It is the first day, but I know I don't agree with Patrice."
Ryan revealed that, although never having had a film in the festival, she had been to Cannes two or three times before. "I first came here when I was 17 -- with friends, a backpack, and a Eurail pass," she said. Ryan's latest film, Jane Campion's erotic thriller "In the Cut" wasn't ready in time to play the festival, so she was doubly excited that her jury duty had brought her here regardless. "I'm here mostly as a student," she added. "I'm here to learn from this distinguished group, and I'm very honored to be here."
Soderbergh explained that, soon after his film "sex, lies and videotape" won the Palme d'Or in 1989, festival head Gilles Jacob had asked if he was interested in being on the jury. "I've wanted to do it for some time, and it's taken me over 10 years because I'm always busy," he said. "For me, it's a fantasy because I can see the festival from behind the curtain."
A British journalist asked the jury if there were any U.S.-France tensions as a result of negative sentiment following the Iraq War, but Chereau gracefully denied it. "There are three people from France and two from the U.S. on the jury, and that proves that we can still talk to each other," he said. "In our profession, we can still discuss our problems."
The best comment about being a judge, though, came from Chinese actor-director Jiang Wen, last in Cannes with his 2000 competition entry "Devils on the Doorstep." "My first time here, I was stressed out by the jury," he said. "Now, I can't wait to give that stress to someone else."