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Stage set for Cannes from July 6. Spike Lee, Cannes Jury Head

admin   March 18, 2021

The Festival de Cannes will be held this year from July 6 to 17 and the organizers have confirmed that Spike Lee will be the President of the Jury of the 74th edition. Prevented last year due to the Covid crisis, the Festival de Cannes opens this new decade with Spike Lee as President of the Jury.

One of the greatest directors of his generation, Lee is also a screenwriter, actor, editor and producer. For 30 years, the tireless Lee has been an astute chronicler of the questionings of his time, with a resolutely contemporary approach that’s never without a dash of levity and entertainment.

Says Lee, “I am very humble in accepting the offer to be the President of the Jury. I have a special place in my for Paris, for France and the Cannes.”

He also fondly recalls that way back in 1986, his very first film ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ was played at Cannes and it was his first introduction to the world of cinema.

According to Pierre Lescure, President of the Festival, “Throughout the months of uncertainty we’ve just been through, Spike Lee has never stopped encouraging us. This support is finally coming to fruition and we could not have hoped for a more powerful personality to chart our troubled times.”

Says Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate, “His enthusiasm and passion for cinema has given us a huge boost of energy to prepare the great Festival that everybody has been awaiting for. The party will be great, we simply can’t wait!”

From July 6 to 17, 2021 on the Croisette, these 12 days will be a celebration of art and creativity, and full of long-awaited reunions. Preparations are in full swing with a large number of films being viewed by the selection committee.

The Official Selection and the composition of the Jury will be unveiled in early June. Surrounded by the members of his Jury, Spike Lee will award the Palme d’Or at the closing ceremony on Saturday, July 17.


American Utopia to Open TIFF 2020

admin   July 28, 2020

American filmmaker Spike Lee masterfully directs a transformative experience, as the show raises political injustice, revealing how audiences can come together during challenging times through the power of entertainment

The HBO, Spike Lee-directed filmed version of David Byrne’s Broadway theatrical concert “American Utopia” will be the opening night presentation of the 45th Toronto International Film Festival on September 10.

The film documents musical innovator and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s powerful Broadway show, where he performs songs on stage and shares the spotlight with 11 musicians from around the world, including Toronto’s own Jacquelene Acevedo. Lee masterfully directs a transformative experience, as the show raises social and political issues, revealing how audiences can come together during challenging times through the power of entertainment.

TIFF continues to work closely with the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, and public health officials on the safe execution of the Festival, with its number-one priority being the health and well-being of both Festival filmgoers and the residents of the entire community. The presentation of TIFF’s traditional in-person film festival will be contingent on the Province’s reopening framework to ensure that Festival venues and workplace practices meet and exceed public health guidelines.

“Spike Lee has somehow always been exactly of his moment and ahead of his time,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director and Co-Head, TIFF. “With David Byrne’s American Utopia, he brings Byrne’s classic songs and joyous stagecraft to the screen just when we need it. Spike’s latest joint is a call to connect with one another, to protest injustice, and, above all, to celebrate life.”

“This joyful film takes audiences on a musical journey about openness, optimism, and faith in humanity,” said Joana Vicente, Executive Director and Co-Head, TIFF. “This is especially poignant at a time of great uncertainty around the world. We’re eager to share the excitement of Opening Night with audiences.”

“HBO is enormously fortunate to be able to bring David Byrne’s American Utopia to the Toronto International Film Festival,” said Nina Rosenstein, Executive Vice President, HBO Programming. “David’s poignant vision paired with Spike’s impeccable direction is a visual journey. TIFF Festival attendees are certain to be captivated by this unique viewing experience during these demanding times.”

David Byrne’s American Utopia played at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre in New York City with plenty of fanfare from October 2019 to February 2020. The concert consisted of performances of songs from Byrne’s 2018 solo album of the same name, including popular Talking Heads favourites such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “Burning Down the House.” Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout” is also featured in the set list and contributes to tackling the impactful subjects surrounding Black Americans who have been killed at the hands of law enforcement. The 11-person troupe performs choreography by Annie-B Parson and dances with their instruments throughout the stage, creating a high-energy performance. In Canada, David Byrne’s American Utopia will premiere on Bell Media’s Crave day-and-date with the US broadcast on HBO this fall.

Spike Lee makes short films, ads, documentaries and feature films. He is also a teacher. Mr. Lee is a tenured film professor at New York University Graduate Film School and artistic director too. David Byrne is a Scottish-born, American-raised songwriter and singer. He’s best known as the frontman of Talking Heads, who were active between 1975 and 1991 and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Byrne won an Oscar and a Grammy Award along with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Cong Su for their original score for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987).

Participant, River Road Entertainment and Warner Music Entertainment are executive producing and financing the project, with Participant as lead. The film is produced by David Byrne’s Todomundo and Lee’s Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks production companies and executive produced by RadicalMedia. Byrne and Lee serve as producers. Participant’s Jeff Skoll, David Linde, and Diane Weyermann executive produce; along with Warner Music Group’s Len Blavatnik, David Bither, Charlie Cohen, and Kurt Deutsch; Bill Pohlad and Christa Zofcin Workman of River Road; and RadicalMedia’s Jon Kamen, Dave Sirulnick and Meredith Bennett. Kristin Caskey, Mike Isaacson and Patrick Catullo, who lead-produced the Broadway production, also serve as executive producers.

The 45th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 10–19, 2020.


A Good Show on the Anvil

admin   May 6, 2018

The Main Competition of the 71st Cannes Film Festival holds tremendous promise. Expect a wide spectrum of cinematic riches

By Saibal Chatterjee

Jean-Luc Godard’s latest film, Le livre d’image (The Image of Book), is his eighth entry in the Cannes Film Festival’s main competition. The 87-year-old French director who began making films when many of the 20 other filmmakers in contention this year were not even born.

The Image Book: Jean-Luc Godard

Godard hasn’t ever won the Palme d’Or. He made his first film in 1960, broke into the festival only in 1980 with Every Man for Himself and had to wait until 2013 to bag a Cannes award – the Jury Prize for Goodbye to Language, which he shared with Xavier Dolan’s Mommy. Will the tide turn this year? Not much is known about The Image Book, so any guesswork would be completely misplaced.

Not only is the maverick French New Wave pioneer in the Competition, a strikingly vivid image from a film that he made 53 years ago (Pierrot Le Fou, 1965) – it shows Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina in a passionate and playful kiss – is at the heart of the festival’s official poster. A rare occurrence indeed! It is an acknowledgement of Godard’s importance in the history of world cinema.

Cannes Classics
The Cannes Classics 2018 to screen heritage films in restored 2k and 4k versions. It explores the history of cinema with documentaries produced in 2018.

The main competition of the 71st Cannes Film Festival has several other rarities, not the least of which is the fact that two of the contending filmmakers – Iran’s Jafar Panahi (Three Faces) and Russia’s Kirill Serebrennikov (Leto) – may not be at hand to present their entries. Politics would be the culprit.

3 Faces: Jafar Panahi

Panahi has been under house arrest in Tehran and barred from filmmaking since 2010 but he has kept going. Serebrennikov, director of the Gogol Centre in Moscow and a bitter critic of Vladimir Putin, has been charged by the Russian authorities with embezzlement of government funds. Both men might be prevented from making the trip to the Croisette.

Serebrennikov, who is also a celebrated theatre director and producer, made his Cannes bow in 2016 with the Un certain regard title The Student. His new film is about the life of Soviet rock star Viktor Tsoi and the Leningrad rock underground of the 1980s.

Panahi, on his part, has seen steady action in Cannes – as well as in the world’s other major festivals – since winning the Camera d’Or in 1995 for his debut film White Balloon. If the Iranian wins the Palme d’Or, he would be completing a rare “Grand Slam”. He already has Berlin’s Golden Bear (for Taxi, 2015) and the Venice Golden Lion (for The Circle, 2000) under his belt. Will the jury headed by Australian actress Cate Blanchett give Panahi the one prize that is missing from his mantelpiece?

Panahi’s Three Faces is about three Iranian actresses of different vintage. It would be tempting to think that a panel of nine jurors that includes five women, three of them actresses (besides Blanchett, Lea Seydoux and Kristen Stewart), would take more than keen interest in the latest film of Iran’s most awarded director, who, surprisingly, is in the festival’s Main Competition for the first time ever.

Among the other contenders is only one Palme d’Or winner – Nuri Bilge Ceylan whose Winter Sleep fetched him the festival’s top prize in 2014. He is competing this year with The Wild Pear Tree, which sees the director return to his pet themes via the story of an aspiring writer who returns to his native village to realise his ambition only to find his father’s mounting debts becoming an obstacle.

Ayka: Sergey Dvortsevoy

That certainly does not mean that the contest will be any less stiff. As many as eight other directors in the lineup, half of them from Asia, have been closing night honorees in past editions. It will take some doing for any of the world cinema leading lights in Competition this year to surge ahead of the others when the jury sits down for its final deliberations.

An interesting duo in the Competition is made up of Polish-British filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War) and Kazakh director Sergey Dvortsevoy (Ayka). The former, who has been making films for three decades, taught in the mid-1990s at the film school in Moscow where Dvortsevoy, a remarkable documentary filmmaker who won the Prix Un Certain Regard in 2008 for his first fiction feature Tulpan, was a student.

Coldwar: Pawel Pawlikowski

It is, of course, not known if a teacher and his pupil have ever competed against each other in Cannes. This is Pawlikowski’s first trip to Cannes, while Ayka marks Dvortsevoy’s maiden Competition appearance.
Also noteworthy is the presence of a pair of Arab directors in the Main Competition, the first such instance in recent memory. One of the two, Egyptian Abu Bakr Shawky (Yomeddine), is also the only debutant among the 21 filmmakers in the section. He has never been to Cannes before.

Yomeddine: A.B Shawky

Yomeddine is about a man raised in a leper colony who sets out with an orphan boy and a donkey to look for the family that abandoned him as a child. The plot stems from The Colony, a short film Shawky made chronicling tales of residents of the Abu Zaabal leper colony in Egypt.
No first-time filmmaker has won the Palme d’Or since 1989, when Steven Soderbergh bagged the award for sex, lies and videotape. That apart, no Egyptian director has ever won the top prize here although the nation has been represented in the Cannes Competition as many as 14 times. So, Shawky has history against him.

Girls Of The Sun: Eva Husson

Lebanese actress-turned-director Nadine Labaki (Capernaum), on the other hand, has deep, long links with the festival. Her first film, Caramel (2007), emerged from a screenplay that she developed during a Cannes Film Festival Residence programme in 2005. The film premiered in Directors’ Fortnight. In 2011, Labaki was back on the Croisette with Where Do We Go Now?, which played in Un certain regard. Capernaum, her third directorial venture, has catapulted her to the Main Competition.

The 71st edition of Cannes kicks off with Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi’s Spanish-language Competition entry Everybody Knows, starring Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin. Three other key figures in Asian cinema – Jia Zhangke (Ash is Purest White), Lee Chang-Dong (Burning, an adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story), Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) – will lead the charge, with Competition first-timer Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Asaki I & II) completing a strong quartet.

Besides Godard, France is represented in the Main Competition by Stephane Brize (At War), Christophe Honore (Sorry Angel), Yann Gonzalez (Knife + Heart) and Eva Husson (Girls of the Sun), starring Emmanuelle Bercot and GolshiftehFarahani.

Sorry Angel : Christophe Honore

Italy has two films in the running – Matteo Garrone’s Dogman and Alice Rohrwacher’sLazzaro Felice. The notable European countries missing from the Competition action this year are Germany and Spain.

The two Americans in the Competition are Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), who is competing in Cannes for the third time, and David Robert Mitchell (Under the Silver Lake), who is visiting the Croisette for the third time but is vying for the Palme d’Or for the first time.

Saibal Chatterjee is an independent New Delhi-based film critic and writer who has worked on the staff of several leading publications, served on the editorial board of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s volume on Hindi cinema and authored a biography of poet-filmmaker Gulzar.