Cannes Dons 3D Specs as Festival Opens

CANNES, France ~ Celebrities donned tuxedos, fancy dresses and 3D spectacles as the Cannes film festival lifted off this week with the world premiere of Pixar’s cartoon comedy Up.

The notoriously extravagant event has toned down the glitz in this time of economic crisis, but there was little gloom here as the crowds gathered to cheer stars sashaying up the red carpet for the gala opening on Wednesday.

“Filmmakers … tell us who we are and perhaps who we will become,” said Isabelle Huppert, the French actress leading the jury that on May 24 will pick the winner from among 20 films vying for the Palme d’Or top prize.

She and her eight-strong team will choose from the work of directors such as Spain’s Pedro Almodovar, Palestinian Elia Suleiman, Park Chan-Wook of South Korea and Denmark’s Lars Von Trier.

Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds – a blood-and-guts World War II tale of Jewish-American soldiers on a mission to murder Nazis – is arguably the most high-profile of the films vying for the prestigious award.

But before the serious stuff, the festival struck a light note by kicking off – for the first time in its 62-year history – with an animated 3D movie, Up, directed by Pete Docter and screening out of competition.

The select audience at the festival palace put on 3D glasses to watch the lofty tale of an elderly balloon-seller and a chubby eight-year-old boy scout embarking on a barmy Latin American adventure.

The US$150-million cartoon caper – which took four years to make – was picked as the festival opener in a nod to what many in the industry hope will be the digital and 3D future of cinema.

The score of films in competition for the Palme – by both big-name directors and lesser-known auteurs from Taiwan, New Zealand the Philippines and many other points across the globe – started screening on Thursday.

From Brokeback Mountain Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, to veteran New Wave icon Alain Resnais, at a ripe 86 back behind a camera, the world’s grandest filmmakers are competing to take home the coveted gong.

They include four previous Palme winners – Tarantino, Von Trier, Jane Campion and Ken Loach.

Lee takes a humorous look at the 1969 Woodstock rock festival, Suleiman offers a Palestinian family saga, and in an out-of-competition movie, Anne Aghion’s My Neighbor My Killer recounts the chilling aftermath of the Rwanda genocide.

The late Heath Ledger’s unfinished stint in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, being screened out of competition, is also guaranteed to create a buzz.

The film was almost abandoned when the Australian died from an accidental prescription drug overdose, but was saved when actors Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell were brought in to play his character in the unfinished scenes.

Star power and prestige have helped Cannes – which organisers say is the biggest global media event after the Olympic Games – limit the damage from the global economic slowdown compared to some other big industry events.

But belt-tightening is in the air, with industry players trimming back on the champagne-fuelled parties and the expensive extras, advertisers and local professionals said.

The most high-profile sign of cost-cutting came when Vanity Fair magazine called off its exclusive party. And at the Cannes Market, the movie world’s biggest deal-making forum, executives are sounding a note of caution.

But the mega-yachts are still anchored in the bay and the palatial hotels along La Croisette – the palm-fringed seafront – are booked out for A-listers such as Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Depp and Law.

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