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‘Da Vinci Code’ will help ring in Cannes fest

Films in contention include ‘Marie-Antoinette’ and ‘Fast Food Nation’
/ Source: Reuters

Last year it was the final installment of “Star Wars.” This year it is “The Da Vinci Code.”

With an eye on the international box office, Hollywood studios are choosing the film festival in Cannes to launch some of their biggest blockbusters, and 2006 is no exception.

The studios want in, and, whatever the French may think of U.S. cultural exports, Cannes these days is happy to comply in a bid to get the “A-listers” on its famed red carpet.

“The Da Vinci Code,” starring Tom Hanks and France’s Audrey Tautou, is one of the most eagerly awaited films for years, both because of the success of Dan Brown’s novel and the outcry from Christians over the plot.

It will be joined by animated movie “Over the Hedge” featuring the voice of Bruce Willis, adventure “X-Men: The Last Stand” with Halle Berry, and the 9/11 movie “United 93.”

“There are not that many events that put the attention on entertainment all over the world. This is certainly one of them — if not the premiere event,” said Jeff Blake, vice chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment which is releasing “Da Vinci.”

Around 4,000 journalists cover the annual extravaganza of film, glamour and non-stop parties that draws 30,000 industry executives and thousands of tourists who line the red carpet for a glimpse of their on-screen idols.

Blake said that within 48 hours of the movie’s opening night, it would be playing at theatres in around 90 percent of the world.

“These types of releases make the need to do something global even more important than in years before,” he added.

DreamWorks Animation marketing chief Terry Press said that being chosen to screen at Cannes implies artistic merit for a film, which helps attract audiences. The company premiered its “Shrek” movies at Cannes in past years.

“Everybody is trying to be heard above the din these days, and Cannes can make a very loud noise,” she said.

Hollywood hug, indie embrace
Hollywood’s embrace of Cannes tightened in the 1990s as the studios began to rely on rising foreign box office receipts to help pay for ever higher movie production costs.

In 2005, U.S. ticket sales generated about $9 billion for major studios, while foreign box offices earned $14 billion, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Hollywood’s use of the festival has in the past raised the ire of some world cinema purists who remember Cannes as their exclusive arena but now see it as being overrun by Tinseltown.

Yet in recent years that has changed, and in 2005 the lack of Hollywood heavyweights prompted grumbling among journalists. One veteran photographer called the event “too French.”

While movie premieres with big name stars are important for the major studios, the festival is also the top worldwide event for independent filmmakers, producers and executives.

Film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. is using Cannes this year to re-establish itself as a key distributor after sitting on the sidelines last year while new owners, led by Sony Corp of America, formed a strategy to compete in the marketplace.

“It is very important that the international community understand MGM is an independent, viable company,” said Chief Executive Officer Harry Sloan. “MGM’s distribution model causes films to get made and causes films to get financing.”

Moreover, small independent U.S. movie companies and their films will be seeking publicity and funding for distribution around the world.

Among the U.S. independents, director Richard Linklater is premiering “Fast Food Nation,” Brad Pitt stars in drama “Babel,” and director Sofia Coppola is screening “Marie-Antoinette.” All three are in the main competition.