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Cannes Welcomes Guest Country Egypt, Adds Prodigies and Free Men as School Screenings For the Kiddies

Cannes is starting up its own like-minded section this year, albeit smaller, simply calling their selected country a “Guest Country”. They’ve picked Egypt to jumpstart this to-be annual feature.

A couple of years ago, the Toronto International Film Festival launched a new sidebar called City-to-City, devoted to focusing attention on a specific nation’s cinema. They drew much criticism and protest over their inaugural selection of Tel Aviv, sparked by Toronto filmmaker John Greyson’s withdrawal of his film from the short film competition. TIFF defended its decision, claiming it was an innocent selection based purely on cinema, rejecting that their were ill-advised political undertones with the choice. Cannes is starting up its own like-minded section this year, albeit smaller, simply calling their selected country a “Guest Country”. They’ve picked Egypt to jumpstart this to-be annual feature.

The selection of Egypt is politically motivated, for sure, but for obvious reasons it’s unlikely to draw the same level of ire as TIFF’s Tel Aviv pick. The January 25 uprising that led to a national revolution arose from a strenuous world-wide battle that ultimately triumphed as a victory for freedom and democracy. It is, indeed, cause for celebration. Cannes’ tribute to Egypt will take place on a single day in the middle of the festival (May 18), and will include screenings of four films and an official dinner. Screening Out of Competition will be 18 Days, a ten-filmmaker omnibus project made on a volunteer basis, telling stories “either witnessed, heard, or imagined.” The 1968 film The Postman (Al Bostagui) by Hussein Kamal (Adrift in the Nile) has been added to the Cannes Classics section, while Plus jamais peur by Mourad Ben Cheikh about the Tunisian revolution is a Special Screening. Finally, Le Cri d’une fourmi (Scream of Ants) by Sameh Abdel Aziz joins the as-of-yet unannounced Cinema de la Plage selection of nighttime screenings on the sandy beach.

Cannes also announced the addition of a Special Screening of The Big Fix, a documentary by Josh Tickell, produced by Peter Fonda, about the big oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, which was produced by GreenPlanet Productions. As this is Tickell’s first film, it will be competing for the Camera d’Or award for best debut feature.

Last and not necessarily least comes mention of two ‘School Screenings’, aimed at ‘secondary pupils’, that I can only imagine will be open to participating local high schools. Playing here will be the 3D animation film Prodigies by Antoine Charreyron, which appears to mimic the look and style of films like A Scanner Darkly and The Matrix as it tells the story of five attacked teens who plot revenge. Bizarrely, the film is set in New York City, yet the characters will speak French.

The Tahar Rahim vehicle Free Men (Les Hommes Libres) is the other film in this section, which seems like a very odd inclusion as a School Screening as it appears to be a gritty film dealing with issues such as anti-semitism, immigration laws, and freedom activism. We thought the film might end up in the Official Selection somewhere when it began production last summer, but as this is proving to be a particularly heavyweight year on the Croisette, it likely got squeezed out into the margins.

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Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)

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