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Brooklyn’s influence was evident at this year’s Cannes Film Festival

for The Brooklyn Paper

CANNES, France - Brooklyn made its presence known in the South of France for nearly two weeks in May along the Croisette - that beachfront boulevard that has been home to the Cannes Film Festival for 55 years. From the official competition to two of the most prominent sidebars, as well as special screenings, there were a number of mini-reunions taking place throughout the 12 days of the festival.

Woody Allen started things off when he showed up for the first time and made the march up the red carpet with "Hollywood Ending," showing out of competition as the opening night film on May 15. Since he was there, the festival powers that be rewarded his travel efforts, and took the opportunity to present the reticent filmmaker with the "Palme de Palmes," best described as a lifetime achievement award. Allen seemed truly moved, and he spoke of his youth and the effect film had on him.

"When I was a kid watching films in Brooklyn movie theaters, I never dreamed this could be the result," said Allen.

Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman spent about a decade in Brooklyn from the ’80s to the early ’90s. While here, he studied film and made his first two shorts, "Introduction to the End of an Argument" (1991) and "Homage by Assassination" (1992). He also lectured at museums and universities. It was all of this work that enabled him to make his first feature film, "Chronicle of a Disappearance," in 1996, which was featured in New Directors/New Films at the Museum of Modern Art.

Suleiman’s latest, "Divine Intervention," uses black humor, as well as fantasy, choreography and even a ninja-like action sequence to depict life around the checkpoints in Israel. But he also examines personal relationships - especially with his father (who died of cancer during the making of the film). Suleiman describes the film as documentation, but not a documentary, which leaves him free to use these filmic conventions. It is certainly a political film that will stir debate, but that may be his intention.

"You can politicize an action scene," he said during a festival press conference.

Acting in the film as well as directing it, Suleiman looks a bit like Buster Keaton, and so there is a deadpan tone to much of the film. But that also seems to be his actual sense of humor. Asked how he felt about the danger of filming in Israel, he insisted he didn’t want too much importance attached to it - it was just one of the many adventures of production. However, when asked why he filmed certain scenes in France, he did dryly allow that he "couldn’t shoot in Palestine because there were other people shooting."

For all the film’s controversy, though, Suleiman was vindicated in the end. Although not his first time in Cannes (his short film, "Cyber Palestine," was shown in the Directors’ Fortnight last year), it was the first time he had a film in competition, and he walked off with the Jury Prize. Although he left Cannes without a U.S. distributor for the film, it’s a sure bet that it will turn up in Brooklyn sooner or later. With its imaginative blend of genres, "Divine Intervention" marks Suleiman as a talented and intriguing filmmaker.

Two years ago, Peter Sollett (born and raised in Bensonhurst), won the Cinefondation award for his student short, "Five Feet High and Rising." Part of that prize was French support for his first feature. This effort, "Long Way Home" was shown in the section titled "Un Certain Regard," and was also a candidate for the Camera d’Or, which is the prize for the best first feature of all the first films in the various sidebar sections. Sollett, who expanded his "Five Feet" story and used some of the same actors, was lucky enough to secure a U.S. distributor before "Long Way Home" was even screened for the press.

And it’s a good thing, too. Sollett’s is one of those rare films with hip, young people in it, but is also extremely warm without turning to treacle. So check your local listings in a few months - it will turn up on our shores.

Sollett was thrilled to be in Cannes again even though, not having his film in competition, he could only march up a blue carpet at the Debussy Theater, where his screening took place. No matter, Cannes is still a filmmaker’s paradise.

"It’s hard to imagine," he said. "It’s as if you pushed over the Majestic [one of the premiere hotels on the Croisette], there would be a soundstage!"

As it turned out, Sollett didn’t win the Camera d’Or (that went to French director Julie Lopes-Curval’s "Bord de Mer"), but that’s all part of the game, he felt, saying, "A festival is characterized by its unpredictability."

Not every film that found its origins in Brooklyn was a success, critically or otherwise. In the Directors’ Fortnight section, French filmmaker Raphaël Nadjari set his third feature film, "Apartment #5C" in Williamsburg. It’s a hybrid of a film - a cross between a love story of sorts and a cops-and-robbers tale. After two foreigners overstay their visas in Manhattan, the couple rob the same store twice in two days (counting on the anonymity of New York to cover their tracks) and decamp for an apartment building in Williamsburg to hide. The guy takes off, and his now ex-girlfriend takes up with the kind but confused building super, played by indie film perennial Richard Edson.

The events of last September even left their mark on this film. Shooting began in November and American flags were in evidence everywhere, so Nadjari simply left them in the scenes.

(Also, Sollett, a week away from wrapping "Long Way Home" on Sept. 11, and cast and crew, filming on the Lower East Side, had a terrifying view of the World Trade Center collapse.)

While Nadjari’s film reflected the patriotic aftereffects of 9/11, security at the festival reflected another consequence. Security was extremely tight as the festival began (although by the end of the festival the security folks seemed to have lost their desire to pat down everyone who strolled by).

While "Apartment #5C" may not have received many kudos or much attention, that’s the story for most of the films that get invited to Cannes. The awards are few. In addition to Suleiman’s jury prize, Michael Moore won a special 55th Anniversary Prize for his "Bowling For Columbine," the first documentary in competition in almost 50 years.

The directors’ prize was shared by the veteran Korean filmmaker Im Kwon-Taek for his "Chihwaseon" and Paul Thomas Anderson (of "Boogie Nights" fame) for "Punch-Drunk Love," which stars Adam Sandler. The Grand Prize, which has been characterized as second place, went to Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, for his moving and witty, "The Man Without a Past." And Roman Polanski won the Palme d’or, the highest award, for "The Pianist," the fact-based story of a Jewish musician who spent World War II hiding among the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto.

The awards may be few, but the rewards are many - critical acclaim, distribution deals - in many cases it’s a win-win situation. Sollett thinks so.

"If you can show your movie here," he said eagerly, "I highly recommend it."

Marian Masone is the associate director of programming for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and chief curator of the New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center.

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