Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cannes Jury Pres Burton Demands Release of Iranian Director

The Cannes Film Festival begins today, May 12th, with Tim Burton as the honored Jury President. The jury -- which includes President Tim Burton, Kate Beckinsdale, Emmanuel Carrere, Benicio Del Toro, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Shekhar Kapur, Victor Erice, Andre Desplat, and Alberto Barbera -- will decide on which film will receive the prestigious Palme d'Or prize. The 51-year-old filmmaker feels a bit intimidated by his role, but is also excited about what the Cannes Film Festival means. Burton's movie Ed Wood was nominated in the competition in 1994, and the director was on the jury a couple of years later. But Burton remains a little anxious being the President of the panel of judges.

"I think we're all very sensitive to being called judges," he says.

"I think that's what the great thing about this group is, we want to view every film with a generosity. Also because we're judges, we'll be judged as judges."

On Tuesday, the jury met to discuss their plans, which include watching all of the films of the festival at least once. "The goal is to not have any preconceptions, I think we've all been judged, so I think we're coming into this with a certain spirit and openness and hopefully compassion for any filmmaker," Burton says.

"We've all been involved in it [film-making] and we all know what that's all about. We all like to be surprised, so there are no preconceptions; we don't want to have a 'certain kind of thing' that we're looking for."

Burton insists he will not make any of his fellow judges get up early to view films during their stay, adding: "The point is to feel the films and discuss how they touch us both intellectually and emotionally."

The line-up of films at Cannes include everything from documentaries and narratives, to big-budget Hollywood movies and independent productions from young, budding filmmakers. The films also come from all over the world, including South Korea, Spain, Italy, the US, Algeria, and China.

"This is what this film festival is all about, people from different countries and different walks of life - that's the exciting part about it," Burton says.

"Hopefully we'll be enjoying the films and enjoying the discussions we have. I think we're all in the spirit of letting the films affect us.

Burton is also excited by the fact that the films are quite different from the fanciful movies he tends to make.

"What I'm excited about is seeing a type of a film that I wouldn't ordinarily make or be involved with, but again, that's the beauty of cinema - to see things that are not in your sphere."

Burton was asked what he felt about there being only a few big Hollywood movies in the schedule this year. He says: "I'm happy about that".

"This is an opportunity for me to see what's going on in cinema and that's what has excited each and every one of us. The element of surprise is something you're always looking for.

"From the beginning of cinema it's always been about what's touched people. Whether it's a big effects movie or a small intimate movie - it's what affects people. I hope and believe that will always be the case.

"This process that we go through is a journey and there are certain things that we have to do. It's very organic in the sense that you see things, you discuss it and it's great if you can try to come up with a consensus.

"At the same time, I think that's the fun and interesting part of this process is to make it like a journey - you know where you have to get to, but you're not quite sure how to get there."

The Palme d'Or will be awarded on May 23rd.

Tim Burton also seized the opportunity to address an important issue. He called for the release of jailed Iranian director Jafar Panahi.

"All of us are for freedom of expression," Burton told a news conference at the film festival. "We fight for that every day and in our lives. So of course one should be free to express oneself."

Earlier, France called on Iran to release the film-maker and allow him to take his seat as a member of the Cannes jury.

"He is one of the most eminent representatives of Iranian film and his place is at the festival where he has been invited as a member of the jury," said Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand in a joint statement.

Panahi, age 49, has been held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison since March 1st, when he was arrested by Iranian authorities, reportedly because he was making a film about the disputed 2009 presidential election.

"We call for his immediate release and urge the Tehran authorities to respect the fundamental right of Iranians to freedom of expression and creativity," the French ministers added.

Burton is joined by numerous other prominent filmmakers in demanding the release of Panahi, including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, Joel and Ethan Coen, Ang Lee, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone. They have signed a petition earlier this month demanding his release.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International called on Tehran to allow Panahi to go to Cannes, saying "an empty chair at the Cannes film festival... will highlight the folly and injustice of Iran's crackdown on those who have peacefully criticised the government."

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