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Our Man in Cannes

UT filmmakers and mo(o)re

By Russell Cobb, Fri., June 4, 2004

Our Man in Cannes

John Fiege looks exhausted. He's just arrived in Paris on the high-speed train from Cannes and is visibly bewildered by the whole experience. "The festival was impenetrable," the 35-year-old UT student filmmaker says. "I had full accreditation but couldn't get tickets to any of the major films. Also, you couldn't go anywhere without a bow tie, and I only brought a normal tie." Alas, he missed one of the more notorious parties, at which Michael Moore forsook a spread of caviar and foie gras for a pizza he had delivered personally.

Still, Fiege managed to screen his film – a nine-minute narrative short called "Bebe" – at the Kodak Emerging Filmmaker Showcase, and he received a warm response from the audience. The film takes place on an isolated ranch in the Texas Hill Country, where a little girl is trying to achieve enlightenment in response to parental indifference. "I wanted to make a film," Fiege says, "about people who try to get away from society."

It was a good year at Cannes for the UT film program: Another student filmmaker, Karen Skloss, also participated in the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase, with an 11-minute film called "Smitten." Only two other universities around the globe displayed as many films.

Up-and-coming filmmakers such as Fiege and Skloss were not only showcasing their films at Cannes but marketing them as well. Fiege says he sat next to Quentin Tarantino at one screening, and people passed scripts and DVDs to the writer-director throughout the film. "There was so much security, I had to check copies of my film, or I would have given him one, too," Fiege says. "You have to constantly market yourself, whether you like it or not."

One film overshadowed the entire festival this year, dividing some members of the jury and delighting an entire nation. Michael Moore was already as loved in France as George W. Bush was hated, but when Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d'Or, the French rejoiced openly. "There's nothing the French love more than an American criticizing America," one British reporter for the Guardian noted wryly.

The festival almost didn't happen at all this year. In the weeks leading up to the debut, part-time artists – actors, screenwriters, musicians, directors, etc. – threatened to shut it down in protest of the French government's decision to cut their unemployment and health-care benefits. Known as the intermittents du spectacle, these sometime artists have their own union and the right to strike.

Fiege says the intermittents caused some damage in Cannes by smashing up one theatre but that a major conflict was avoided when the festival's organizers expressed their empathy for the artists' plight. "They had a press conference to announce that the festival was on the intermittents' – and not the government's – side."

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