Australian filmmaking captured the world's attention on the weekend, as two new releases debuted at Cannes.
17 May 2009 - 9:00 AM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 12:59 PM

Friday to Sunday of the first week-end the festival reaches fever pitch, with major award contenders jostling for screening, party, and any other slots. And then there are other activities….

A favourite hang out of Americans and some of us Aussies is the beach-facing American Pavilion, a great spot to grab a cheap snack, or some sun while sorting out masses of promo materials handed out daily. This was the 'tent' where the Sydney drag queens put on their show when Stephan Eliott's Adventures of Priscilla hit town as a midnight screening in 93, or when a hundred of us got up early to watch the last Seinfeld episode go to air in the US.

Today's ceremony was more sombre; held to rename the American Pavilion after one of their most influential and prolific critics, Roger Ebert, syndicated to over 200 newspapers world-wide. Whilst still professionally very active, for some years Ebert, has been battling cancer (and has now lost his speech).

Cannes regular and former president of the jury, Martin Scorsese, held a News Conference on his World Cinema Foundation 's (WCF) campaign to preserve and restore films by forming two key alliances that allow the WCF to take the plunge into digital distribution. This could have very significant impact for us cinephiles... more of that later.

It's been a hectic few days opening few days for the Aussies. Friday really belonged to Bright Star and the Campion Cast and crew… The press conference was a personal chatty affair, with Jane introducing her tall stunning 13 year old daughter, Alice, the main reason for her sabbatical (taking time out to be a mother) to the assembled masses.

The movie has been given a thumbs up from all trade papers (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Screen International) and the international press corps, with the few less enthusiastic reviews running along gender lines…even though the conference in no way resembled The Piano frenzy of 1993..

Here are some highlights:

How does it feel to return after the triumph of The Piano here?
JC: “Really excited and fearful (laughs, giggles)

What inspired her to make a movie about the poet? “I stumbled across a biography of Keats and felt I was transported into another world that I didn't really know. The actual history of the two characters caught me so unawares; the story so intense and painful that it brought endless fascination with it that could be explored in so many ways. ..I was so impressed by Keats letters – so lively, full of philosophy and gossip, bits of poems …

Did Ben Whishaw who plays Keats, know much about the poet?
BW: “Not at all. I didn't think he was my cup of tea – I was into modern stuff. But I've grown into the luxury of his writing and the sensuality of it. When you investigate a person you learn to fall in love with them a bit and learning about his life, poetry, and love affair became inspirational to me. I felt I gained so much from the experience…and lost much since...”

In an era of messaging, texting, and twittering, how relevant is a film based on letters?
JC: “I think the search for love is so precious in us. I'm sure truth and texting is very compelling top us to express that feeling of connection. People really want it.”

On scarcity of women directors at the Cannes Film Festival, and in general…
JC: I would love to see more women directors. They represent half the population and gave birth to the whole world. What interests women is really interesting to me, and without them writing and being directors, the rest of us are not getting to know the whole story.”

What made you decide to tell Keats story through Fanny's eyes?
JC: “It was such a brilliant way for me to meet Keats …We know Fanny fell in love with him and that way we could share that feeling through her and also because she wasn't that keen on poetry initially. She does so during the course of our story and so we gain an appetite, a knowledge and love of poetry. So for me she is she is really honest person to travel though with.

“What was important for me was to tell a very intimate story and to make nothing of the fact that it was a period film.”

In the absence of a major star presence thus far at this year's event, Bright Star's gala red carpet screening with a stunning Abbie Cornish – in a very feminine mauve and pale purple gown, taking centre stage with the pappz. Beau Ryan Philippe quietly waited in the wings.

On Saturday it was Samson and Delilah's turn in the spotlight as a sizeable, partisan Aussie crowd descended on the Riviera resort. Did anyone tell them it wasn't footy? It seemed Aussies from all over France – and further afield – headed to Cannes to watch Samson and Delilah at its morning screening. There were partisan cheers, even a distant 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – oi, oi, oi' chant to be heard. Introducing the film in this less formal section, writer/director Warwick Thornton told the 2000-strong crowd that, like the film's characters, he too had once been on the wrong side of the law but that he was lucky : Cinema had saved his life!

Two hours later he must have really been counting his luck to a thundering standing ovation…