What you didn't know about Cannes; Israeli movies at the Human Rights film festival; a forgotten classic at the Cinematheque.

white massai 88 (photo credit: )
white massai 88
(photo credit: )
The Los Angeles Times recently published a list of little-known facts about the Cannes Film Festival, which runs until Sunday. Among the most interesting tidbits: • The Cannes Film Festival was conceived in the Thirties as an alternative to the Venice Film Festival. The Venice Film Festival had been taken over by Fascists, and mainly Italian and German films won prizes for several years. Anger on the part of judges from democracies came to a head in 1938 when Jean Renoir's anti-war classic, La Grande Illusion was overlooked for the top prize, which was then called the Coppa Mussolini (the Mussolini Cup). The winners that year were Leni Riefenstahl's two-part Olympia, a documentary about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and Luciano Serra, Pilota, made under the patronage of Mussolini's son. The first Cannes festival was scheduled to begin in 1939, on the eve of the outbreak of World War II, but was canceled and the show did not go on until 1946. • There has only been one time that the Palme d'Or, the top prize at Cannes, and the Oscar for Best Picture have gone to the same movie. In 1955, Marty, the slice-of-life drama starring Ernest Borgnine as a lonely butcher, scripted by Paddy Chayefsky, won both honors. • No French film has won the top prize since 1987, when it went to Maurice Pialat's Under Satan's Sun, the story of a rural priest starring Gerard Depardieu. • Although the 2004 festival, when Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 took home the Palme d'Or, was seen as a highly political year for the festival, in 1968, a group of filmmakers, including Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, took over the largest screening room on opening night and held the curtains closed, to show solidarity with the student protestors. Because of this act of protest and others, the festival was shut down that year. Although the classy films in the official Cannes competitions and showcases get the most press, there is a whole other side to Cannes, the commercial, low-budget side, called the Marketplace, where distributors try to sell their movies. The king of the grade-Z movie companies that regularly show up at the Marketplace is Troma Entertainment, best known for The Toxic Avenger. This year, their lineup includes Wasabi Tuna, starring former Playboy playmate and reality-TV star Anna Nicole Smith as one of a group of friends who attends the Halloween parade in Los Angeles and becomes caught up in a crime war among gangsters. Chances are, the title is the best thing about it. As far as the competition itself goes, the programmers are known for showing the most eagerly anticipated films on the last days of the competition, so it's too early to start guessing the winners. TWO ISRAELI FILMS will be shown at the upcoming 17th Annual Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York, which runs from June 8-17. Both documentaries, they are Roy Westler's Shadya, the story of a 17-year-old Muslim female karate champion, and Men on the Edge: A Fisherman's Diary, by Avner Faingulernt and Macabit Abramzon, about a group of fishermen, both Jewish and Palestinian, in the Gaza Strip last year. Both films recently won prizes at the Documentary Film Awards in Israel. A number of the films in this year's festival focus on the war in Iraq, including James Longley's Iraq in Fragments, which won three prizes at this year's Sundance Film Festival. There are also films from virtually every other region of the globe. ON WEDNESDAY at 9:45 p.m., the Jerusalem Cinematheque features a preview screening of The White Masai, the story of a woman who leaves her husband for a Kenyan warrior, based on a novel by Corinne Hoffman. Tonight at 10 p.m., a rarely seen film, Abraham Polonsky's Force of Evil (1948), will be shown at the Jerusalem Cinematheque. Critic Andrew Sarris called Polonsky's directorial debut "one of the great films of the modern American cinema." The film noir stars John Garfield as a crooked lawyer who wants to consolidate small numbers rackets into one big operation. Polonsky was blacklisted not long after he completed the film for failing to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but he continued to write under pseudonyms. He did not direct a feature film again until the late Sixties, when he made Tell Them Willie Boy is Here, starring Robert Redford and Robert Blake, in 1969.