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Day Zero

Raced through to Cannes today (from nearby Antibes where we’re currently based) to pick up my Cannes press card, register at DDA (one of the main movie publicity companies) and pick up the keys for the apartment where we’ll be staying during the Festival. Argh. Realised all over again just how FAR away our apartment is from the action. And up a HUGE hill. Jennifer Aniston legs here we come!

Great to be in Cannes the day before the madness begins. I don’t know if it’s my mood or if everyone’s had a lobotomy, but yikes, everyone just seems so much friendlier than last year. It is sunnier. Maybe that helps.

Here are a few pics of Cannes pre the Festival…

The Palais - naked without its red carpet just yet...
The Palais - naked without its red carpet just yet... Pic: Anthoni Panayis
Spectators are already securing their spots at Cannes Film Festival
Spectators are already securing their spots at Cannes Film Festival Pic: Anthoni Panayis
This little lane in the old part of Cannes will be PACKED tomorrow!
This little lane in the old part of Cannes will be PACKED tomorrow! Pic: Anthoni Panayis

Ha Ha Ha Not So Funny

Oh sob. South African story “Life, Above All” may have had a 10-minute ovation when it was first screened in Cannes, but it hasn’t won the top prize in its section. Instead, a film called “Ha Ha Ha” – by South Korean director Hong Sang-soo – took that honour at the ceremony tonight.

Both films were competing in the sidebar competition Un Certain Regard. “Ha Ha Ha” is about a drunken trip down memory lane as a film-maker prepares to emigrate from Korea to Canada.

The best acting prize went to the three actresses in Argentinian film “Los Labios”. The actresses portray three women who travel to a remote town to undertake welfare work amongst the poor locals.

Well, our top vote still goes to “Life, Above All” and ITS three wonderful actresses: Khomotso Manyaka, Harriet Manamela and Lerato Mvelase!

Can’t Get No Satisfaction? Well…

SPRINTED over to the “Stones in Exile” special screening and press conference this afternoon. It was mayhem. Packed crowds spilling onto the Croisette to get a glimpse of Mick Jagger. Journalists queuing for over two hours simply to get a seat. I managed to just get in. And everyone behind me in the queue was left – devastated – on the other side of the velvet rope.

Mick Jagger at today's press conference at Theatre Croisette in Cannes
Mick Jagger at today's press conference at Theatre Croisette in Cannes

So was it worth it? Well kind of. Especially since Mick Jagger was there. He bounced in, with these bright white takkies emblazoned with a silver lining, and delivered a speech in both French and English. All about being “young, good looking and stupid back then” and how now they’re just “stupid” (or stupide if you’re French). And he answered questions after the doc. Very chilled. And kind of exactly how you want Mick Jagger to be.

But the documentary left me feeling a little less than satisfied. It was fascinating, for sure. An interesting behind-the-scenes look at rare footage and photographs of the band (although not enough Mick) during the early ’70s when they were forced into exile in the South of France to escape bankruptcy and a 93% tax law under the British Labour Government.

But you didn’t get a sense of the amazing creativity that went into the “Exile on Main Street” album that was made during this period (1972). Instead you just got a sense of sadness that they were so deeply entrenched in drugs. Anita Pallenberg (Keith Richards’ partner at the time) admits that at one stage she was “doing smack for breakfast, lunch and dinner” and felt that she’d been cursed. Not really inspiring. But then maybe I’m being a spoilsport because I’ve seen up-close-and-personal the effects – even death – that drugs have had on some of my best friends.

There are good bits though. Like all good expats, Bill Wyman laments at how difficult exile was to “try replace everyone you loved”, let alone find PG Tips and other British products in France! (Try being a South African expat in France!)

There’s also a blond 8-year-old boy who features in quite a bit of the footage. The doc-makers tracked him down and you hear him reminisce in the film about how his “function in life was to be a joint roller”. And Mick informed us (after the screening) that the blond boy is actually the guy who stars as Patricia Arquette’s husband in “Medium”…”so you see,” said Mick, “it didn’t do him any harm…although it’s not a recommended vocation for an 8-year-old!”

Mick Jagger: "We were young, good looking and stupid...now we're just stupid."
Mick Jagger: "We were young, good looking and stupid...now we're just stupid."

The album was made in the basement of Keith Richards’ massive villa (Villa Nellcote) in Villefranche-Sur-Mer (which is less than an hour up the road from here). At one stage Keith provides an interesting summation of Mick and himself, saying that he tends to be more loose (“I just wake up”) while Mick likes to have plans made for the next day. “I always say Mick’s the Rock and I’m the Roll,” he says. Mick begs to differ: “I thought I rolled, and he rocked,” he told us afterwards.

Keith also reveals in the doc that Mick is always looking ahead, always wanting to improve what he’s creating, never looking back. And it was apparent in the press conference too. When a journo asked Mick if making the documentary had made him nostalgic for those old times he answered: “Nostalgic? What would that be like? It was a good period. It’s gone. It’s well evoked in this documentary though, so buy the DVD!”

And you know. I think I will. Because the more I’m telling you about it, the more I realise I actually did get quite a bit out of it. And the music was fantastic. Would love to tell you more – but I think you’d prefer to watch it yourself!

“Stones in Exile” is a BBC documentary, directed by Steven Kijak, being shown as part of the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s available to pre-order on Amazon (and there’s a short promo video you can view): http://www.amazon.com/Stones-Exile-Steven-Kijak/dp/B003GCMX5Y

Mick Jagger: "It's not ideal to smoke pot and sing."
Mick Jagger: "It's not ideal to smoke pot and sing."

Mick signs autographs for journalists at the Cannes Film Festival
Mick signs autographs for journalists at the Cannes Film Festival

Day 8

Had three great interviews this morning with the cast of “Life, Above All” – although I got horribly lost trying to find them and my tape recorder switched itself off halfway through. These things happen. I once taped a brilliant interview with Keanu Reeves except no sound was recorded.

Anyway, more later…

South Africans, Above All

Oh man, still sobbing. South African director Oliver Schmitz and his amazing cast of actors had a Cannes auditorium moved to tears – and to a standing ovation – this morning. It was one of those special moments that makes Cannes, and film-making, so worthwhile.

A still from the movie "Life, Above All"
A still from the movie "Life, Above All"

The emotionally-charged movie was “Life, Above All”. And as I overheard one of the many exhuberant fans say to Oliver afterwards, “this wasn’t just a great film, it was an important film”. Phew. Like I said, still sobbing. And so were the actors. Tears were sliding down Harriet Manamela’s face as she left the auditorium.

It was the world premier of “Life, Above All” which is here as an Official Selection in the Un Certain Regard competition. An amazing accomplishment. But so well deserved.

At first I had thought the film was a little slow. Beautiful cinematography but just a little too gently-paced. And it’s all in Zulu. (Well, I think it is. The only words I could understand were Zulu words.) But the actors are captivating, the Zulu makes it that much more authentic (and hopefully even more accessible to its home audience) and the story lifts you up and carries you – through tears and laughter – to its final scenes. No white-skinned people. But none needed. [Update: apparently the language is actually Pedi.]

The film tackles the very real problem that South Africa has faced with the stigma surrounding Aids, but it’s a story that’s universal. About how gossip and caring what ‘other people’ say about us can destroy a community that should be working together, and can poison us more than the illness itself. The film, based on “Chanda’s Secrets” by Allan Stratton, is dedicated to the 800,000 Aids orphans in South Africa.

Before the screening began, the actors, director and South African/German producers were called up on stage and a microphone was passed down the line as each gave a short and humble message of thanks and “siyabonga”. When it came to first-time actress Khomotso Manyaka’s turn she said: “I’d like to say thank you, and I love to be here.”

By the end of the film, during the standing ovation, as people squeezed and pushed to get to the stars, it was clear that the audience was saying back: we’d like to say thank you, and we love you being here”.

Actress Khomotso Manyaka (Chanda) is congratulated by SA Minister of Arts and Culture Ms Lulu Xingwana this morning in Cannes
Actress Khomotso Manyaka (Chanda) is congratulated by SA Minister of Arts and Culture Ms Lulu Xingwana this morning in Cannes

Life Above All actresses Harriet Manamela (Auntie Tafa) and Lerato Mvelase (Lillian) after this morning's screening
Life Above All actresses Harriet Manamela (Auntie Tafa) and Lerato Mvelase (Lillian) after this morning's screening

Life Above All gets a standing ovation in Cannes.
Life Above All gets a standing ovation in Cannes.

Interview with Winnie actress Jennifer Hudson

You spoke yesterday about how Winnie Mandela never gave up her campaign for Nelson Mandela’s release. It seems you have a similar nature to the woman you’re going to portray. You were kicked off American Idol, and yet you never gave up on your dreams, and you kept at it until you not only succeeded but grabbed international attention and won an Oscar along the way. Where does that ability to keep going, against all odds, come from?

It’s definitely something inside, like even at times when I’ve felt like giving up, there’s something in you that just won’t let you do that, like it’s something that God just plants in you and it keeps driving you.

Is that how you’ve always been?

Yes. I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I was 7-years-old and I went after it and I never looked back, and I just kept my eyes on the prize and I kept on going. And I always say if you keep at it, it has no choice but to give in. It will give in.

What was it you wanted to do at seven?

I knew I wanted to do music. You know as kids my mother kept us occupied with extra-curricular activities – at first it was ballet, and then I did piano lessons, and different things like that, and modelling. I did modelling. But as soon as I was introduced to music, I was like “this is it, this is what I want to do”. And I started singing in church.

You have incredible skin. Any special beauty secret?

I guess it must run in my family. My family has very beautiful skin. It’s in our genes. I don’t know. I don’t do anything. I prefer natural. The only time I wear make-up is for things like this. Other than that I prefer natural. At home, I’ll give myself eyebrows and then I’m good to go. And I’ve noticed after working out that my skin’s so much healthier, so much more radiant. It’s like instant.

Have you visited South Africa before?

Not yet. I’m looking forward to it. The people I’ve met so far have been so welcoming and hospitable.

What preparation are you doing for the role of Winnie Mandela?

Well I had to do a transformation with the whole weight thing. And I remember when they approached me for the role, they said “we need you to lose weight for the role, and work with a dialect coach”. And I’m like “I’m not worried about the weight. What I’m concerned about is the dialect coach. It’s to get the accent down.” So I’ve been working on that. And researching and immersing myself in African history, you know South African history.

I’m still shocked, being an African American and growing up in school we not only learnt about African American history, but also African history and black history – but we never heard about Winnie Mandela and her dedication and what she did for her country. And to not know that – something so powerful – that’s something that needs to be told, and that’s something we should know about – and that’s my drive and my passion – to be able to tell that story.

It’s a story that’ll be interesting for a lot of South Africans because we had a less passionate take on her.

I know it’s extremely controversial – who she is and all of that…

So you know about Stompie?

Yes, it’s all in the script, everything. And it’s being put out there. You be the judge. And no matter what, she has done amazing things that we should all know and be aware of. And celebrate!

South Africa’s Winnie heats up Cannes

The hottest ticket in Cannes this past weekend has been anything to do with “Winnie”, the forthcoming film about Winnie Mandela. The film’s Hollywood stars Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard were in town to promote it. So too were its South African director Darrell Roodt and producer Andre Pieterse. And in the whirl of cocktail receptions, parties and press conferences, I managed to secure one-on-one time with each of them for an exclusive sapeople interview. Whew. Fantastic.

The film will focus on the love story between Winnie and Nelson Mandela – and how Winnie’s enduring love helped free a man and liberate a nation.

I’ll be posting the interviews over the next couple of days (Cannes is really busy, hard to find time to write). As you’ll see – the interviews do cover the film’s largest controversies. Like how will the movie convince us that Winnie and Nelson were the biggest love story of all time when most South Africans consider her a reviled figure? And – the biggie for South Africans back home – why have the Canadian-South African production team cast an American star as Winnie instead of a South African?

Having spent a large part of my weekend in the company of Jennifer and Terrence, I can’t express enough how perfect these two stars are for the roles.

Jennifer has a similar sensibility and physicality to Winnie, and a larger-than-life magnetism that gets her noticed. She is also such a humble, beautiful person that you just know she is going to do her absolute best to honour South Africans and be the best Winnie we could get for the role.

With Terrence, there are moments when you forget you’re with an actor and believe you’re with a younger Nelson Mandela. He’s like a philosophical professor. He talks of the brotherhood of man. How we’re all connected. His father was a member of the Black Panthers. And he’s already got the accent nailed down. He cares so much its palpable.

And they’re both SO excited about spending time in South Africa and say they’ve already experienced some of the country’s “warm hospitality” – so I do hope that the press – who understandably need to sell newspapers and therefore love controversy – can somehow give them a break. Imagine if Americans had reacted in the same way when Charlize Theron “stole” American roles from their locals! That’s what acting’s about. Taking on different characters and different nationalities. And these are two world-class actors stepping in to these roles to help show a South African story to us and the world.

Filming begins on 31 May.

Jennifer Hudson at a cocktail reception for 'Winnie' in Cannes last night. South African producer Andre Pieterse is on her right.
Jennifer Hudson at a cocktail reception for 'Winnie' in Cannes last night. South African producer Andre Pieterse is on her right.

Fat Lips and Jock of the Bushveld

Everyday I stumble across another South African movie. Today I was flipping through an animation magazine and discovered that a 3-D CG-animated movie is being made of the old South African classic, “Jock of the Bushveld”! (Just to digress – word in Cannes is that 3-D movies are here for keeps. Argh! Can’t bear the heavy glasses. I wonder if anyone bothered asking movie-audiences how we felt about this trend. It failed decades ago. Hope it gets phased out again!)

Anyway – I’m still excited about the “Jock of the Bushveld” animated feature (although would prefer it in 2D). This will be SA’s first 3-D CG-animated feature and will include some brilliant music from Sir Tim Rice (who was involved in “The Lion King”), Craig Hinds, Alan Meken and Johnny Clegg.

Talking Clegg, we’ve got this crazy wonderful black French guy at the corner supermarche (supermarket) who tells us he’s a different singer each day: Michael Jackson, James Brown…and each time he bursts into one of their songs. Well today he asked where we were from. Afrique du Sud. “Oh,” he said excitedly, “my brother’s from there”. Really? “Yes, Johnny Clegg. He’s my brother,” he said proudly, and started singing Impi…

Rest of today was fab. A great press conference with the producers and stars of “Raavan”, a new Indian movie that’s being released worldwide. A wander around some of the huge luxury yachts that are moored here. And cocktails at the Majestic bar. It’s plush, it’s beautiful, a G&T costs over 15 Euros, and it’s where many of the stars hang out, although tonight we only spotted Harvey Weinstein and a bunch of botoxed blondes (peroxide of course) whose distorted fat lips look like they could suction easily onto a car window, if nothing else.

Woody in the Morning

I almost chose to sleep in rather than attend today’s morning movie, but it was Woody Allen’s latest offering so I forced myself up. Great move! And a great movie. One of those that even non-Woody fans should enjoy. As he himself said afterwards, he hired someone else to do the narrator’s voice because “it changes the film when it’s my voice”. Woody’s voice would’ve made the movie more paranoid, more angst-ridden. Instead, you get Woody Allen’s themes interwoven through the various stories and sub-plots but with more of the humour and humanity outweighing the angst.

Woody himself is of course still angst-ridden. Last time I met him in Cannes he explained that the reason he is such a prolific film-maker is he desperately tries to keep himself as busy as possible to avoid thinking about the inevitablity of his own death. Today he confessed that “my relationship with death remains the same. I am strongly against it.”

His film, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is totally delightful. In it, we follow the lives of Sally (played by Naomi Watts), her husband (Josh Brolin), and her divorced parents as they each search hopelessly for happiness and fulfilment. And although Woody insists he has a “grim perspective on life” and that “life is unbearable if you look at it too closely”, his movie leaves you feeling happier and lighter about life. Like that you really shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. And it was obvious watching and listening to Woody, Naomi and Josh talk about the filming afterwards, that he created a working environment that brought immense happiness and fulfilment to its stars.

Money Never Sleeps…and nor does Cannes

Whew. I’m exhausted. Was up before 7am to make sure I got into this morning’s movie – “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps”. Bumped into a few party stragglers on the way over to the Palais. They were heading home, dressed in shabby 3-piece suits after a night of partying. A Norwegian journo in Cannes once said we’re all worms here at the Festival – either Earthworms who slink out of the sun and into the dark to watch movies all day long, or Glow worms who sleep all day and come out shimmering to party at night.

Stopped in at L’Up (a brasserie across the road from the Palais) for a cafe creme and croissant, and there were people merrily glugging down wine and beer. At 7.30am!

So I made it into “Wall Street 2” and so glad I did. It was fantastic. Apart from its obvious relevance in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown, it features an all-star cast, a well-written script and is wrapped in a humanity and humour that makes the thought-provoking questions – like how do you balance a love for money with a love of your family – not so lecture-y. Great moments include guest appearances by Charlie Sheen, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and a mobile phone circa 1993 (where the first movie left off and Gordon Gekko was thrown in jail).

All the stars were in attendance afterwards for the press conference – including Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, Shia LaBoeuf, Carey Mulligan, Frank Langella and director Oliver Stone. I’ll be posting a transcript of the interview in the next few days.

Am rushing off to a South African event now to view some trailers on upcoming SA movies.