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Cannes Festival goes digital

By Angela Doland, The Associated Press
Friday May 17, 2002

CANNES, France — From “Star Wars” to a small Iranian film, offerings at Cannes are showing how digital cameras give new freedom to directors, whether they want to create dazzling asteroid showers or more intimate settings. 

Four of the movies in the Cannes Film Festival’s main competition were shot digitally. From China, Russia, Britain and Iran, they all went digital for different reasons. 

One director found that he could shoot in tight, enclosed spaces because digital cameras are smaller and don’t require as big a crew; another wanted to film 90 minutes in a single take. 

And then, of course, there’s the latest “Star Wars” movie, which screened out of competition. George Lucas was on the Croisette to show off his latest futuristic fantasy Thursday, the same day it opened in the United States. 

The movie was shot on digital cameras, and was shown in Cannes on a digital projector, which uses tiny mirrors, prisms and digitally stored images instead of celluloid reels. 

Lucas says digital moviemaking has opened up new possibilities and plot lines that were impossible when he shot his first “Star Wars” movies decades ago. When Yoda first appeared, for instance, in “The Empire Strikes Back,” he was a puppet and couldn’t move around much; in the new movie, “Attack of the Clones,” digital Yoda has a light-saber fight. 

Asked by a reporter whether Yoda had lost any “poetry” in the transformation, Lucas replied: “Whatever we may lack in poetry we make up for by the fact that I can do things that I couldn’t do (before).” 

Film purists say digital prints lack depth of field or a certain warmth that film captures. 

Proponents say digital is cheaper, saving the expense of film or big crews. Digital moviemaking has helped open the industry for cash-strapped directors. 

Cannes’ organizers want to show they’re open to the debate. This year, they fitted out two theaters with digital projectors and have invited about 10 directors to talk about going digital. 

Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s film “Ten” is worlds away from Lucas’ special-effects blockbuster. It’s about the emotional lives of six women. 

“It’s a film that takes place in a closed space — a car,” Marin Karmitz, who produced the movie, said in an interview. “It’s possible to forget the camera, to be just a witness.” 

Another movie up for the main prize at Cannes is Alexander Sokurov’s “Russian Ark.” It’s set in St. Petersburg’s Hermitage museum and is shot in a continuous 90-minute Steadicam shot. Britain’s Michael Winterbottom used digital cameras for his rock epic showing at Cannes, “24 Hour Party People.” 

“Unknown Pleasures,” by Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-Ke, is about two 19-year-olds wandering around the industrial city of Datong trying to figure out life. Jia says using a digital camera gave him freedom of movement. 

“I had the impression of being a poet from ancient times who was observing the surrounding landscape while listening to the sound of his own inner music,” Jia says.