Cannes is also a boon to directors from across the globe. Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg (The Fly, Eastern Promises) says that earning a spot in the festival's central line-up of 52 films, known as the “Official Selection, ” is an opportunity to show your film on "one of the most visible platforms." Cronenberg's films have thrived in this prime-time setting, earning awards and critical accolades that have sealed his reputation internationally. The exposure he’s received at Cannes has also meant increased commercial prospects for his work, an important consideration for a director whose filmic portraits of venereal slugs, drug-addled gynecologists and Russian mobsters won't always make it to your local multiplex. If you have made "a very heavy duty art film that does not have a lot of distribution around the world," he explains, Cannes is "a good place to find that distribution."
Of course, Cronenberg is also quick to point out the risks of debuting a film under the bright lights of Cannes. If your work is reviled there by critics, or simply ignored, "it's a gamble that has failed,” he says, “and can actually damage your film forever." Cannes "can make or break a career," agrees film critic Kieron Corless, the author of Cannes: Inside the World's Premier Film Festival. "It's that intense."
This atmosphere has been known to produce extreme and unusual behavior. In the heat of festival fever, critics may erupt into a standing ovation at the end of a film, as they did for Cronenberg's A History of Violence in 2005, but they are just as likely to unleash boos and hisses, a misfortune that befell his film Crash in 1996. And filmmakers are by no means immune to the movie madness. Spike Lee threatened to beat Jury President Wim Wenders with a baseball bat when his film Do The Right Thing was shut out of a prize in 1989. The festival's Palais du Film, a monumental building that houses gala screenings, is fittingly nicknamed "Le Bunker."
But there are signs that this year’s festival could be devoid of its usual manic energy. With the world struggling through recession, Cannes’ yacht rental firms have seen declines in bookings, caterers are dropping the usual foie gras and champagne from party menus, and festival president Gilles Jacob has predicted that fewer industry professionals will make their annual transatlantic pilgrimage. More importantly, the effects of the economic downturn may also be felt in the festival's competition. Only two American movies—Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock—are in this year's contest, the lowest U.S. turnout since 2006. While the festival’s artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, has said the lack of U.S. films has more to do with production schedules than economic concerns, film industry trade papers have suggested that American studios, increasingly conscious of their bottom line this year, were hesitant to open themselves up to the Cannes critics and their poison pens.