Besson bringing Cannes to the masses

5:00 AM PST 04/10/2007 by Charles Masters, AP

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PARIS -- Gallic uber-producer Luc Besson is finalizing plans to bring films from the Festival de Cannes to the deprived suburbs around Paris.

The initiative was spawned in the wake of the 2005 riots, which swept through the so-called "banlieues," the outlying housing projects ringing most major French cities where unemployment rates are high and opportunities for the largely immigrant populations are low.

"Every night during the festival, in a different banlieue around the Paris region, we'll screen a film from the Cannes official selection on a giant inflatable screen," said Besson, who is organizing the screenings through his Europa Corp.

In some places, the screen will be put up at the foot of large tenement blocks, so several hundred people will be able to watch the movie from their windows.

"We're hoping that those who live on the side with the screen will invite their neighbors from the other side of the building," joked Besson, clearly relishing the sense of community he hopes the screenings will foster.

The Festival de Cannes will lend its label to the screenings and has given its blessing to the project, but is not directly involved in the logistics or financing.

"It's a personal project that (Besson) is driving," said Marie-Pierre Hauville, head of communication for the festival. "We liked the idea of making Cannes titles available to a young audience straight away. Anything that encourages film appreciation can only win our support," she added.

Details of the titles screening will not be known until the Cannes selection is finalized, with an announcement due April 19.

Besson has close ties with the Croisette event, having presided over the Cannes jury in 2000 and opened the festival twice, with "The Big Blue" in 1988 and "The Fifth Element" in 1997.

The Festival de Cannes this year runs May 16-27.
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