Americans, rookies strong In Competition

An opening 'Nights' from Wong

The Festival de Cannes will be ringing in its 60th anniversary with what promises to be a star- studded, U.S.-heavy official lineup as organizers announced the schedule Thursday.

The festival will open with Wong Kar Wai's "My Blueberry Nights," from StudioCanal, finally putting to bed speculation that the director's first English-language film, which will be distributed in the U.S. by the Weinstein Co., wouldn't be finished in time for a Cannes slot.

This year's lineup is a heady mix of fest vets and fresh faces after last year's slate introduced a lot of newcomers. Of the 22 films In Competition, 13 are from directors who have never before vied for the Palme d'Or.

The lineup features a potpourri of international talent and, according to the festival's artistic director Thierry Fremaux, "It's becoming more and more difficult to say what nationality each film is."

Returning to Cannes are previous Palme d'Or winners Joel and Ethan Coen with "No Country for Old Men," a Miramax Films/Paramount Vantage production, and Gus Van Sant with "Paranoid Park." Meanwhile, Quentin Tarantino is scheduled to bring a version of "Death Proof" to the Competition lineup. The new version was created specifically for the festival and is different from the "Grindhouse" cut Dimension Films released stateside this month.

In this year's Out of Competition category, Brit Michael Winterbottom is the sole U.K. flagwaver, returning to Cannes for the sixth time with Paramount Vantage's Angelina Jolie starrer "A Mighty Heart."

Steven Soderbergh is back with his much-anticipated star-powered sequel "Ocean's Thirteen" (Warner Bros. Pictures) and Michael Moore with his expectedly controversial health care documentary "Sicko" (the Weinstein Co.).

With "Blueberry," "Sicko" and "Death Proof," the Weinstein Co. will have a particularly high profile at this year's fest.

"We are so proud to have three films premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in the Official Selection, especially these specific three films, which were all made by filmmakers who have a long history with the festival," Harvey Weinstein said. "We've never had this many films premiere in the Official Selection."

Said Moore, who's "Fahrenheit 9/11" took the Palme d'Or three years ago: "I'm honored to be asked again to Cannes. It's been a good luck charm for us and the perfect place to present our work to the rest of the world."

David Fincher's "Zodiac," a Paramount/Warner Bros. co-production previously tipped to be the closing film, also will cross the Atlantic to compete for the fest's top prize.

While the American faces in official selection are recognizable, the selection committee opted for some Gallic filmmakers never before seen In Competition, including Catherine Breillat for "An Old Mistress" and Christophe Honore for "The Love Songs."

New York artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel is bringing "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," while the black-and-white cartoon "Persepolis," which Sony Pictures Classics will release stateside, will animate the Competition category.

Asian films are a noticeable minority In Competition this year, with only Lee Chang-dong's "Secret Sunshine" and Kim Ki-duk's "Breath" from South Korea and Naomi Kawase's "Mogari no Mori" from Japan making the cut.

And jury president Stephen Frears will find it easier to avoid judging his fellow Brits' efforts with U.K. titles noticeably absent.

Eastern European filmmakers find themselves firmly in the spotlight, with two Russian films in the running from helmers Andrey Zvyagintsev ("The Banishment") and Alexander Sokourov ("Alexandra"), in addition to offerings from Hungary's Bela Tarr ("The Man From London"), Romania's Cristian Mungiu ("4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days") and Serbian Cannes veteran Emir Kusturica ("Promise Me This").

Turkish-German helmer Fatih Akin's "Auf der anderen Seite des Lebens" and Raphael Nadjari's "Tehelim," an Israeli production, also will vie for the fest's top prize.

Selectors sorted through 3,983 submissions, including 1,615 features from 95 countries, before making the final cut, organizers said.

Midnight screenings include "U2 3D," a concert filmed in 3-D, and Abel Ferrara's "Go Go Tales." The festival will close with Canadian director Denys Arcand's "The Age of Darkness" in an Out Of Competition slot.

From a director's lesson with Martin Scorsese to a compilation of short films from the creme de la creme of international helmers and an homage to Henry Fonda, the festival will celebrate its 60th anniversary in style. Organizers also will add a new theater, christened the Salle du 60eme, in between the Palais and the Riviera.

"We wanted to combine tradition and modernity, major signatures and young sprouts," festival president Gilles Jacob said at a news conference in Paris. "We want to adapt the festival to the future."

The Festival de Cannes runs May 16-27.