Cannes' competitive edge

High-profile position a sure bet to grab attention

CANNES -- Forget Egalite. When it comes to Cannes, ranking is everything, from the color of your badge to -- especially -- what section your film screens in. Having a film In Competition grants full bragging rights, while screening in Un Certain Regard or Critics Week can bring with it the taint of a consolation prize.

"Being In Competition really makes all the difference," said Roman Paul, co-producer of Ari Folman's Competition entry "Waltz With Bashir." "Competition films get all the attention and all the press. And, of course, a chance to win the Palme d'Or!"

Competing in -- and winning -- Cannes' main event certainly made all the difference for Cristian Mungiu. Overnight, the Palme d'Or turned the Romanian director of "4 Months, 3 Week and 2 Days" into international cinema's next big thing. Several Cannes favorites -- from brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne to Emir Kusturica -- owe their careers to the Competition's gold seal of approval.

But how valuable, really, is that prized Competition slot? It's certainly no guarantee of boxoffice success. Last year's crowd pleaser "The Band's Visit," which screened in Un Certain Regard, outperformed "4 Months" in worldwide ticket sales. Opening the Directors' Fortnight sidebar didn't stop Anton Corbin's "Control" from becoming a crossover success. And Oscar-winner "The Lives of Others," arguably the most successful foreign-language title of the past few years, had only a lowly Cannes market screening for a launch pad.

Certainly for the studios, it makes little difference if their latest tent pole screens in or out of Competition. The red-carpet flash for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Kung Fu Panda" won't be diminished because they aren't competing for the Palme d'Or.

"It obviously works for the studios regardless of the section. The hype is fantastic, like with 'The Da Vinci Code,' " said Cassian Elwes from William Morris Independent. "For the indies, (the cost of bringing talent to Cannes) is more prohibitive, so being in Un Certain Regard is less worthwhile."

"Being in Competition is the only way to guarantee that your film gets on every acquisitions executive's must-see list," said Judy Tossell, whose Egoli Tossell Film co-produced Aleksandr Sokurov's In Competition film "Russian Ark" (2002). "There are just so many films in Cannes -- in all the sections, not to mention the market. There are hundreds of them. Being in Competition is the only way to make sure your film get noticed."

Telecinoco Cinema head Alvaro Augustin, who co-produced Steven Soderbergh's Competition entry "Che" and Emir Kusturica's Out of Competition "Maradona," believes the In Competition label can be almost as valuable for a film's image as the Palme d'Or itself.

"Being in the competition is always good and if you win, it's marvelous," Augustin said. "With 'Pan's Labyrinth,' honestly, the repercussions -- the fact that a genre film in Spanish made in Spain by Guillermo del Toro, a director that no one dreamed would go to Cannes and receive 20 minutes of standing ovation -- is almost worth more than the Golden Palm."

But for some, Cannes is the cinema Olympics. Competition, Un Certain Regard, Critics Week or Directors' Fortnight -- the important thing is just taking part. British director Terence Davies isn't complaining that his new documentary "Of Time and the City" "only" got an Out of Competition slot.

"Obviously we wanted to get in (to the Cannes lineup) but when it did get in I was completely taken aback," Davies said. "To have your film shown there (in Cannes) in any category, well, it's a world stage and it is fantastic. It has revived my heart and spirit."

Pamela Rolfe, Gregg Goldstein and Stuart Kemp contributed to this report.