Cannes contends with market turmoil, volcano

Travel disruptions still delaying flights across Europe

The economic climate seems likely to pinch the market and the giant cloud of volcanic ash has roiled attendees' flights, but Bob Berney has dropped the biggest pre-Festival de Cannes bombshell.

Apparition co-topper Bob Pohlad announced to his staff Monday that Berney, the company's co-founder, has quit as COO of the year-old indie.

Berney and Pohlad weren't immediately available, and a company spokeswoman said she didn't know anything other than what was reflected in a staff e-mail from Pohlad.

"As some of you may know, Bob Berney has submitted his resignation to me," Pohlad wrote to employees. "I suspect that this news comes as a surprise to many of you. It certainly did to me. So I can't claim that we have a plan in place yet in the wake of this announcement. I can, however, assure you that we will be working in the days ahead to explore our options regarding his replacement."

Pohlad said that senior vp Valerie Bruce would serve as interim COO.

Apparition has specialized in limited releases of festival fare and other acquisitions. Its latest pic -- the dramatic thriller "The Square" -- has rung up $217,656 in a month of limited theatrical distribution.

In other news over the Croisette on Monday, Ken Loach's "Route Irish" was added to the Competition lineup, director Ridley Scott said he will miss the opening-night premiere of "Robin Hood" because he's recovering from knee surgery, and Italian Minister of Culture Sandro Bondi said he would boycott the festival in protest over a film in the Official Selection that he says negatively portrays Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's administration.

After a cleanup operation on the French Riviera resort town because of storms last week, organizers have been dealing with travel disruptions as flights over other parts of Europe again have been grounded by volcanic ash. Flights from London's Heathrow Airport, shut down during the weekend, resumed Monday but were significantly overbooked because of the earlier cancellations.

The fest kicks off Wednesday with the premiere of "Robin Hood," starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, a typically grandiose opening to an event that also champions gritty films from every corner of the globe made on shoestring budgets.

Universal will be flying in a major delegation to support the film, despite Scott's absence, including producer Brian Grazer and most of the cast including Crowe, Blanchett, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac and Max Von Sydow.

"It is with the most sincere regret that I am required to miss the opening night of the Cannes film festival and the screening of 'Robin Hood,' " Scott said. "My recovery has been slower than I'd hoped. Truly, doctor's orders are the only thing that could keep me from being there."

Scott's rough-edged update of the Robin Hood legend is one of the few razzle-dazzle Hollywood events at this year's festival, which is relying heavily on art house titles for its 63rd edition.

While studio bosses in the glitzy resort wrestle with the state of the broader economy and what it means for film financing, some of the biggest names in the business see Cannes as a vital cog in the marketing machine.

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Oliver Stone, whose sequel "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is screening at the festival, told Reuters: "Cannes is good for the film. It's a big break because we would have come out and just been another film in this crazed (movie) mainstream."

"Money Never Sleeps," in which Michael Douglas reprises his role as ruthless corporate raider Gordon Gekko, will be among the most topical at the festival, focusing on corruption and greed at the world's biggest banks. But, like "Robin Hood" and Woody Allen's latest offering, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," it is not among the films In Competition.

Loach's film is the final addition to what is now a 19-strong Competition lineup.

"Route Irish" is set in Liverpool, England, and Iraq and tells of two former soldiers in love with the same woman. It is produced by Sixteen Film alongside Why Not Prods. and Wild Bunch, which also is handling international sales.

Loach won the Palme d'Or in 2006 for "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" and earned strong reviews for "Looking for Eric," which was In Competition last year.

In the first of what are seemingly annual political dust-ups, Italy's Bondi said he is boycotting because of the decision by Cannes officials to screen Sabina Guzzanti's documentary "Draquilla -- Italy Trembles" Out of Competition. The film is critical of Berlusconi's handling of the deadly earthquake that struck the city of L'Aquila last year.

Guzzanti is the daughter of Paolo Guzzanti, a former parliamentarian and prominent figure in Berlusconi's political coalition.

Scott Roxborough in Cannes, Eric J. Lyman in Rome and Reuters contributed to this report.