Cannes helmers in stress test this year

Many directors rushing to finish their films in time

CANNES -- Just call them the Last-Minute Wave.

Even as the Festival de Cannes begins its third full day, many directors are frantically rushing to finish their films for their Palais debut, or just now taking a breath.

Walter Salles pulled an all-nighter, staying up until 5 a.m. Thursday morning in Paris subtitling his coming-of-age tale "Linha de Passe" so it could make its fest debut today. He had finished color-grading and posting the film just a few days before.

Steven Soderbergh is apparently holed up in a post facility finishing work on his two-part, 268-minute Che Guevara movie, which unspools Wednesday. It's expected to be such a race to the finish that one wag speculated he'll still be editing the second part while Croisette audiences are watching the first part.

And Wim Wenders? Well, no one really seems to know where the Teutonic helmer is, though he's apparently in his own mad dash to finish "The Palermo Shooting" before the movie fires up on the fest's second Saturday.

"This is one of those years where everybody follows the Wong Kar Wai trend," said Salles, referring to the Hong Kong director famous for cutting it close. "Unfortunately, we're not all Wong Kar Wais."

As Salles points out, there's always the odd director or two still finishing their film just before things kicks off on the Croisette. But this year is sporting an unusually large number, with the group also including Clint Eastwood, whose Angelina Jolie starrer "Changeling" still needed enough work that it was the subject of frequent in-and-out reports before the fest.

How close are some cutting it? So close that the actual festival screening date can make all the difference.

Fernando Meirelles was pushing hard on "Blindness" -- then learned his was the opening-night film.

"I thought we'd get a slot at the end of the festival and we'd have more time," he said, sounding endearingly like a student who didn't realize the test was tomorrow.

The last-minute work hasn't resulted in anyone missing their deadlines -- so far. But it does raises the question: Since the fest happens the same time every year, why is there so much cramming?

One factor is that announcements and decisions came in later than usual this year, giving the directors a little less notice than usual.

Some filmmakers also thought they'd have more time because they didn't even know they were coming.

James Gray wasn't supposed to be at Cannes -- his romantic drama "Two Lovers" was to debut in Venice -- but Cannes encouraged him to get the film in.

But the biggest reason may be that the productions are more complicated, whether it's cross-border productions like "Palermo" and "Blindness" or movies of epic proportions like "Che."

"Directors are taking longer," one insider said, "because they're trying to do more with their films." And, they might have added, they're giving film fest organizers slightly higher blood pressure.