Sports stars pitch in at Cannes

Best, brightest from other arenas bring pizazz to fests

CANNES -- Make some room on the Croisette, movie stars -- the icons of sports and music are crashing the party.

Tuesday's red carpet gala features a veteran world superstar with arguably wider global fame than Harrison Ford. Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona will be in town for the midnight screening of the documentary "Maradona by Kusturica."

A gaggle of fellow soccer stars also are expected to be on hand.

The movie typifies a recent trend in major fests -- notably Berlin and Cannes -- combining as it does impeccable cinematic credentials from two-time Palme d'Or winner Emir Kusturica and a mega-star from a different arena. Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert film "Shine a Light," which opened this year's Berlinale, is another prime example, and generated more excitement than any other picture at that festival.

Other recent noncinema stars gracing film fests include former world heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, here for James Toback's docu "Tyson"; Madonna, who also was at the Berlinale; U2, who performed in Cannes last year; and soccer legend Zinedine Zidane, who was here in 2006. The phenomenon even extends to politicians, with former vice president Al Gore gracing Cannes for "An Inconvenient Truth" (2006).

So are festivals looking to cash in on the media pulling power of stars from outside cinema?

"The rules are simple: we welcome films and those who appear in them," said Festival de Cannes general delegate Thierry Fremaux, himself a huge soccer fan. "Last year U2 came for 'U2 3D.' Tyson and Maradona in Cannes is a happy coincidence but these are first and foremost good films, made by two great directors."

Fremaux acknowledged that such crossover talent gains wider coverage for the festival, taking it beyond the film pages.

"For France, the (sports daily) L'Equipe has a big presence in Cannes for those two films and they have given a lot of coverage on links between cinema and sport. The Argentinian media are also very excited. Cannes reaches some different media: for us it's the opportunity to talk about cinema everywhere."

Similarly, international music press were hot for this year's Berlinale, which was awash with rock and pop idols. Besides the Stones and Madonna, the Berlin event welcomed Neil Young, Patti Smith and the Gorillaz on the red carpet in February.

"Sport, politics, it's all showbiz now," said Baz Bamigboye, showbiz correspondent for the London Daily Mail and a veteran of Cannes, who described "Tyson" as "a good TV movie." "Are my editors screaming for me to cover these stars? No, they're not. I understand they have to get the big names in, but I think Cannes has veered away from what it stands for. I'm interested in who the great filmmakers of the next 10 years are going to be."

"We didn't have Madonna because she's Madonna, we had here because she directed a film," Berlinale press head Frauke Greiner told THR. "Of course, because she's Madonna, she received a lot more attention than most first-time filmmakers. But we wouldn't bring in David Beckham, for example, just because he's famous and would draw publicity. The real question is why so many documentaries are being made right now about these prominent sport and music stars."

Other major festivals are following suit, notably Tribeca with a sports sidebar and Sundance with a strong emphasis on music. "I don't see any problem with inviting someone better known in another field if it makes an important point related to film. But the films have to remain the central thing," a spokesman for the RomaCinemaFest said. The Rome fest has invited the Dalai Lama to this year's festival as part of a special Tibet sidebar, though it is not clear whether circumstances will allow him to come. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli performed at the opening of last year's Rome event.

Eric J. Lyman contributed to this report.