A Londoner's Diary; Ekow Eshun Dodges the Bouncers in Cannes, Buys into Heath Ledger and Loses His Marbles at the ICA

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Byline: EKOW ESHUN

I fly into Cannes and am instantly seized by madness. The film festival's fevered atmosphere is contagious. In the dizzying sunshine, paparazzi and passers-by jostle for glimpses of movie stars unfolding themselves out of limousines or gliding up the red carpet to attend a premiere. I spot Pedro Almodovar - whose feature Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is in competition - strolling along the Croisette and am almost knocked down by bouncers surrounding Samuel L Jackson and Tim Roth, who are both Palme d'Or jurors, as they make their way to a screening.

This is the first time I've been to Cannes. While most coverage of the festival focuses on the films in competition, such as Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley, my attention is geared to more prosaic matters.

The ICA has a film distribution arm: we buy art-house movies from directors such as Wong Kar Wai and Lars von Trier to distribute in Britain. I spend the next few days in the Stygian depths of the trade market, wandering in a daze from stands to screening rooms scouting for films that are innovative and exciting enough to take home. We see Japanese horror films, Belgian sex comedies, Taiwanese ghost stories, and a surprisingly feelgood documentary about the loves, woes and eventual triumph of an all-woman football team of Guatemalan prostitutes.

By night there are the parties: dreamlike affairs on yachts, in beachside pavilions and on jetties thrusting far out into the sea. I bump into Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend It Like Beckham, who tells me with a cackle of delight about her next feature, Dallas - John Travolta as JR, Shirley MacLaine as Miss Ellie, Jennifer Lopez as Sue Ellen and Luke Wilson as Bobby - and I spy Tim Burton and Harvey Weinstein.

These nights are work, of course. Everyone is searching for the next big thing. And the appalling truth is no one has any idea which will prove to be hits. This is what gives the festival its restless, nervous energy.

No one wants to go home with an overhyped turkey they mistook for a work of genius or to miss out on a quiet masterpiece by an unknown director. So the purpose of Cannes' parties isn't just to have fun but for critics and producers and buyers to swap tips on whom to pin their money. The ICA's big purchase is the new Heath Ledger film, Candy, which also stars Geoffrey Rush. …