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Is Cannes a shortcut to fame?

To have your first film selected for competition is every director's dream. But even that is no guarantee for success.

india Updated: May 30, 2006 18:55 IST

To have your first film selected for competition is every director's dream. But the somewhat harsh reality is that even making it to Cannes is no guarantee of success.

Young Australian filmmaker Denie Pentecost, whose first short film Sexy Thing was competing for a coveted prize in the short film section, did not find the festival easy sailing.

"It's important to meet people, but it's difficult if you only have a short film," she said, highlighting that the short films are screened on the penultimate day of the 12-day festival when many buyers have already left town.

"It's been hard to network and try to promote myself and my work as many people here haven't seen my film," Pentecost said. "But at the same time, it's very exciting and I'm honoured to be here."

Competition at Cannes is particularly tough.

One of the world's largest film events, the festival is abuzz with hundreds of films competing for a handful of prestigious prizes. On top of that, there are thousands of other movies from around the world trying to catch the attention of hordes of film buyers on the bustling film market floor.

And as history has shown, many full-length feature films that have made it into the exclusive official competition, never become box office hits. Some don't even get distributed, although that happens less today with the option of releasing less popular films on DVDs.

Pentecost and other nine short film finalists, who hail from countries as far apart as Norway, Brazil, Zambia and Turkey, are hoping their films will not fall by the wayside.

This year's prize was won by Norway's Bobbie Peers with his short film Sniffer. Two previous winners of the Cannes short film trophy have gone on to achieve international film success.

One of New Zealand's most internationally successful film directors, Jane Campion, won the Cannes shorts competition with Peel in 1986 and went on to make a number of other short films before winning an Oscar in 1994 for best screenplay with The Piano.

Another well-known winner is ultra-cool US-born film director Jim Jarmusch, whose Coffee and Cigarettes III took the short film award in 1993. A consistent contender here over the years, he scooped the Cannes Grand Prix last year with his full-length feature Broken Flowers.

The shorts competition this year is a mixed bag, with animation highlighting child obesity rubbing shoulders with surrealism and dramas that portray issues like drug abuse, poverty and sexual abuse.

Pentecost's film concentrates on the latter subject. Sexy Thing focusses on 12-year-old Georgie, played by Hannah Mangan-Lawrence, who inhabits two worlds - her beautiful, imaginary underwater world where she escapes from the stark reality of the real world with its history of sexual abuse. That is, until the day her mother interrupts the real world.

Sexy Thing was chosen to compete, along with nine others, out of an eye-popping 2,500 entrants from all around the world.

Once selected, the entrants have to pay their own way to Cannes although the organisers put them up in a hotel for the last four days of the festival.

But Pentecost, who played for the Australian national women's football team before going on to work in films, decided to come for the whole festival.

Win or lose, she says the competition has been a fantastic experience.

While filmmakers competing in the less press-grabbing Cannes competition events have to get out there and promote themselves, they have been some highlights to help them along the road.

German director Wim Wenders of Paris, Texas fame, unexpectedly dropped by to talk to the shorts' hopefuls and pass on some filmmaking advice.

An official dinner Friday ahead of the jury screening was another great opportunity to network, Pentecost said.

Her film, which will premier at the Sydney Festival in early June before going on to compete in Melbourne, was well received by the audience on official screening day.

It also caught the eye of the Rio de Janeiro International Short Film Festival organiser who wants to include it in the November event.

Pentecost and her producer, Heather Oxenham, are also in discussions with three possible film distributers, thanks to Cannes.

Cannes can hold the key to a filmmaker's future. Who knows whether it will work for Denie Pentecost. But she's upbeat and already planning her first feature film, which she hopes will bring her back here another year.