May 24, 2008

Cinefondation helps new filmmakers

Nadine Labaki, the Lebanese helmer of 'Caramel', was a guest at Cinefoundation's Paris residence.

If the Cinefondation is the closest thing the Cannes festival has to a graduate school, then fest prexy Gilles Jacob makes a marvelous Mr. Chips.

Since founding the Cinefondation 10 years ago, Jacob has gladly welcomed back 27 foundation alumni to Cannes with feature-length films (not including this year's fest selection).

"I'm especially pleased because these films were all included in the official selection," says Jacob. "And 12 guests of the Cinefondation Residence in Paris have also won major festival prizes, like the Deauville Grand Prix, the NHK Award at Sundance and the Camera d'Or (at Cannes). Last year, (Nadine Labaki's) 'Caramel' was sold in more than 60 countries."

The first stone in the Cinefondation's edifice was laid when Jacob created the Selection, a competition designed to unearth the best student filmmaking talent from around the world. Every year the Cinefondation selects between 15 and 20 short- and medium-length films, with cash prizes of up to E15,000 ($24,000) going to the three best pics.

Then, in 2000, Jacob established the Residence: a program for young directors working on their first or second film. Each year, at least six filmmakers are invited to live in Paris for four months and receive expert advice in writing and producing their films.

"It's the quality of the films these directors have already made and not their age that counts," Jacob says. "If a new Orson Welles comes along aged 25 (the age Welles was when he made "Citizen Kane"), then we'll sign him up."

In 2005, Jacob added the final piece to the jigsaw by establishing the Atelier of the Cinefondation, designed to put young filmmakers in touch with industry professionals and sources of financing during the Cannes Film Festival. This year, the Atelier has selected 15 projects from 14 countries. Filmmakers range from first-timers to the Chinese cineaste Lou Ye, who is working on his sixth feature, "Bitch."

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