'Cultural apartheid' at Cannes

Stuart Jeffries

In Cannes for the screening of a video diary on May 14 the Reverend Jesse Jackson denounced the film festival for promoting cultural apartheid.

“There must be more African-American films being shown here. There are none this year,” said Jackson, making his first visit to the wealthy Riviera resort.
“And there must be a greater commitment here to those small and poorer nations who have great stories to tell but limited means to tell them.

“We want to challenge the officials of Cannes to tell those stories. There are awful challenges in front of us the Aids epidemic needs to be explained on screen and other great human stories cry out to be told,” Jackson said.

While Hollywood producers cut multimillion-dollar deals inside the American Pavilion, Jackson railed outside against the money men whom, he claimed, spiritually impoverished the festival. “We’ve come to Cannes to denounce the cultural apartheid that reflects money not so much as talent,” he said.

Jackson came to Cannes for the world premiere of the film The Country Preacher: Keeping Hope Alive. It is a video diary about a year in his life from 1999 to 2000.

While organisers will be aware that not one of the 23 films up for the Palme d’Or was made by a black film-maker, Jackson’s attack on Cannes was widely ignored in this citadel of privilege.

However, there have been films from Iran, Japan and other Asian countries and the festival can hardly be accused of peddling trite cinema on well-worn themes. The Iranian Abbas Kiarostami’s documentary about Aids in Uganda was screened for the first time a fortnight ago.

May 14 also saw the world premiere of Claude Lanzmann’s film Sobibor, October 14 1943 about the only successful uprising in a Nazi death camp.

There was also the world premiere of Hijack Stories, a film by South African Oliver Schmitz, set in Soweto. It tells the story of a young black actor called Sox, whose profession ostracises him from his native community. In order to research the role of a black gangster in a TV series he enlists the help of a childhood friend, who teaches him the ways of the underworld.

Finally, Burkina Faso’s Fanta Nacro represented African women with her work A Close Up on Bintou, part of the short film series Mama Africa that formed part of the Director’s Fortnight this year.

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