Short-film auteurs dream big at Cannes

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Jordan Bayne came to Cannes looking for distribution for her dramatic short "The Sea is All I Know", if not to catch a movie or two.

Soon she realised that, for an independent film-maker, the real value of turning up at the world's biggest film festival lies in the networking possibilities -- and it's whetted her appetite for greater things.

"It's my first time here and it's a huge, huge learning curve -- and a good one," the young American director told AFP over a glass of rose on the sun-soaked terrace of the Hotel Splendid.

Bayne hasn't seen one film in Cannes, so busy has she been flitting between mid-day meetings and twilight parties, swapping business cards with fellow indie auteurs and industry contacts she'd otherwise be hard-pressed to meet.

She is lucky if she gets five hours of sleep at the friend's apartment where she's staying. "One night I got three," she said. "Tonight I get the feeling I'll get none."

"The Sea is All I Know" is among 1,955 shorts -- anywhere from 35 minutes down to 60 seconds -- this year in the Short Film Corner tucked inside the Cannes film market, of which nine are in competition for a special Palme d'Or.

It boasts perhaps the biggest star of any Cannes short: Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, a friend of Bayne's, in a seaside tale of an estranged couple plunged into spiritual crisis by the imminent death of their daughter.

"What I've discovered in the last few days is that the film is a calling card for making a feature," she said, and indeed that is her ambition as a director.

With 3,085 registered participants, the Short Film Corner and its digital viewing booths have a youthful buzz unlike anywhere else at a festival that is best known for red-carpet glamour -- and being overwhelming for rookies.

"It's known as a springboard for the future," its project manager Alice Kharoubi told AFP, and it is not unknown for short-film directors to find themselves back in Cannes with a feature in the official selection.

It costs 95 euros ($135) for a short to be considered for Cannes, she said. One short per film-maker per year is the limit, submissions can be sent over the Internet, and anyone rejected gets their money back.

"I don't feel any spirit of competition among the people here," said Guy Lampron, a newbie to Cannes with his 13-1/2 minute piece "Double Entendre", which he describes as "a fantasy film, a bit like David Lynch".

The Canadian is no stranger to the festival circuit, having travelled as far afield as Aspen, Colorado, Rio de Janeiro and Berlin where he took the best short-film prize in 2000 for his eight-minute computer animation "Sentinelles".

But Cannes, he said, is special and well-worth the air fare that he paid out of his own pocket: "It's a very very good atmosphere, super good vibes... I'm here mainly to meet others. Here, we are all fighters."

Writing, shooting, editing and otherwise developing "The Sea is All I Know" has taken four-and-a-half years for Bayne, who tacked her fortnight in Cannes onto a wider trip to Rome and Madrid where she taught acting lessons.

It was filmed over four days on Long Island, New York on a shoestring budget, with seed money coming from close friends and the online fundraising site Kickstarter.

But the past six months of post-production have been especially solitary -- being an independent film-maker is "like being a single mom," she said -- so the chance to swap notes with other directors is priceless.

"I have met a handful of spirits (in Cannes) whose generosity has inspired me to believe that there is hope for any of us with a film and a story that we really want to tell," she said.

© 2011 AFP

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