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Cannes Gets Peek at ‘Gangs’

A tantalizing clip from “Lord of the Rings” shown at Cannes last year catapulted that film to huge success, and now Martin Scorsese hopes the world's most famous film festival can do the same for his latest epic.

On Monday, Scorsese was showing a 20-minute extract of his forthcoming and already much talked about movie “Gangs of New York,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz.

Director Peter Jackson's use of the technique with “Lord of the Rings” last year worked perfectly. The 20-minute clip was acclaimed, generated huge media buzz and made the movie one of the highest grossing of all time.

While Jackson's experience is encouraging, Scorsese, who is in Cannes with the stars for the screening, says he is nervous about putting just 20 minutes of his unfinished film on show.

“I am always nervous about any film. I always make a joke, saying 'Do we really have to release this?”' the director of classics such as “Taxi Driver” told Screen International last week.

“But that is the nature of things I suppose, and Cannes is the perfect place to take advantage of the international exposure to build up the buzz for the release at Christmas.”

Scorsese's friend Roberto De Niro was hoping to grab “Gangs” for a 20-minute screening at his inaugural TriBeCa film festival in New York last week, but Scorsese and studio backer Miramax already had a commitment to Cannes.

Scorsese's biggest concern with Monday's showing was the fact that he has had to trim a movie pencilled to run two hours and 40 minutes down to barely cartoon length.

“I'm making a movie, but I don't necessarily know how to make a 20-minute version of that movie,” he has said.

“Gangs,” the story of immigrant clans in New York in the 1860s, is a violent epic, which follows a young man's (Leonardo DiCaprio) need to avenge his father's death.

Filmed in large part at the Cinecitta studios outside Rome, the movie has generated constant rumors of delays in shooting and fall-outs between Scorsese and Miramax head Harvey Weinstein.

While both have been quick to scotch that talk, it is an open secret that the film, originally set for release last December, is a long way behind schedule.

It is now set to hit screens on Christmas Day this year - a key pre-Oscars release slot which commentators say is a clear indication of the strong backing Miramax is giving to a movie Scorsese considers his biggest-ever undertaking.

For Cannes, getting Scorsese, DiCaprio and Diaz in town is a huge pull, and a sign that the festival is becoming an ever more important launch pad for Hollywood. Woody Allen's “Hollywood Ending” opened this year's festival, a coup for studio DreamWorks.

And if the numbers from “Lord of the Rings,” which recouped more than half its $110 million budget the first weekend it opened in the United States, are anything to go by, a winning screening could reap huge benefits for Scorsese and “Gangs.”