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Stars Out All Over Cannes

The French Riviera resort of Cannes rumbled into gear Monday for its world-famous annual film festival, where a cast of thousands will gather over the next two weeks to celebrate the magic of the silver screen.

Actors, directors, distributors, journalists and assorted hangers-on began to flood into the Mediterranean city for a seemingly endless cycle of screenings, news conferences and parties that has made this the high point of the movie calendar.

“You can't miss the Cannes festival. All the players on the planet meet there, hook up, make film projects,” festival chief Gilles Jacob said in a recent magazine interview.

The festival, which runs from May 15 to 26, is primarily a showcase for the kind of art films that otherwise risk being ignored at the box office. But the intellectual fare is tempered with old-fashioned Hollywood glamour.

Cannes veterans like British directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, Portugal's Manoel de Oliveira and Israel's Amos Gitai are among those bidding for the coveted Palme D'Or award.

Celebrities expected to walk up the red carpet include Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Woody Allen, Jack Nicholson and Ralph Fiennes. They promise to restore the celebrity count after a threatened actors' strike kept many stars away last year.

For young filmmakers, the festival offers the chance to become an overnight star.

Witness Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, a virtual unknown, who premiered his film “No Man's Land” in Cannes last year and went on to win the Oscar for best foreign language movie.

“Since May 12, 2001, the date my film was shown at Cannes, my life has changed,” Tanovic has said.

For others, the festival can prove a risky gamble. Earn bad reviews from the hundreds of film critics gathered here, and you can be virtually sure the film will flop at the box office.

Tim Robbins said last year he never again wanted to present a movie he has directed at the hectic festival. “I don't get why you'd want to subject your baby to this place,” the American actor-director told Reuters.

Many Hollywood studios, wary of the festival's reputation for rewarding obscure foreign films, opt to screen their offerings out of the competition.

Among those hugging the sidelines this year are Barbet Schroeder's “Murder by Numbers,” starring Sandra Bullock, and the animated “Spirit” by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks studio.

Special treats will include a 20-minute snippet from U.S. director Martin Scorsese's eagerly-awaited “Gangs of New York,” starring DiCaprio and Diaz, scheduled for release in December.

George Lucas will attend a screening of “Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones” on May 16, the same day the blockbuster production hits U.S. multiplexes.

If the jury is anything to go by, however, the big winner of the festival could be an altogether offbeat production.

Headed by director David Lynch, famous for his surreal and disturbing movies, the jury features five other directors in addition to actresses Sharon Stone and Michelle Yeoh.

That should give a running start to competitors like David Cronenberg, whose “Spider” stars Fiennes as a schizophrenic, or the eccentric Aki Kaurismaki, offering a film about an amnesiac, aptly entitled “The Man Without a Past.”

Written By Joelle Diderich