At Cannes, neophytes scramble for attention

Ade Ololade sets up his VCR in a basement room

May 25, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

CANNES, France - Talk of the Cannes Film Festival evokes visions of red-carpeted glamour, but the soul of this annual celebration of cinema, the essence of its mission to promote the artistic growth of the medium, has nothing to do with big names, black ties and multimillion-dollar budgets.

It has everything to do with young filmmakers like Ade Ololade, who spent roughly $700 of his own money - no deep pockets finance his projects - to rent a small room in the basement of the Palais des Festivals, complete with VCR, in hopes that some studio executive or distributor looking for the next big thing might decide he's it.

"You've just got to keep it out there," the 27-year-old says. A graduate of the University of East London, with a master's degree in film, Ololade faces the same problem as every neophyte filmmaker: There are millions of would-be filmmakers in the world, but only a few actually make a living at it.

"You know, I heard a statistic that 70 percent of English filmmakers do not make another film after the first one," he says, then adds with a grin, "so we're in good shape; I've already made two."

Still, the odds are hardly with him. But he could find worse places to try to improve them than Cannes, which probably has more movie executives in residence this week than any place not called Hollywood.

Which is what makes the Marche du Film, or Film Market, such a hot spot during the festival. Dozens of small studios and filmmakers (including Ololade, who has formed his own distribution company, Adefilms International) have set up booths, put up posters, distributed fliers and scheduled screenings in hopes of becoming bigger fish in a very small pond.

"We understand the process," says Ololade's sister and partner, Rotimi, 32. "We don't necessarily like it, but we understand it. We have to start somewhere."

For Ade Ololade, that somewhere began in earnest yesterday, when he screened his second film, The Truth About Dating, a mock-umentary about young Londoners desperately searching for a mate (think This Is Spinal Tap crossed with TV's The Bachelor).

This is the third year he's been to Cannes but the first in which he's brought along a film. To promote it, he wrote and distributed a mockingly hyperbolic third-person account of where he got his inspiration (piles of promotional leaflets for all manner of films are omnipresent in the Palais). "Ade tries," he wrote, "to come up with a master plan that will not only satisfy his need to see all those who didn't believe in his success suffer, but will also see him become rich, famous and desired by many."

Ololade's tone was tempting enough to lure a good crowd to yesterday's screening, he says, and most seemed to go away happy. Someone from Miramax even left behind his business card, he notes, careful not to sound too hopeful. "I think we got a few nibbles," he says.

According to the schedule, that same film was to be shown again yesterday, but an exasperated Ololade tells the crowd of 30 or so that a printing error has brought them all here under false pretenses. Instead of The Truth About Dating, today's screening will be of his first film, made last year, Urban Griose.

And it's a different film altogether.

Instead of a humorous look at the London dating scene, what the audience sees is a concert film, shot in low light and from only two or three different angles, of an event held each year in Ololade's hometown of Brixton. The film documents the fourth annual Urban Griose - the name, he says, comes from a West African word meaning collective - and features performances from a range of black rappers, singers and poets. It lasts about 72 minutes.

The result proves interesting, especially for anyone not familiar with the British rap scene (or even aware there is one), but not exactly the most commercially viable film ever made. Problems are exacerbated by the room's less-than-stellar sound system (the performers were filmed live, so the sound quality probably wasn't great in the first place) and a VCR tracking system that leaves irritating black streaks at the bottom of the frame.

The first audience member walks out about five minutes into the film; by the time it's over, only a handful remain.

Walking out, of course, is as much a Cannes tradition as the movies themselves; the French seem to enjoy voting with their feet (some reportedly walked out on Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack of the Clones last week).

That in mind, the Ololades try to remain philosophical about the walkouts. Try, but don't entirely succeed.

"They could have waited until the movie was over," Ade says. "How many deals could they have made in an hour and 15 minutes? How many croissants could they have eaten?" Still, their faith in their film remains unshaken.

"We feel the film is good, but what other people feel about it is a different thing," Rotimi says. "We can bring it here and learn from that experience. The whole thing is a learning experience for us."

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