British film industry faces disappointment at Cannes setback

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The Independent Culture

British films have been shunned by this year's Cannes Film Festival in favour of new work from Asia and the United States.

British films have been shunned by this year's Cannes Film Festival in favour of new work from Asia and the United States.

Talent from the UK is almost entirely absent from the list of films in competition for the top prize, the Palme d'Or, apart from appearances by the actors Clive Owen and Colin Firth.

Firth co-stars with Kevin Bacon in Where the Truth Lies, an Anglo-Canadian co-production directed by Atom Egoyan that was partly filmed at Shepperton Studios near Heathrow.

However, Woody Allen's new movie, Match Point, his first film outside America which was shot in London, will receive its premiere at the festival as will George Lucas's final episode of Star Wars, which counts Ewan McGregor among its stars.

Chromophobia, directed by Martha Fiennes, starring her brother Ralph, Ben Chaplin, Rhys Ifans, Ian Holm and Penelope Cruz, is to be honoured with a festival screening, though its producers may be disappointed not to have been selected for the official, and more prestigious, competition.

Adam Minns, the UK film editor of Screen International magazine, said: "There is a real absence of British films, but it's hard to judge the British film industry by Cannes."

Several eagerly awaited British films are understood not to have been ready in time for submission for consideration. They include The Constant Gardener, adapted from the John le Carré novel and starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, and Mrs Henderson Presents, Stephen Frears' bio-pic of the woman who founded the Windmill Theatre in London and began its nude revues. It stars Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins.

The one surprise omission was the Ireland/UK movie Breakfast at Pluto, directed by Neil Jordan and starring Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy and Stephen Rea. Mr Minns said he was not sure whether it was finished in time, so it was unclear whether it really had been snubbed. "I thought that would go into the festival, though they do make odd decisions sometimes."

Movie insiders point out that last year the Cannes selectors shunned Mike Leigh's film Vera Drake, which went on to be nominated for Oscars and won top honours at the Venice Film Festival.

A spokesman for the UK Film Council said the films selected for Cannes by its organisers were a reflection of the temperament and subjectivity of the selectors and not necessarily of the quality of British film.

But he pointed out that Cannes was not only about the films shown in the competition. It was also about the networking and sales that happen alongside the glamour on the Croisette.

"Cannes is one of the most important film markets in the calendar, but in terms of business, the market is far more important to the UK industry than having a film in competition," he said.

"We're going to have about 40 British films being sold in the market at Cannes this year and that's our primary objective."

Although winning the Palme d'Or is a great accolade, it does not necessarily do much for cinema ticket sales. Of the 15 films to have won since 1991, most took less than £1m at the UK box office.

The exceptions were films such as last year's winner, Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's anti-Bush diatribe, which would probably have done well anyway, and international hits such as Pulp Fiction, the 1994 victor.

The last British winner was Secrets and Lies, the Mike Leigh film which won the Palme d'Or in 1996, and took £2m in the UK and $32m worldwide.