By Michael Roddy and Alexandria Sage
LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - Movers and shakers of the film world are boarding yachts or jets to head for the once sleepy Mediterranean seaside town of Cannes for a 12-day party that also serves as a film festival, with this year's lineup heavy on drama and light on humor.
The 67th Cannes Film Festival gets under way on Wednesday with 18 films showing in the main competition for the Palme d'Or prize awarded by a majority female jury headed by New Zealand director Jane Campion, the only woman ever to receive the top Cannes award for her 1993 film "The Piano".
Another 20 films are in the "Un Certain Regard" strand, plus dozens more in the "Directors' Fortnight", the "Critics' Week" and other festival showcases. And, providing the customary dash of controversy, the opening film - "Grace of Monaco" - has been denounced as a "farce" by the late princess's three children.
Cannes is "insane, very intense and fun", said Canadian director David Cronenberg, a Cannes regular whose "Maps to the Stars" starring "Twilight" teen vampire series idol Robert Pattinson as a Hollywood wannabe is in competition.
British director Mike Leigh, a past winner of the Palme d'Or, whose "Mr Turner" is based on the life of the British landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, said screening a film at Cannes is "a great experience".
"I'm always delighted to be there. I think it's my fifth time in competition and I was on the jury so I'm glad to go there with something to do," he said.
For Turkish director Nuri Ceylan, whose "Winter Sleep" is in competition and whose films have regularly won awards at Cannes, "this is an opportunity to showcase the country and its film business because this is where the heart of the industry beats", his producer, Zeynep Ozbatur, told Reuters.
American director Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" is based on the murder of a championship wrestler by an heir to the DuPont chemical fortune. "The Search" by French director Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist") is set in war-torn Chechnya.
American actor-director Tommy Lee Jones's "The Homesman" is a frontier drama starring himself and Meryl Streep while other Cannes veterans in competition include France's Jean-Luc Godard with "Adieu au Langage" and Canada's Atom Egoyan with "The Captive".
Add in 25-year-old Xavier Dolan's "Mommy", and Canada has three films in competition to two for the United States, which Cronenberg said is a bit like a victory in the two neighbors' eternal hockey rivalry.
MOSTLY "OLD EUROPE", AMERICAN ENTRIES
"The interesting thing for me is how much this lineup relies really on 'Old Europe' and America - there are a few Asian films, no German films, very few from Scandinavia and not much from Eastern Europe or Russia," said Scott Roxborough, Berlin bureau chief for The Hollywood Reporter.
"So it's a lot of familiar faces but also familiar areas - lots of French films, as you always have, a fair chunk of American films and others from places we've seen before."
But a party is a party and there is something for every taste. Cannes will host the world premiere of the "How to Train Your Dragon 2" sequel to the animation blockbuster, as well as a blast-from-the-past showing of a restored version of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" cult horror classic from 1974.
The festival also is known for controversy and already has one for this year: its opening film, "Grace of Monaco", starring Nicole Kidman as American actress Grace Kelly who married Prince Rainier of Monaco and died after crashing her car in 1982 in hills above the principality, not far to the east of Cannes.
For months, the trade press has been reporting that the film's French director, Olivier Dahan, and producer Harvey Weinstein, who owns the American distribution rights, have been sparring over the final cut.
This month the Monaco royal family weighed in, calling the film a "farce". Prince Albert and his sisters - Kelly's children Caroline and Stephanie - said a trailer "confirms the totally fictional nature of this film".
Asked about the dispute last month, Thierry Fremaux, the festival's director, alluded to French law which stipulates that a film's director decides on the final cut.
"We're in France, and at Cannes, the only version is the version of the director," Fremaux said.
A whiff of scandal is good for business and Cannes has reliably produced its share ever since the 18-year-old bikinied Brigitte Bardot allowed Hollywood leading man Kirk Douglas to play with her hair in a famous 1953 photo shoot on the beach.
The festival is a media magnet and Cronenberg, who won a jury prize at Cannes in 1996 for his film-noir "Crash", says that is exactly what independent producers, like him, want.
In a telephone interview he said he would probably do at least 500 interviews in Cannes, providing publicity for his new movie the likes of which he could not get anywhere else.
"As an independent we can't afford to send the cast all over the world ... (So) it's a fantastic venue to promote a movie."
The "wow" and name-recognition factors for Cannes are what seem to set it apart.
"It has a magical ring," said British screenwriter Stephen Beresford, whose film "Pride" will be shown out of competition.
"When you ring your mum and say your film's got into a film festival, when you say 'Cannes', she knows what you mean."
(Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; Editing by Mark Heinrich)