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Critic John Powers on Cannes

Our critic-at-large, John Powers, just returned from the Cannes Film Festival. He talks with Terry about the films he saw there, including Michael Moore's documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, which won Festival's highest prize, the Palme d'Or. It was the first documentary to win since 1956.



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Other segments from the episode on May 25, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 25, 2004: Interview with Peter Daszak; Interview with John Powers; Commentary on soul music inspired by the Vietnam War.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Peter Daszak discusses how emerging diseases move
between animal and human populations

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When frogs around the world are mysteriously dying, or when an infectious
disease suddenly jumps species, spreading from bats to pigs to people, my
guest, Peter Daszak, is the kind of detective you want on the case. He's not
literally a detective. He's an expert in conservation medicine, a relatively
new field that is investigating the links between environmental changes,
emerging infectious diseases and the diseases of highly endangered species.
Daszak is the executive director of the Wildlife Trust's Consortium for
Conservation Medicine, a collaborative enterprise which includes the Harvard
Medical School, Tufts Veterinary School and the National Wildlife Health
Center. Daszak recently returned from the Galapagos Islands, where he was
evaluating the risk of West Nile virus spreading into the area. I asked what
problems the virus could cause if it did reach the islands.

Mr. PETER DASZAK (Wildlife Trust's Consortium for Conservation Medicine):
Galapagos has some unique species of birds, Darwin's finches, flightless
cormorants. But West Nile virus is such a terrible disease, it goes into
mammals, reptiles and it kills them, so we've also got marine iguanas out
there that are unique. We've got Galapagos sea lions. So there's potential,
if this virus gets onto that community, and it's a group of animals that have
never seen that virus before, there's no immunity there, then you could have
some pretty serious consequences.

GROSS: What can you do to stop it?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, what we tried to do was to look at the various ways that
the virus could get into the islands. One obvious way is through hitching a
ride with airplanes. And it's been done over many years to spray the insides
of planes to try to kill these mosquitoes before they leave the plane. Not
just in the passenger compartment. This is one of the key things. In the
cargo hold, it might actually be more mosquitoes down there than in the
passenger compartments, so...

GROSS: Oh, sure, sure.

Mr. DASZAK: ...spraying the cargo hold itself would make a big difference.
And it looks pretty clear that if you want to stop a crisis before it happens,
you're gonna have to do some measures that will try and do that and take the
consequences of those measures as well.

GROSS: Is the West Nile virus a sign that something in the ecosystem has gone
out of control, or is it just the way the world works that there are these
viruses and some of them are mosquito-borne?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, I mean, it is definitely a sign that there's a problem out
there. When a virus that has had millions of years of evolution in the old
world and Europe and Africa suddenly appears in New York of all places for the
first time in 1999, you've got to say what's going on in the world to cause
that to happen. And, of course, the reason for that is that right now we've
got a very globalized world with a lot of travel from one place to another.

GROSS: Right. And as you pointed out, the mosquitoes are traveling, too, and
they don't need to buy the airline ticket.

Mr. DASZAK: That's right.

GROSS: They get a better deal.

Mr. DASZAK: Yeah.

GROSS: Now you're also working on a virus that I believe is supposed to be
similar to West Nile called the Nipah (pronounced nippa) virus.

Mr. DASZAK: Yeah, Nipah (pronounced neepa) virus.

GROSS: Nipah virus.

Mr. DASZAK: Yeah.

GROSS: What is this virus, and why should it matter to America?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, that's a very good question. Nipah is a village, a town in
Malaysia, and the virus is named after that town, as so often happens with
viruses. It first emerged in 1998-99, killing over a hundred Malaysians who
were associated with the pig industry, with hog farming and processing of
pork, and it's a very strange virus. It actually lives in fruit bats, which
are beautiful animals that exist in the...

GROSS: What does it live in?

Mr. DASZAK: In fruit bats, flying foxes. These are these large bats that
live in the tropics and fly around in the tropical forest feeding on fruits.
Absolutely beautiful animals. But it just so happens they carry these viruses
that if they get into humans, are incredibly lethal. Nipah virus killed 40
percent of the people it infected. So the reason that it matters to us here
in our cozy studio in New York is that if one of these viruses emerges in a
faraway country and then spreads globally just like HIV-AIDS did, then we've
got a risk that's gonna affect us back home.

GROSS: So what are you doing to monitor the spread of this virus?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, what we're trying to do is we're going back to the origin
of the outbreak, and we're trying to say, `Look, let's reassess what really
happened, what really caused this virus to emerge. We know it was in fruit
bats, these flying foxes. We know that it then went into pigs in pig farms
and killed a lot of pigs in Malaysia and then got into humans. But what was
it that changed in the environment to suddenly caused this virus to move into
pigs and humans for the first time? The virus has probably been there for
many millions of years in fruit bats. What were the factors that allowed it
to emerge.

GROSS: So what do you think is the answer?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, we're working on a couple of hypotheses. One is that if
you have huge numbers of pigs in very intensive conditions in areas where
fruit bats live, that's a risk for a virus. And then it's something about the
density of those pig populations that allows a virus to move into pigs, and
then build up enough numbers of viruses to then spread out into humans and
cause an epidemic.

The other idea is that maybe it's something that's changed about the fruit
bats. Maybe what we're doing to the environment in Indonesia and Malaysia has
driven fruit bats into different areas, cause them to change their migration
patterns and sort of forced them closer to pigs where farmers also grow
fruiting trees and orchards next to the pig farms.

GROSS: So the Nipah virus spread from bats to pigs to people.

Mr. DASZAK: Yeah.

GROSS: What were the symptoms in the bats? What were the symptoms in the
pigs? And what were the symptoms in the people?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, in the bats, it looks like it doesn't really do that much.
It's not really a disease that causes a big problem. They're the natural
reservoir for the virus. It's a bit like herpes virus in humans. You get a
cold sore and it stays with you for a while, and you don't really notice it.
In pigs it was a very, very virulent infection, lots of virus was produced.
It goes into the lungs and they get this incredible cough, which was called
the one-mile cough because you could hear it a mile away. You could work out
which farms were infected by hearing this horrible cough of these pigs in
these farms. And, of course, that coughing then sprays the virus out into the
atmosphere, and any human working in that area with pigs is likely to get

The infection of humans is even worse, and 40 percent of people who are
infected died, and the way that that happened was usually a flulike disease, a
fever, and then respiratory infection, and then a brain infection,
encephalitis, and eventually people would slip into a coma and die.

GROSS: Hmm. Now one of the issues that you have to work on, which relates to
this issue of the Nipah virus, is why does a virus suddenly jump from one
species to another, from a fruit bat to a pig...

Mr. DASZAK: Yeah.

GROSS: ...or from a pig to a person. Is there--like, what's your
understanding of what that threshold is, what that point is where suddenly a
virus jumps from one species to another?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, it's very interesting. It's a sort of mixture of ecology,
evolution and basic virology. And if you look to the virology side of it,
viruses behave in different ways. If you get a virus and put it into cell
culture, quite often you can culture them in human cells. So we know it's
possible that they could infect human cells. But it's only certain viruses
that do this, and it seems to be that if you create the right ecological
circumstances by putting humans in some way very close to wildlife that carry
these viruses, you allow the ones that can move into humans to jump and then
spread onwards.

And a great example of that is HIV-AIDS, which as we know evolved
from--certainly HIV-1--from a chimpanzee virus, and it's probably almost
certainly now by butchering bush meat, chimpanzee meat, you allow the virus to
directly infect humans, and then it ticks over and eventually becomes an

GROSS: And was the butchering of chimpanzee meat something new that had not
happened before?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, that's a good question, because obviously this has been
going on for millions of years, you know. People feed on chimpanzees in
Africa, have been doing for many millions of--for thousands of years. What
seems to have changed is the amount of bush meat that's being taken out of the
forest in the '50s and '60s, the ability to get fresh meat from remote regions
back into towns and villages and butcher it there, and just the movement of
populations, human populations from one area to another. We know now that
HIV-1 probably emerged a few times into humans, but it's only in the last time
that it then became a global outbreak. And, of course, that's related to
human population movement, centralization of working practices in Africa, and
then globalization of air travel.

GROSS: My guest is Peter Daszak, executive director of the Wildlife Trust's
Consortium for Conservation Medicine. We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Peter Daszak. He is the executive director of the
Consortium for Conservation Medicine, which is based at the Wildlife Trust in
New York.

Now we've been talking about how you have been tracking emerging diseases by
going to different parts of the world and trying to figure out where the
disease originated from, what environmental factors might have caused the
disease or caused the virus to jump species. You helped solve a big mystery,
which was why frogs were dying in unusually large numbers. Let's talk about
the problem first. What was the problem, and how was it discovered?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, it was interesting. It was maybe three decades of people,
conservationists mainly, ecologists working in the wild and seeing amphibian
populations disappearing in the wild and wondering what was the cause of this.
And lots of different hypotheses put forward, that it was pollution, global
climate change, increases in UV light, and still they may be part of the
story. What happened was we started to look at could it be the disease
causing these declines. It was a new genus of fungus that lives on the skin
of frogs, a very unusual organism. No one had described it before. It was
new to science. We've now found out that it's been around for a long time.
We've found it in histology, sections through amphibians in museums, and it
seems to somehow block maybe the way amphibians breathe through the skin or
take in water through the skin. Or maybe it secretes a toxin. But what we do
know is it's very lethal to amphibians.

GROSS: And do you have any idea how it got into the frog population?

Mr. DASZAK: That's what we're working on now, and we're very interested now
in saying we know what the disease is, we know that it kills amphibians, but
why did it suddenly emerge, why did it suddenly start killing off amphibians
in Americas, you know, Latin America, North America, in Europe, in Australia.
And what we started to see is that there's a huge trade in amphibians for
food, for the pet trade, for various other reasons, and that may well be
involved in spreading this disease around the world.


Mr. DASZAK: Well, because if you look into those trades, you find that the
amphibians within them have got this disease, and they're then taken from one
part of the world to another. And we've been especially interested in the
restaurant trade in frogs, which in America is mainly bullfrogs. Bullfrogs
seem to be resistant, and that you can infect them with the pathogen, but then
they don't die, so they're good carriers of the pathogen. So if you move
bullfrogs from one part of the world to another, and they've got this disease
with them, they won't die, they'll just spread it. And that's what we're
trying to work on that, to see how that's happening.

GROSS: Some of your work is really specialized. You wrote a paper
about--this sounds specialized to me anyways. You wrote a paper about
intestinal Sarcocystosis in the bull snake.

Mr. DASZAK: That's right.

GROSS: What was that about?

Mr. DASZAK: You did some good research there. That's one of my favorites.
I did that with a very good friend of mine from the Institute of Zoology in
England called Andrew Cunningham, who's an amazing guy. He's a vet
pathologist, so he used to be in charge of all pathology of everything that
dies at London Zoo. And he used to call me up in the office and say, `We've
got another parasite infection.' I'm originally a parasitologist. I worked on
parasites. And he'd call up and say, `We just--you know, what is this thing?
Can you come and help us out?' So we'd get together and go through the
literature and try and work out what this thing was.

In this case, it was a bull snake that was caught in America many years ago
now, and then captured during winter. And normally in the natural ecology of
this parasite is that it overwinters with snakes that hibernate. Because if
you take a snake out of hibernation, stick it in a cage and heat it up, it's
possible the parasite then starts to proliferate, and that's what seems to
have happened. So it was the first time we'd found a disease of this type
causing death in an animal, which we thought was very important at the time,
but of course it's pretty obscure.

GROSS: Right. What were implications of this?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, the implications are certainly for captive breeding of
snakes, and then, you know, this snake wasn't endangered, but a lot of zoos do
captive breeding where they're really struggling to find the perfect
environment for the host, for the animal, but they forget about the parasites,
and they forget that if you don't think about the pathogens that these animals
are carrying, you'll either get disease problems or you'll have some sort of
conservation problems.

And a great example of that is when animals come into captivity and they're
now extinct in the wild--and there are a few cases of this. Rothschild's
mynah is a beautiful white bird from Bali, Indonesia. It's almost extinct in
the wild, if not extinct by now. But there are good captive colonies in
Europe and in America in zoos where there are very good captive breeding
programs. But it looks like there are some parasites in that captive breeding
program that have been introduced from other species, so now we've got a
contaminated stock that we're gonna try and reintroduce into the wild, and
you've got to be very careful when you're tinkering with nature in this way,
in these captive breeding programs, to try and maintain a balance between the
animal and its natural parasites.

GROSS: If it's dangerous to take endangered species, remove them from their
environment, put them in a zoo, and then after they start populating, return
them to their native environment, are there any other better solutions for
trying to save endangered species?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, yeah, and I think a lot of zoos are being very progressive
now and they're looking--when they bring an animal into captivity, they don't
sterilize it. They keep it--and in terms of getting rid of all the pathogens,
they allow it to keep the parasites that it came in with. And I think that's
what we've got towards. We're not just preserving an animal. We're
preserving an animal and the 10, 20, maybe a hundred pathogens or fleas or
whatever they carry with them. They're unique species, too. And we've
already seen examples now where parasites have become extinct because of this
process. And although they're parasites, they're not as commonly accepted as
cute, cuddly, furry animals, they are species, too, and I think we're mature
enough as a society to say that they need to be conserved as well.

GROSS: A lot of the emerging viruses that you study originate in rain forests
and, you know, remote parts of the world, remove to us in America.

Mr. DASZAK: Yeah.

GROSS: So you're going exactly to the kind of places where you can contact a
rare disease or contact a disease in its emerging stage. What do you do to
protect yourself when you're out investigating?

Mr. DASZAK: Oh, I mean, certainly, you know, our whole team is vaccinated
with all the vaccines we can get for the countries that we go to. And, you
know, we're very serious about that. There are some pretty lethal diseases
out there, or certainly serious diseases. But some times you can't protect
for. Nipah virus, for instance. There's no vaccine for Nipah virus. But we
know about how it's transmitted and we know the risks involved, and the risks
are pretty low for that virus. It seems to have to go through pigs to get
into humans. And there's no current outbreak.

But when you go to an outbreak area, that's different. And I think that there
you are sometimes at risk of infection, and it's a risk that people take and,
you know, you try and use all the protection you can get. For instance, when
we're working with fruit bats, it's possible that you might be handling a bat
that's actually got virus in it. Very slim chance that you could pick the
virus up directly from a bat, so we wear face protection, and we handle them
with gloves, and we're very careful. But, you know, there's still a very
slight risk.

GROSS: If you could, you know, play God for a second and control the world,
what are some of the changes that you would most want to make in either our
patterns of deforestation or agriculture, the food industry, changes that you
think might help prevent the spread of emerging diseases?

Mr. DASZAK: Well, that's a really tough question, because when you really go
back to the most basic common denominator, it's human population growth. And,
you know, we've got to seriously address that. We've got to seriously address
global poverty and inequity. But to prevent disease emergence, there are some
very, very simple things we can do. I think we should be very serious about
dealing with diseases before they emerge, instead of putting all our
government funding into development of vaccines and drugs once they've already
happened. I mean, what essentially a waste of money for a government
strategy, as well as a waste of life. Let's go back to those diseases that
have already emerged and say, `What are the common patterns there?' Let's put
in some place some really serious surveillance on goods that we bring from one
country to another, and animals that we ship around the globe in increasingly
huge numbers. And SARS is a great example of a very threatening virus that
emerged from a trade in wildlife. I think we've got to seriously address the
use of animals in those trades.

GROSS: Now one of your concerns is population growth, and you think
population growth is in part responsible for emerging viruses and the spread
of viruses. Some people would say that viruses are nature's way of keeping
the population down.

Mr. DASZAK: Yeah.

GROSS: Do you have that view of viruses, and is there a part of you that
thinks that...

Mr. DASZAK: No. I think that's a very cruel argument to get in the line of.
Viruses cause very painful death, and death in itself is a very painful thing.
And I think that the problem is that with--I mean, this is population growth
globally--is getting to the point where you wonder when we'll reach a
threshold over which we start to see really serious problems in the
environment. I think we're reaching that threshold. We've got global climate
change now, pretty convincing evidence that that's happening due to our fossil
fuel burning.

And maybe it's not so much just population growth, but the way we exploit the
environment, especially in developed countries, and the way we're continuing
to do that, even in the face of this pretty obvious evidence that we've got
serious environmental problems out there. And I think that the disease side
of it is one other aspect of the environmental problems that we've caused, and
I think that's what we need to grasp. That these emerging diseases are caused
by us, by the way we travel around the world so much, by the trade that we do,
by the deforestation that we do. Obviously I'm not saying that we've got to
block these things. We don't have to instantly block trades and instantly
deal with population growth, but they are part of the story and we need to
seriously address those issues.

GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us a bit about your work.
Thank you.

Mr. DASZAK: My pleasure.

GROSS: Peter Daszak is the executive director of the Wildlife Trust's
Consortium for Conservation Medicine. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Coming up, we talk with our critic at large John Powers. He just
returned from the Cannes Film Festival where the top prize went to Michael
Moore for his anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11." And rock historian Ed
Ward plays soul music inspired by the Vietnam War.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Analysis: Cannes Film Festival

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Our critic at large, John Powers, has returned from the 57th Cannes Film
Festival, which is held each year on the French Riviera. It's the place to
scout new movies from around the world. The head of the jury this year was
Quentin Tarantino. The top prize, the Palme d'Or, was given to Michael Moore
for his controversial anti-Bush documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11." We invited
John to talk with us about Cannes. John is also deputy editor and media
columnist for LA Weekly and author of the forthcoming book "Sore Winners,"
about pop culture during the presidency of George W. Bush. I asked John to
describe Michael Moore's new film and the controversy around it.

JOHN POWERS reporting:

The film's controversial because unlike Michael Moore's previous film, this is
an overtly political film with a particular political agenda, and that agenda
is to defeat George in the year 2004. You know, if you look at a film like
"Bowling for Columbine," you could say that it was an essay about American
violence, but when you see "Fahrenheit 9/11," the entire point of the film is
to suggest that, one, George Bush was not legitimately elected as president,
second, that he is connected to the Saudi families and the Saudi elite that is
linked to 9/11, and that he then led the United States into the Iraq War
that's a disaster. And along the way, the entire burden of the film
emotionally is to basically be the anti-Bush narrative that I guess would be
the response to the pro-Bush campaign that you see on television.

GROSS: What are the most interesting or surprising scenes in it?

POWERS: Well, you know, there are some very funny scenes, you know,
that--I've never been a great fan of Michael Moore, but he can be quite funny,
you know. And, you know, there's a very funny montage at the beginning of the
film that simply shows the various spokespeople for the Bush administration
preparing to go on TV. So these were satellite feeds of them being made up,
and there's a wonderful moment when Paul Wolfowitz, who's always seemed the
most intellectual member of the Bush team, taking his comb, sticking it in his
mouth, soaking it with saliva and then using the comb to slick back his hair,
and it's a startlingly funny sequence. That's a very memorable sequence.

The interesting thing for me about the film is that it's much less Michael
Moore-like than his previous work. He's not in it very much, and the tone of
the film shifts enormously. It starts off very, very jokey with a thing about
the 2000 election with him asking, `Is it all a bad dream? Was it all a bad
dream?' and it moves through some very bouncy stuff, but in the second half of
the film, he gets to some very interesting and moving stuff about the soldiers
fighting in Iraq.

GROSS: Was this film controversial at the Cannes Film Festival?

POWERS: You know, actually, I think one of the problems with the Cannes Film
Festival is that it was so uncontroversial that it was slightly eerie. I
mean, after all this is a film that's suggesting that, basically, the
president of the United States is a bum, and if you were to show such a film
in the United States, you could count on a huge part of the audience to
actually have major reservations or doubts about it, whereas in Europe, but
particularly in Cannes, it was received rapturously. It received a 20-minute
standing ovation. And Michael Moore's status in Europe is something that
maybe Americans don't quite understand, which is he is sort of a cross between
Mark Twain and Che Guevara, you know, where, in fact--there was a strike;
striking workers on the streets of Cannes on the first Saturday of the
festival were complaining about various issues, and they marched down the
Croisette, which is, you know, the big walk along the beach in Cannes,
shrieking the name `Michael Moore! Michael Moore! Michael Moore!' You know,
nothing like that would actually happen in the United States, but in Europe,
he's taken to be the one person who tells the truth.

GROSS: John, you were pretty critical of Michael Moore's previous film,
"Bowling for Columbine," about the gun industry and violence in America.
What did you think of this new movie?

POWERS: I actually preferred "Fahrenheit 9/11" to "Bowling for Columbine,"
you know, not so much for its political reasons but because I actually felt
that it avoided a lot of the cheap-shot stuff that Michael Moore drives me
crazy by doing. You know, in "Fahrenheit 9/11," when he talks to ordinary
people, for the first time ever in his work, he doesn't make fun of them. You
know, he doesn't put people on camera just to make them look bad, nor on the
other hand does he put himself on the camera just to make himself look good.

You know, one of the things that I was most annoyed by in "Bowling for
Columbine" was this ghastly montage of basically all the evil things the
United States had done in history, building to the attack on the World Trade
Center, while Louis Armstrong sang "Wonderful World," and I thought that was
the most ahistorical, dishonest and cheap thing I could imagine seeing.
Although there are clearly polemical points in "Fahrenheit 9/11," there's
nothing quite like that. You know, you don't actually see him doing really
nasty things where you feel he set somebody up just to get them.

GROSS: So, you know, in America, Michael Moore's movie has been getting a lot
of attention because Disney has refused to allow its company, Miramax, from
distributing the film. So, you know, to a lot of people this looks like
censorship. What's the story? Do you know any of the behind-the-scene stuff
about this Disney-Miramax deal?

POWERS: Well, I think the real story is that there are a lot of people who
would distribute "Fahrenheit 9/11," but in the case of most films, and
including the case of Michael Moore's films, you know, the real question is
money. You know, I mean, I know film distributors who would happily show the
film, but they can't offer Miramax and Moore what they want in order to
distribute the film. The film costs a certain amount of money to make and can
be counted on to make a certain amount of money. And so if you're making the
film deal, you want to make sure you get the best deal.

So they're wheeling and dealing even as we speak, no doubt, but there's no
risk at all--Moore himself said this--that the film won't actually be shown in
the United States. Occasionally, Moore would like to hint that the United
States won't show the film, but when asked directly about it at a press
conference in Cannes, he said, `Of course it will be shown.' I mean, in this
case, it purely comes down to money.

And if I may just add parenthetically, you know, at a time when the American
liberal and left doesn't have very many stars, the stars they do have are
often entertainers, like Michael Moore or Arianna Huffington or some of the
movie stars you see at protest marches. And so you have this strange thing
where he's playing it two ways at once. On the one hand, he clearly is a
committed person of the left who believes what he's saying. On the other
hand, he's a businessman who has made himself the professional working-class
hero. And he's actually juggling both of those in making the deal for the
movie. And depending on who he's talking to, you get one or the other.

In Europe, Europeans have very little idea that Michael Moore's books are
almost inescapable, that you can hardly turn on the TV without seeing Michael
Moore. I've actually had very sweet Europeans say to me, `Do they allow his
books to be shown, to be sold? Have you ever seen him on television?' And,
of course, Americans are thinking, `My gosh, we see him every single minute of
the day,' you know, and that's part of his skill at playing the victim.

If I could add a second parenthesis to that--is that he has actually done some
of the same things that you occasionally get on the right, where the right has
claimed that their point of view is never represented. So there's that kind
of weird thing where both the left and the right right now are both claiming
that their stuff is never being allowed to be expressed in public, whereas, in
fact, if you go to any bookstore, you can't avoid Bill O'Reilly or Sean
Hannity or Michael Moore.

GROSS: My guest is FRESH AIR critic at large John Powers. We'll talk more
about the Cannes Film Festival after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the Cannes Film
Festival. My guest is FRESH AIR critic-at-large John Powers, who also writes
the Media column for LA Weekly and he's the author of the forthcoming book
"Sore Winners."

The Cannes Festival jury this year was headed by Quentin Tarantino, whose
latest film, "Kill Bill," opened not too long ago in American theaters, and
his film "Pulp Fiction" won the top prize at Cannes in--I think it was 1994.
What's he treated like at Cannes?

POWERS: Oh, Quentin Tarantino is a god in Cannes. You know, much of the
festival seemed to be geared around making him happy, you know, that there
were films in competition--for example, a Korean action film which finished
second at the festival--that probably never would have been at the competition
except for the desire to please Quentin. Quentin was a fan of Mr. Park, the
Korean filmmaker, and liked that kind of thing, and I'm sure they felt they
didn't want the competition to be filled with too many films that were just
arty. You know, they wanted something that Quentin would like.

And if you were there, he was inescapable. You know, you'd see him on TV
talking in his distinctively Tarantino-esque way about how he loves all kinds
of movies, `All right?' You know, or you'd see the photos from the parties
where he was there having a great time outside the big Palais. You could buy
"Kill Bill" T-shirts; every magazine had him on the cover. I mean, it was a
Tarantino fest.

GROSS: What were some of the other award winners?

POWERS: Well, it actually was the strangest set of award winners I've ever
seen at the festival. You know, I mean, I'm a great fan of Tarantino's
filmmaking, so I feel that I can say this without seeming nasty, which is that
Tarantino has enormous talent and almost no taste. You know, if you talk to
him, you realize that there's almost not a movie bad enough that he won't find
something to like, and when you look at the awards that his jury gave, they
seemed almost random.

You know, for example, there's usually a thing called the special jury prize,
where the jury chooses something out of the ordinary to honor because it's
either weird or strange, and that gives that film a big break internationally.
This year, there were two of them. One was to Irma P. Hall, the
African-American actress who was in "The Ladykillers," and one was to a gay
experimental Thai film called "Tropical Malady," which I actually liked very
much, but the effect of that was to put these two--basically to put an apple
and an orange next to one another, and everyone thought that it didn't help
either of them. It was just as though you had thought, `Well, I like that,
and I like that. Let's put the two of them together.' And a great many of the
choices were either that or things that were, frankly, not very good. You
know, the best director award went to this French director, Tony Gatlif, who
for years and years has been making essentially the same movie about Gypsies
that nobody very much likes, OK? Finally, he won Cannes. No one thought the
film was very good. Even his fans didn't think the film was very good. Yet
it won.

Probably there was only one or two awards in the entire festival that people
thought were deserved. There was a screenwriting award for this French comedy
called "Look at Me," by a woman named Agnes Jaoui, who's a very gifted French
filmmaker who's essentially copying a Woody Allen movie. It was probably
everybody's favorite film of the festival. You know, if you'd polled everyone
in Cannes and said, `Which film, be honest now, did you really like the most,'
that was the film, and it won the best screenplay and it probably was the best

But other than that, you know, the idea that the Korean action film was the
second-best film was a joke. There's even a way in which the Michael Moore
film being named the best film is something of a joke. You know, it may have
been the most important film. It was the most exciting film. It was the film
that had the people revved up the most. And it was the film of the moment,
but it probably wasn't the best film.

GROSS: What got the worst reaction? Was anything booed?

POWERS: There were fewer boos than usual. You know, I mean, one of the
interesting things that's happened at Cannes is that, for a great many years,
you'd always see films by big-name international auteurs and they would come
in and people had such high expectations that when the films weren't good,
they would often boo them because you actually felt as if you were booing some
big-time person who'd let you down. But this year, there were a lot fewer
big-name auteurs at the festival, and so actually the audience was sort of
sweeter and kinder because, you know, you'd feel really bad having an entire
crowd boo a little-known Thai director who is getting the big break of his

GROSS: I see your point.

POWERS: I mean, you know, there was a very, very good film, a sort of very
sedate, very sly, Alma Dover(ph)-like film by an Argentine woman named
Lucrecia Martel that, in fact, was sort of typical of what was good about the
festival. Here was a person who two or three years ago probably wouldn't have
been in the competition because there would have been some bad Bernardo
Bertolucci film that got the slot because he was famous and she wasn't. This
year, a lot of the slots were filled by people who'd never been there before.
And what was interesting was it made for a much sweeter festival. You know,
people thought, `Oh, let's give these people a chance.'

GROSS: It sounds like there wasn't a lot of star power there. Maybe that's
why Michael Moore was such the big star.

POWERS: Yes. Well, I think, you know, that, you know, they always drag a lot
of stars through Cannes--you know, so that Tom Hanks was there, you know, but
Tom Hanks was there for "The Ladykillers" which at least by American standards
was a film that nobody had liked very much, you know, so that there wasn't the
huge star thing; although every day, you know, Sean Penn would arrive, but
then he was in a very, very bad film called "The Assassination of Richard

You know, the biggest star vehicle really was a Hong Kong film called "2046"
made by the Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, which starred this
extraordinarily great Hong Kong actor named Tony Leung, who I think may be at
the moment the greatest movie star in the world, and he was cast alongside
basically every beautiful woman in Asia. You know, if you wanted Gong Li,
Gong Li was there. If you wanted Zhang Ziyi, who is the young woman in
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," she was there. If you wanted, you know, the
hottest Hong Kong pop star Faye Wong, she was there. It was a film just
filled with beautiful people and beautiful things and it became the festival's
great scandal, because for the first time ever at Cannes a film didn't show up
on time to show at its screening time, so they had to rearrange the schedule,
which, I think for Cannes veterans, you know, was an outrage because somehow
it had violated the decorum.

So although it may have been the best film of the festival--it certainly
deserved awards--it got absolutely nothing. And everyone I talked to said it
was clear that a point was being made, you know, that Cannes was drawing the
line with international auteurs which is, `If you actually make us change our
schedule on Wednesday night when your film's supposed to show on Thursday
morning, we will make you pay.'

GROSS: Did you like the film?

POWERS: I liked the film very much. It is basically a sequel to the film "In
the Mood for Love," which came out two or three years ago, and it makes that
film feel like a bit of an appetizer. It's sort of a rich, voluptuous,
romantic, sexual, funny film about a writer who basically yearns for a lost
love and so treats all the women around him very, very badly. OK. But he
does it in the kind of way that I think maybe actually a lot of women know,
which is that he has a sweet smile, he's very charming, he's fun, and it's
only after he's put the stiletto in you that you realize that he's not a good

So as you watch the film, there's wonderful sequences between the actor Tony
Leung and Zhang Ziyi, where you watch him seduce her, win her over. You watch
her fall in love with him, and he's charming and wonderful. He's like--you
know, he looks here a bit like Clark Gable. And you're so won over by him,
yet you know that it's going to end badly because, in fact, he's a cad. And,
I mean, it's one of those films that actually really captures some
psychological truth about the relationship between men and women and also one
of the truths about the way that a great many people in their romantic lives
are always pursuing some ideal that they don't quite live up to, and then
making the person who doesn't live up to that ideal pay.

GROSS: John, are there certain films that you think, if not for Cannes, they
really wouldn't get the distribution they need and maybe we never would get to
see them in the United States?

POWERS: Well, I think, actually, one of the films that shows Cannes at its
best was a film that sounds like, I think, the worst date movie of all
time--when I describe it to you, you'll probably gasp--which was it's a film
about genital mutilation made by an 82-year-old Senegalese director named
Usman Sem Ben(ph), who may be the best director in Africa. And it was a film
that I think every single person I knew sort of went into with more dread and,
you know, trepidation than any film imaginable, and it turned out to be a
completely wonderful film which was about this group of women standing up
against their village's tradition of genital mutilation. But the film's great
because it actually gives you almost a novelistic sense of all the characters
in the town. I mean, in a way, it's like a classic Hollywood movie or a great
French movie, where it gives you the world of this and actually shows the
world getting better because the women do triumph, you know, so that you're
watching this film--as you go in, you're thinking, `Oh, no, I don't want to
see a film about genital mutilation,' and you leave and everybody was--it was
almost exuberant.

You know, I mean, a friend of mine, you know, joked that you could actually
image the Broadway musical with Queen Latifah, you know, because somehow it
actually takes you through this journey, good triumphs over evil, and it's the
kind of good that everyone knows is good. And at the same time, the film's so
smart and rooted in village life that you actually feel like you've learned
something. And so, like, you know, that's the kind of film might get a
distributor out of Cannes, whereas if it played anywhere else, it would simply
wind up in some--you know, playing on 16-milimeter in African studies courses
at universities.

GROSS: OK. Well, thanks a lot for talking with us, John.

POWERS: Thank you.

GROSS: John Powers is critic at large for FRESH AIR, deputy editor and media
columnist for LA WEEKLY and author of the forthcoming book "Sore Winners"
about popular culture during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on soul music inspired by the war in
Vietnam. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Analysis: Music that came out of the Vietnam War

Our rock historian Ed Ward has been thinking about some of the music that came
out of our last prolonged war, the war in Vietnam. The war coincided with the
rise of soul music. A lot of African-American soldiers were drafted into the
war and a lot of soul records dealing with Vietnam emerged.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #1: (Singing) Greetings, it's not the same. I want to
take you to a far-off land. I need you.

Backup Singers: (Singing) I need you.

Unidentified Singer #1: (Singing) Oh, I need you.

Backup Singers: (Singing) I need you.

Unidentified Singer #1: (Singing) Yeah, I need you...

Backup Singers: (Singing) I need you.

Unidentified Singer #1: (Singing) lend a helping hand.

Backup Singers: (Singing) I need you.

Unidentified Singer #1: (Singing) So goodbye...

ED WARD reporting:

As the blues singers noted during World War II, Uncle Sam ain't no woman but
he sure can take your man. Today, he can even take your woman. But in the
mid-'60s, soul music was confronted with a different kind of war in Vietnam,
and at first, soul's gospel roots helped ease the pain of separation.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #2 and Unidentified Singer #3: (Singing) It was sent the
day I left home, not knowing whether I would return.

Unidentified Singer #2: (Singing) But I had to go fight for the country we
love dear.

Unidentified Singer #2 and Unidentified Singer #3: (Singing) And while I was
leaving the girl I love was in tears.

Unidentified Singer #2: (Singing) Darling, don't worry.

Unidentified Singer #3: (Singing) Don't worry.

Unidentified Singer #2: (Singing) I'll make it all right. You just keep your
faith and whisper a little prayer every night.

Unidentified Singer #2 and Unidentified Singer #3: (Singing) Oh, keep the
faith, baby. Keep the faith, baby. Oh, baby...

WARD: Of course, there was also opportunism. Joe Tex certainly wasn't going
to be drafted, but he saw fit to release this as his contribution to the war

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOE TEX: (Singing) When I got your letter, baby, I was in a foxhole on
my knees. Oh, yes, I was. And your letter brought me so much strength, I'll
tell you what I did, baby, you won't believe it, I raised up and got me two
more enemies. Oh, yes, I did. Listen, that's why I believe...

WARD: But that was 1966, before the sense that America was bogged down in a
war it didn't quite know how to handle had settled into the public perception.
Although there weren't any soul protest songs at first, the idea that soldiers
were isolated and lonely came through loud and clear, as this song by Mel &
Tim shows.

(Soundbite of music)

MEL & TIM: (Singing) I'll be so glad when mail call time comes around. Yes,
I will, now. Oh, yeah. I'll be so glad when mail call time comes around.
Yes. I'm going to sit right down on this cold, wet, muddy ground and I'm
going to read when mail call time comes around. Oh, yes, I will. Oh, yeah.

WARD: But the times, they were a-changing, as even such a basically
conservative genre, soul music, had to admit, and in 1970, Edwin Starr,
remembered today for his more broadly themed hit "War," had a top-10 soul hit
and just missed the top-20 pop charts with this.

(Soundbite of bombing; "War")

Mr. EDWIN STARR: (Singing) All right. Yeah. Make the sign of peace and sing

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stop the war now.

Mr. STARR: (Singing) Oh, everybody don't put it off another day. Make your
voices roar, oh...

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stop the war now.

Mr. STARR: (Singing) ...just like thunder, y'all.

Backup Singers: (Singing) Don't put it off.

Mr. STARR: (Singing) Hey, another day. Sing a song now. Oh...

Backup Singers: (Singing) Stop the war now.

Mr. STARR: (Singing) ...listen to me, y'all.

Backup Singers: (Singing) Don't put it off.

Mr. STARR: (Singing) Oh, another day. Listen to me, I'm not going to do it.
I'm not going to do it.

WARD: Starr's impassioned rant, three and a half minutes of incendiary
singing and screaming, did what none of the other songs of comfort and
consolation had done. It became a hit. Six months later, Freda Payne
underscored Starr's message.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FREDA PAYNE: (Singing) Fathers are pleading. Lovers are all alone.
Mothers are praying, `Send our sons back home.'

Unidentified Singer #4: Tell me them about it.

Ms. PAYNE: (Singing) You marched them away, yes, you did now, on ships and
planes to the senseless war, facing death in vain. Bring the boys home.
Bring the boys home. Bring the boys home.

WARD: And the boys did, in fact, come home. There weren't many songs about
that, but leave it to funkadelic to predict the future in 1973.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #5: (Singing) Father, bless the soldier who has returned
home from the war. He has fought with all his might. Yet, he knew not what
or who he was fighting for. Death waited in the shadows as he crawled by
night for his country. His enemy, who was many, proving a habit he still
cannot break. Father, we pray that we might understand what has happened to
his mind, and help us understand his reaction to the changes that has taken
place here at home. And, Father, smile upon us with your grace, for we will
need you more than ever. Help him understand that when his loved one
remarried, they were truly under the impression that he was dead and would
never return.

WARD: A new era in black popular music had begun, and a new era in American
social history. It's a sobering experience listening to these records today,
even if the details have changed.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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