Cannes Film Fest Begins

The lights dim, the red curtain draws aside to reveal a white screen, the reels are in motion, the pictures appear — let the competition begin!

A total of 23 films from 12 countries are competing in the 54th Cannes Film Festival, which opened today on the French Riviera.

For 12 days, Cannes will be the world capital of cinema.

Movie professionals from around the world are gathering for what is considered one of the most important film festivals in the world. Moviegoers and local residents are also flocking to the area, hoping to catch a glimpse of a star.

Five U.S. Films in Competition

Thierry Fremaux, who heads the committee in charge of selecting the movies for the festival, admits the selection process was very difficult.

The committee received thousands of tapes and ended up screening 1,798 movies over the past four months, nearly 30 percent more than last year. And only a handful made the final cut.

The United States made a strong push, and this year five American movies are nominated for the Palme d'Or, or Golden Palm — the festival's top prize. Moulin Rouge, directed by Baz Lurhmann and starring Nicole Kidman, opens the festivities.

The other U.S. entries are the animated Shrek, directed by Victoria Jenson and Andrew Adamson; The Man Who Wasn't There, directed by Cannes favorite Joel Coen; Mullholand Drive, directed by David Lynch; and The Pledge, directed by Sean Penn.

Asia, with five movies in the running, has confirmed its emergence as a strong contender in the movie business.

Kidman and famed director Francis Ford Coppola have already arrived at Cannes. Other celebrities expected to put in an appearance include Penn, Cameron Diaz, Jack Nicholson and Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas.

The 10-member jury, headed by Norwegian actress-director Liv Ullmann, will hand out the coveted Palme d'Or, two runner-up awards, and prizes for best actor, actress, director and screenplay on the the last day of the festival, May 20.