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Cannes: where celebrity sells and celebrities sell

Jury member actress Nicole Kidman (R) and her husband Keith Urban pose on the red carpet as they arrive for the screening of the film "Insid
Jury member actress Nicole Kidman (R) and her husband Keith Urban pose on the red carpet as they arrive for the screening of the film "Insid

By Belinda Goldsmith

CANNES (Reuters) - Film stars come to Cannes to promote themselves and their projects - so where better to launch a wry documentary bemoaning the seeming dominance of celebrity pulling-power over content?

With parties, pitching and paparazzi already in overdrive at the world's premier movie market, director James Toback on Sunday showed "Seduced and Abandoned", the story of how he and actor Alec Baldwin talked to directors, investors and studio heads at Cannes last year to seek funding for a film with no A-list star.

They never intended to make the film, but its seemingly bankable plot about a spy and a journalist in Iraq turned out to be no compensation for its lack of big names.

Baldwin himself was dismissed as a mere television actor, and the female star, Canada's Neve Campbell, star of the "Scream" films, was said to have little box office power.

"Money follows stars," says Toback in the documentary, acquired by Time Warner's HBO.

As well as being the world's top cinema showcase, Cannes brings together up to 40,000 professionals to buy and sell films and seek funding for projects, but many of these never see a film.

One investor tells Toback that he doesn't even read scripts but decides whether to back a project based on the stars involved, as the marketing of a movie has become more important than its content.

Small wonder, then, that the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Timberlake and Emma Watson are not merely promoting finished movies showing in the 12-day Cannes festival, but also taking advantage of the limelight to talk up their new projects and seek distributors.

CELEBRITY AS SUBJECT

And Baldwin and Toback are not the only ones taking celebrity and its occupational hazards as their subject.

Former "Baywatch" star David Hasselhoff, 60, was in town with his 32-year-old girlfriend Hayley Robert to promote "Killing Hasselhoff", his yet-to-be-shot film about a man who hires a hitman to kill a celebrity - Hasselhoff himself - to win money in a bet.

Paris Hilton, never shy of publicity, attended a party for Sofia Coppola's film "The Bling Ring", premiered in Cannes, in which she plays a cameo role as a gang of celebrity-obsessed teen burglars break into their idols' homes, including Hilton's house.

DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese announced their next movie venture, "Silence", while Timberlake and his wife Jessica Biel held a disco-themed party for buyers of "Spinning Gold", their planned biopic of record executive Neil Bogart.

Jennifer Lawrence, who won the Oscar this year for best actress, was working the floors with Australian actor Liam Hemsworth to promote the second and third "Hunger Games" movies, which start shooting in September.

Kung Fu star Jackie Chan rolled in with China's big screen darling Fan Bingbing talking about next year's comedy action film, "Skiptrace".

Elsewhere, actresses Liv Tyler, Jane Fonda and Eva Longoria, models Cindy Crawford and Cara Delevingne and pop singer and DJ Boy George were among those partying and pressing flesh around Cannes to talk up their projects, or merely using their celebrity status to be "brand ambassadors".

Beyond promoting films and careers, Cannes does provide at least a few occasions to put celebrity to more altruistic use.

Sharon Stone, Jessica Chastain, and Janet Jackson are all on the guest list for Thursday's annual amfAR gala to raise money for AIDS research, where the bill of performers includes Shirley Bassey and Duran Duran.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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