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Cannes Film Festival Opens Amid Controversy - 2002-05-15

France's celebrated Cannes Film Festival opens Wednesday night with a special appearance by U.S. entertainer Woody Allen - and some real drama. An American group has urged the U.S. film industry to boycott the festival, because of recent anti-Jewish attacks in France.

The 55th Cannes Film Festival promises to be a spectacular 12 days of movie debuts, parties, star gazing, and business negotiations among movie moguls.

As usual, the festival in southern France is expected to draw a glittering cast of actors, directors, and other celebrities.

What is new this year is who may not attend. The American Jewish Congress has urged the Hollywood film industry to boycott the Cannes Film Festival, because of several recent attacks in France against Jewish schools, synagogues, and other institutions.

Police blame many of the attacks on angry French youth, many of them Muslims sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. But the American Jewish Congress has compared the incidents to those under France's pro-Nazi Vichy government of World War II.

The boycott call has drawn strong criticism - not only from the French government, but most recently from U.S. actor and director Woody Allen, the host of Cannes' Wednesday night opening. In an interview on French radio Mr. Allen, who is Jewish, said the Nazis once called for boycotts as well - but against Jews.

"Well, I think any boycott is wrong," Mr. Allen said. " Because I think boycotts are exactly what the Germans were doing against the Jews."

In emphasizing tolerance in France, Mr. Allen also praised French voters for rejecting far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, during presidential elections earlier this month.

Leading French Jewish artists also have rejected a boycott, and called the Jewish Congress's comparison to the Nazi era "offensive." France's Jewish Council called a boycott "unproductive."

In remarks to French media, Cannes festival director Gilles Jacob predicted that despite the American Jewish Congress appeal, most American actors will attend the festival, as usual.