Palme d'Or winner Gus Van Sant said Sunday that he was pleasantly surprised at the lack of anti-American feeling during the 2003 Cannes film festival. The openly gay Van Sant--whose win of the top prize shut up those who said political animosity could see Cannes snub Americans and vice versa--echoed countrymen like Clint Eastwood when he said nothing seemed to have changed on the Cote d'Azur. "I very much expected a lot more discussion about current political issues and was surprised that there weren't a lot of questions along those lines. I thought it was going to be a lot more intense," Van Sant said. "I pretty much found that Cannes was like old times," he said after scoring his first win at the French Riviera festival with his new film Elephant, a film about U.S. students involved in a high-school gun attack.
Transatlantic tensions have been running high at ground level since Paris and Washington fell out over the Iraq war, but Cannes organizers said from the start that politics had in no way affected the American contingent in Cannes. Van Sant, already acclaimed at home for films like Good Will Hunting and My Own Private Idaho, said he had not set out to make a film in the vein of Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine, lauded at Cannes a year ago. "I don't think of it as an anti-American movie. It's made from the viewpoint of my life in the U.S.," Van Sant said. "I don't think of it as an attack on America so much as an investigational movie about high-school violence in America. It's a comment about the structure of society and the relationships between students."