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Two new books look behind the madness and mayhem of the Cannes Film Festival and at life in a remedial German boarding school. 

Stranger Than Fiction

Last week, thousands of hopeful filmmakers, directors, producers and media-folk descended upon the beautiful seaside resort town of Cannes, France, for the Cannes Film Festival. Ostensibly the world's most prestigious film competition, the annual festival is mostly a celebrity gorge-fest for the media, as any reader of Entertainment Weekly or viewer of "Entertainment Tonight" can attest. So it's refreshing to read Stephen Walker's "King of Cannes: Mayhem, Madness and the Movies" Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $21.95) for a look behind the glamour.

Walker, a BBC documentary filmmaker, here cleverly chronicles the making of a documentary about the real Cannes — that is, about people who are actually interested in making films — in this tightly written diary. With an omnipresent dry, British wit, Walker takes us through the process of creating his film about filmmaking from the inception of the idea to his realization, at the end of the book, that he will have to edit half-a-million feet of film into a seamless 90-minute documentary.

Walker's idea is simple: direct a documentary movie about four ambitious, unknown filmmakers in their quest for glory and fame at Cannes. What is not so simple, we soon learn, is finding those four ambitious, unknown filmmakers. Walker grows increasingly frustrated — and nervous — as he experiences a series of false starts with potential subjects. At one point he is so desperate that he seriously considers including the most boring film director in Germany (whom he thinks he has found) just for comic effect.

However, when it is time to depart for Cannes, Walker has found four willing subjects: Mike Hakata, the Rastafarian director of "Two Bad Mice," a film Walker willingly admits is terrible; Erick Zonca, the French director of "The Dreamlife of Angels," which turns out to be a serious contender at Cannes; American filmmaker James Merendino, director of "SLC Punk," which gets optioned by Miramax; and perhaps the most interesting subjects, Stephen, Gordon and Spooky, a clueless British filmmaking team with a half-finished script (spelled phonetically) and some half-baked ideas about filmmaking.

While the stories about these filmmakers is the backbone of this book, what is equally as interesting is Walker's account of the process of making a documentary film. His greatest accomplishment may be drumming up interest in "Waiting for Harvey," his completed documentary. "King of Cannes" is a fun, quick read for anyone interested in the entertainment business beyond the celebrity machine.
— Jessica Ronky Haddad

Benjamin Lebert wrote "Crazy" (Knopf, $17.95, translated by Carol Brown Janeway), an autobiographical account of his freshman year in a remedial boarding school when he was just 16. This refreshing coming-of-age novel charts six boys' quest for the "thread of life" through booze, sneaking into the girls' dorm, rock 'n' roll, and a forbidden trip to a Munich strip club. Told from Benni's perspective, we see the boys develop a bond that transcends physical appearance, personality quirks and shaky home lives. This novel is a lighthearted look at how the boys navigate life, love, and school with the hands that they've been dealt.

"Do you guys know what I've realized after this conversation?" I ask.
"Lebert has had a realization," says Janosch.
"So what is it?" asks Fat Felix.
"The world is crazy."
"You're right about that," says Janosch. "Crazy and wonderful. And we should use every second we've got in it."
The others slap me on the back.


"Crazy" has gotten quite a bit of press in Germany and debuted in the States on April 13 of this year. The novel's largest selling point seems to be the author's young age.

However, what stands out more is the honest and tender way in which Lebert deals with his "disability." Benni introduces himself on his first day of school by standing in front of the class and stating, "Hi, folks, my name is Benjamin Lebert, I'm sixteen, and I'm a cripple, just so you know. I thought it would interest you the way it does me." He speaks to anyone who has felt different from the rest of the crowd. This book would appeal most to young adults, but this is a story that anyone who is in touch with their adolescence can appreciate and enjoy.
— Liz Canfield

Heads-Up
Borders Books and Music gives several "Original Voices Awards" to "highlight innovative and ambitious books from new and emerging talents" and also works by established authors. This year, Annie Proulx won for "Close Range: Wyoming Stories" (Scribner $13) and John Bayley for "Elegy for Iris" (Picador
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