CANNES, France (AFP) — A small flick went from refugee camp to red carpet Friday as Sean Penn, backed by rock star Bono and film-maker Michael Moore, brought an Australian aid worker's tsunami film to the Cannes fest.
Politically-minded Penn won special agreement from the Cannes festival organisers for a special one-off red-carpet screening of "The Third Wave", a film he told the crowd was "as provocative and inspiring as anything I've ever seen."
With hotly-applauded Bono and Moore in the audience, and Faye Dunaway as well, Penn added: "In lieu of the fact that governments don't seem to be able to help, this film gives an indication of how you can help yourself."
Penn heads the Cannes jury that will award this year's coveted Palme d'Or prize for best film, and on day three of the world's biggest filmfest critics are already tsunamiopining the trophy could go to a film with a conscience.
The Oscar-winning actor saw the film by Sydney-born Alison Thompson six months ago but said at the festival that given the disasters currently unfolding in China and Myanmar, the film was "even more important now."
"In lieu of the fact that governments don't seem to be able to help, this gives you an indication of how you can help yourself," he told the audience.
Shot in 2004 in Sri Lanka in the wake of the tsunami that left some 170,000 people dead across Asia, "The Third Wave" recounts how Thompson and her partner Oscar Gubernati took off from New York with little more than a handful of dollars to try to help the victims, only days after the disaster.
Picking up a couple of extra pairs of hands, they took off for the coast with a van of supplies and stopped in the village of Peraliya, where 2,500 people had died, including hundreds travelling on a smashed train.
Thompson, who had basic first aid training, took care of the wounded as the team helped stunned survivors to begin clearing the chaos. "People were lethargic to clean up, doing a little bit kept people motivated," one of them said.
Week by week they dug toilets, collected corpses, played with children, built shelters, found food, got the school going, and tried to restore morale.
By the third week, the volunteers numbered 10 as other westerners signed on. By week seven they were 40, including voluntary doctors.
The group was never financed, getting help from time to time from organised aid associations, who donated medicine or food, or from passers-by who left what cash they could.
"It was giving hope and reintroducing normalcy", said one volunteer in the film.
By the time the group left after several months, 520 homes had been rebuilt with no organised outside financial help.
Penn saw the film on the behest of Czech model Petra Nemcova, who was in Thailand on holidays when the tsunami struck and survived by clinging to a tree as her fiance was swept to his death.
Funds raised by the film would go to Sri Lanka, Nemcova said.
Thompson, who was present at the screening, said she was hoping to go to Myanmar to help. "If anyone wants to come, you can come and see me."
Former Australian Army engineer Donny Paterson, also in the first group of volunteer helpers, added: "It's easy to do ... You don't need great skills, only your heart."
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