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Pornography challenged at Cannes

Cannes (Reuters): Directors at the Cannes film festival this year say they are using radical images of sex to challenge mainstream pornography and its widespread availability on the Internet. A series of filmmakers say Internet porn alone now shapes many young people's perception of sex and, in many cases, replaces the experience of real physical relationships. ''There are kids who have seen pornography from a very early age, before they are ever gonna have sex,'' said Larry Clark, one of the directors of the eccentric Destricted, a compilation of explicit sex-centred stories.

In his own short film, Clark interviews young men about their sexual preferences and then allows one candidate to appear with his favourite porn-star. ''When I was a kid no one told me nothing. Now you can go onto the Internet and find out anything ... (Young people) are looking at pornography and they are thinking that this is the way to have sex,'' Clark said, noting his film was educational. U.S. director John Cameron Mitchell, who has brought ''Shortbus'' to Cannes, agrees that young people are increasingly using the Internet to replace real sex. In Shortbus, he has collected an ensemble of non-professional actors who engage in real on-screen sex and masturbation in an attempt to de-mystify the subject. He does not consider his film to be pornography.

He said that the United States had a puritanical view of sex which turned it into an issue in young people's minds. In one particularly provocative scene in his film, three gay men engage in a sex session while singing ''The Star-Spangled Banner''. ''I really believe our country specifically needs to take a look at that stuff. You crush something, it pops up somewhere else, it comes back to haunt you,'' he said.

Journalists watching the film generally agreed that Mitchell had succeeded in taking much of the eroticism out of the sex. Film critics in Cannes say risque images, which would be considered distasteful by many were they to be shown in a mainstream movie theatre, are unlikely to shock a film festival audience, and in any case are not necessarily new. Michael Winterbottom used real sex, for example, in his 2004 film ''9 Songs''.

''When you have run the whole gamut of sexual positions, you've lost the power to shock,'' Screen magazine wrote. Danish director Anders Morgenthaler reverted to animation to hit out at the porn industry in his film ''Princess'', which disturbed some by portraying child abuse and violence. Morgenthaler tells the story of a priest who is determined to destroy all films of his deceased porn star sister and to take care of her five-year old daughter, a traumatised child. ''I chose animation for the obvious reason that if I had made it a live action piece you would have probably left the theatre. It would have been too terrifying to see a girl go through that,'' Morgenthaler told Reuters.''I decided to make a film about porn influence in society because I saw porn seeking its way into everything, into clothes or toys. There is a 'porn way' of selling things because it sells very well. I got very angry at the role of porn.'' Digital sex will feature in the British-Norwegian co-production ''Free Jimmy'', while ex-porn star HPG shows a porn actor trying to get into regular films in ''We Should Not Exist''.

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