By Michael Roddy
CANNES France (Reuters) - African filmmaker Philippe Lacote recalls an incident from his youth when a film spectator, fearing the martial arts star Bruce Lee would be killed by someone behind him, jumped on stage and slashed the screen with a knife to protect his hero.
Lacote, from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, whose "Run" has had its premiere at the Cannes International Festival in the "Un Certain Regard" forum, said he became a filmmaker because the incident led him to realise that cinema exists at the "fine boundary" between the mystical world and the real.
"We have historical time and we have mystical time," Lacote, 44, told Reuters in an interview after his film, the first from Ivory Coast to be shown in Cannes in 29 years, made a favourable impression.
"If I sit here with you I believe...that my grandfather can be near me and if I have some food, I will also put some on the floor for the ancestors.
"Everything is connected, the world is like this."
Such connections are woven into "Run", which on the surface is about a young man named Run who has assassinated Ivory Coast's prime minister and is a fugitive from military patrols crisscrossing the country to find him.
That element plays out as a straight political thriller, a bit in "The Manchurian Candidate" vein. The mysticism seeps in because Run has had a premonition, since he was a boy, that he would kill a marauding elephant.
When the prime minister arrives at the cathedral where Run plans to shoot him, he does not see a man but instead sees an elephant walking up the steps into the house of worship.
People familiar with the history of Ivory Coast will know that the Jean-Paul II Cathedral figuring in the scene is where General Robert Guei, who mounted a 2000 coup to become the country's first military ruler, took refuge during a counter-coup two years later that sparked a lengthy civil war.
Lacote hopes his film will be seen on two levels, one with resonance for those who know the background, another for people who want a political thriller with a dash of the supernatural.
"You can take the story to say, 'OK, it's an urban legend.' But if you come from Ivory Coast you have other levels and it was important for me to shoot in this cathedral because there were some political events in this cathedral," he said.
He also hopes the Cannes screening of "Run", attended by Ivory Coast's culture minister and followed closely at home in the West African country, will mark a rebirth of the country's film industry, which went into the doldrums during the civil war, and of African film in general.
But he does not want to get into a rivalry with his fellow French-Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako, whose film, "Timbuktu", about Islamic rebels imposing their rule on the Malian desert city, screened in the main competition.
"The problem with the international festivals and with European and American audiences is this 'vogue'...people in the Occident want one king of African cinema and then, after we 'kill him', we put in a new king.
"We are a continent three times bigger than Europe and you can have five or six directors and different sets of eyes. So for me there is no 'vogue', there are personalities who work to say something."