Festival organisers have managed to save the Cannes event - beginning on Wednesday - from an upsetting embarassment this season by giving disgruntled film industry workers a platform to voice their grievances.

Angered by cuts in welfare and unemployment benefits, part-time actors and film technicians had threatened to disrupt the 12-day film marathon by staging demonstrations and protests in host city Cannes.

Organisers have promised to inject a new spirit into the renowned festival, which last year saw a notorious absence of US films and entertainers.

Cannes 2004 boasts about 3562 feature-length and short films - an increase of more than 1000 from 2003 - but only 18 are in official competition.

The number of represented countries has also increased to 19 from 14 last year.

Cannes controversy

Never failing to give gossip columns and critics a good helping of controversial films and issues, Cannes 2004 promises to be a sizzler, particularly in light of the current political environment.

Oscar-winner Michael Moore's docu-drama Fahrenheit 911 takes a jab at US President George Bush's policies after the 11 September 2001 attacks on US soil.

US film director Quentin Tarantino
heads the Cannes 2004 jury  

The film is sure to raise the interest of film critics as the US administration continues to face heat from the unravelling Iraqi prisoner abuse story currently making headlines.

In 2003, Moore's Bowling for Columbine, a film highlighting the dangers of gun violence in North America, won the Best Documentary Oscar. Moore used the Oscars ceremony to lambaste the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war on Iraq.

British film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, which examines the rise of the maverick comedian, came to Cannes already under fire from the Sellers family, including Sellers' wife, Swedish actress Britt Ekland.

Festival first-timers

Festival organisers are highlighting the return of Hollywood's best to the Riviera after last year's souring of US-French relations over the Iraq war.

Heartthrob Brad Pitt lands on the shores of Cannes brandishing the swords of his new epic film, Troy, which is not in competition, but will use the festival as a platform for its worldwide release. The film is based on the poems of the Iliad by the poet of antiquity, Homer.

Egyptian films,  such as Yusuf
Shahin's, appear in full force

A first-timer at the festival, Pitt plays the tragic hero role of the mythological titan Achilles.

Comedians Tom Hanks and Eddie Murphy are also expected to make their first visit to Cannes.

Oscar-winner Charlize Theron, Ashley Judd, John Leguizamo, Geoffrey Rush and other Hollywood heavies are also expected to walk the red carpet at Wednesday's opening ceremony.

Cannes 2004 also marks the first time Egypt presents two films at the annual event, Yusuf Shahin's Alexandrie-New York and Yusry Nasr Allah's Gate of the Sun.