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'Fruitvale Station' Gets Big Applause at Cannes

Sarah Rappaport, CNBC News Assistant
Saturday, 18 May 2013 | 2:07 PM ET

CANNES, FRANCE--Shot on a low budget of less than a million dollars, Sundance Film Festival winner "Fruitvale Station" is taking the Cannes Film Festival by storm. It's competing in the "Un Certain Regard" category in the festival, and the notoriously critical Cannes audience gave the film rapt applause when the screening concluded.

The film, directed by 26-year old Ryan Coogler, is about the last day of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old, African-American Bay Area resident who was shot to death by a BART transit police officer in the early hours of New Year's Day, 2009. Grant was unarmed at the time of the shooting.

The officer who shot him was charged with murder. However, the officer claimed he mistook his gun for his taser when he shot Grant, and the jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter.

Riots and protests broke out in the Bay Area after the verdict was handed down.


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Right before "Fruitvale Station" started filming, the Trayvon Martin case came to prominence. Martin, an African-American, was shot by a community watch member, generating huge media attention in the United States.

"It happened right before I read the script, which made me stop and go, wow, this is so relevant," star Michael B. Jordan ("The Wire," "Chronicle"), who plays Oscar Grant, said of the Martin shooting.

"We thought, my God, this is so topical. We have even more of a reason to make this movie because it happens too often," Melonie Diaz, who plays Sophina, Oscar Grant's girlfriend, told CNBC.

"Fruitvale Station" is Ryan Coogler's first feature film, but he had some big-name support in the form of Academy-Award winner Forest Whitaker, who signed on to produce the film, and fellow Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, who played Wanda, Grant's mother.

"Octavia had just won an Oscar when I had finished writing the script...and my agent suggested her [for the role] and I was like, man you're crazy. Let's try it," Ryan Coogler said.

Spencer did sign up for the part, and had nothing but praise for Coogler.

"It was Ryan's first full-length feature, but you knew you were in very capable hands when you read the script, it was so amazing," Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer said.

The film was shot in 20 days during July 2012 on what Coogler calls "no money." He said the entire reason he made the film was to get Oscar's story told and share who he was as a person.

'Fruitvale Station' was picked up for distribution by The Weinstein Company, and though it's only May, Academy Award buzz is already in the air for the film and its star, Michael B. Jordan.

Fruitvale Station is released in the United States on July 12th.

-By CNBC's Sarah Rappaport

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