AI deepfake Putin film sells big at Cannes

Putin -- here the real one -- is to star in a damning AI-enhanced biopic (Mikhail METZEL)
Putin -- here the real one -- is to star in a damning AI-enhanced biopic (Mikhail METZEL)

When Russian President Vladimir Putin was unavailable to star in his biopic, Polish director Patryk Vega turned to artificial intelligence.

The groundbreaking film, whose trailer starts with the leader cowering on a floor in diapers, uses a deepfake of the ruler's face transplanted onto the body of a real actor.

"To come extremely close to the dictator, we needed Putin, not an actor with make-up," Vega told AFP at the Cannes Film Festival, where he has been shopping the film to buyers.

"I called Putin and asked him if he wanted to play in my movie... No, that was a joke."

Vega -- a 47-year-old director, who has made several hit Polish films -- used AI to generate just the face, since he lacked enough high-resolution images for a full-body deepfake.

The results are uncanny.

The producers of the film, called simply "Putin", say it has already been sold in 50 countries ahead of its premiere in September.

The film follows the ruler's life over six decades from the age of 10 when he is seen being beaten by his stepfather.

"In the end I show his death. A happy end," said Vega.

The initial idea came to Vega during the first days of Russia's 2022 invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

"First I wanted to do a movie about the Russian mafia. Then I decided to do it about the biggest gangster," he said.

He shrugged off any concerns about reprisals.

"Putin should be afraid of me," he said.

- Tech fears -

Having developed the tech, he wants to share it with others, saying directors can send him footage and he can add crowds, actors and many other elements.

Such ideas are a huge source of concern in Hollywood, where AI threatens to wipe out many jobs, particularly among special effects technicians and extras.

It was a key issue of the months-long strike by actors and writers last year, ending in a hard-fought deal with studios that included promises to pay actors if their AI-generated likenesses are used.

However, many studios already use AI extensively -- for instance, to de-age actors like Harrison Ford in the last "Indiana Jones" -- but are afraid to speak openly about it, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Some uses are harder to vilify.

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media developed an algorithm to scan screenplays for bias, including how often female characters speak and how many LGBTQ characters are included.

YouTube, a key partner for the film industry in promotion and distribution, has been using AI for a decade for things like automated subtitles and copyright protections, and is rapidly expanding the AI tools available to budding filmmakers.

Since April, it has been labelling AI-generated content and is ramping up its detection programmes.

"AI isn't going to take over creation," said YouTube France head Justine Ryst. "It's going to simplify the complex, and make possible the impossible.

"We need to want to be bold and disruptive, but also responsible," she added.

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