Crews worked into the night putting up circus-size tents, and stargazers got ready to gawk at thousands of participants descending on this French Riviera town for its annual film jamboree.

The 51st Cannes Film Festival kicks off Wednesday with John Travolta as the skirt-chasing president in "Primary Colors," which is being shown outside the competition for awards.The festival should draw 30,000 members of the film industry and about 4,000 from the news media during its 11-day run. In addition to the dozens of films in the official program, about 1,000 are being screened in a huge film market.

Preparing for the nightly soirees along the Croisette beachwalk, workers labored under a full moon Tuesday night, putting up large white tents and an open-air set for a French television network.

Nearby, the classic Hotel Carlton was used as a billboard for movies like "Armageddon," "Godzilla" and "Blues Brothers 2000." At the entrance was a knot of gawkers watching for arriving stars.

One fan proudly showed off autographs from MC Solaar, a French rapper on the festival jury, and Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, France's top TV news anchorman.

"I don't understand it, spending all that time waiting around," said vacationer Petra Malick of Germany, as she watched the sce curiously. "We're leaving town before the festival."

But there will be plenty to watch. Sharon Stone, Mira Sorvino, Robert Duvall, Bruce Willis and Jeanne Moreau are among those expected to cruise the Croisette.

And with the buzz already hot for John Boorman's "The General" and Todd Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine," at least two competition entries look likely to excite those who have come to look at movies and not just ogle models.

Shot in black and white, "The General" examines the life of real-life Irish criminal Martin Cahill, who was murdered in August 1994. Starring Brendan Gleeson, it marks a stirring return to form for Boorman, whose credits include "Deliverance" and "Hope and Glory."

"Velvet Goldmine," in turn, is the highest-profile film yet from independent filmmaker Haynes ("Poison," "Safe"), and its cast - Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette, Jonathan Rhys-Myers - may just be the festival's hippest.