The Cannes Film Festival, not for the first time, is going against the grain. While major events across the summer call it quits due to the coronavirus crisis, the fest is holding out hope that it can still take place over revised dates, which we understand to be June 23 – July 04.
For some, it’s hard to understand why Cannes is taking the road less traveled. Especially in light of the significance of coronavirus. Others take a more patient approach.
In a conciliatory and yet defiant Q&A quietly posted on its website two weeks ago, the festival said that its status will be guided by the French authorities (The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Interior, the Alpes-Maritimes regional authority, and the Cannes City Council). Those authorities have not told Cannes to cancel.
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The festival also said it carried out a “rapid, broad, national and international consultation” with the industry as to whether it should go ahead. The feedback was supportive leading the event to conclude that it will not abandon its 73rd edition “until the evidence compels us.”
Sadly, evidence continues to grow. This week, France tightened its lockdown as COVID-19-related deaths soared beyond 10,000 and cases crossed 100,000. On Monday the country recorded its biggest daily death toll of 833. Health minister Olivier Veran said the country has not yet reached its peak. Municipal elections scheduled for June may move to October.
The Palais is currently housing the homeless. Cannes mayor David Lisnard said this week that the region is “heading towards a major social and economic disaster.” The city is currently disinfecting 60kms of sidewalk a day with diluted bleach and will begin taking the temperatures of shoppers before they enter stores. Once the lockdown finally lifts, authorities will issue every resident with a mask.
Meanwhile, global film and TV festivals are falling by the wayside at breakneck speed. This week alone we’ve had Munich, Annecy, Melbourne, and Edinburgh (TV). French animation festival Annecy was due to get underway a couple of weeks before Cannes’ new dates. Melbourne was slated for August. Cannes Lions has cancelled despite revised October dates, and summer sporting events continue to disappear: the Olympics, Wimbledon and the Open golf championship are no more for 2020.
Cannes has begun to invite movies and it continues to take submissions. But some movies that many expected to be highlights at Cannes are now moving later in the year. Wes Anderson’s French Dispatch, for example. Thierry Frémaux himself mentioned Top Gun this week but that’s another movie that has shifted to end of year.
June-July is Cannes’ only 2020 window, we understand. Slots later in the year wouldn’t make sense. Not for the main festival, at least. We have heard rumors that sidebar selections could potentially happen at a later date. A digital market will go ahead on the new June/July dates either way.
It should be noted that Cannes isn’t alone in holding out this summer. We’ve heard about other sizable film festivals that are hoping to go ahead with reduced capacity theaters and deep cleans after screenings.
Cannes has said it would only need about a month to prepare the event so a final decision may not come until late May. The lack of certainty, amid so much turmoil and cancellation, engenders strong reactions in many.
“It’s slightly delusional to imagine Cannes can go ahead and every buyer I speak to feels the same,” said a well known European sales agent.
One Cannes regular from South America told us, “I won’t be risking my life to attend. What travel insurance is going to cover me for COVID-19 without a vaccine in the market?”
“Postponing Cannes to June/July is gobbledygook,” said a key German buyer. “This pandemic in my view will take us well into the back part of the year.”
“I’ve rarely seen such a level of denial,” commented an Italian festival veteran. “They won’t be able to pull it off. And yet they are resilient. They have always lived in their own bubble so I am not surprised.”
One leading American critic told us, “I don’t think anyone believes this is going to take place. I’ve been angry with the festival for stringing us along. The festival initially planned to only give us one month’s notice of whether it was happening. I think it’s in bad faith that it hasn’t communicated with us to a greater degree. Given what we know, who is going to sit in a cinema near someone who is coughing? Someone will cough at some point and there will be panic. You can’t disinfect everything. Unless there’s a vaccine, how does this event happen?”
The view from France is quite different. Many we spoke to can’t understand the clamoring for a decision. One leading French seller told us, “It’s pointless to speculate. We all need to follow national guidelines and that’s what we and the festival are doing. Beyond that we don’t know. Most of the international buyers we speak to say they want Cannes to go ahead and we hear that many companies are sending in their movies for selection. It is too early to cancel now. We would all like the gift of clarity and foresight but we can only follow what we know now.”
Another Paris-based film vet said, “The independent world still has hope and faith that this can happen. We all know the chances are very slim. Cannes is a very important event for the world, but particularly for France. Even a redux, more French, younger Cannes would be important for us. But nobody knows what will happen in three weeks let alone three months. I don’t know why people get annoyed. What else should the festival do? Of course it wants to try to go ahead. If it’s dangerous, it won’t be allowed to happen.”
One leading French producer who has had a number of films at the festival told us, “Nobody knows what is going to happen. The world in two weeks will be different to the world today. If the situation remains the same in a couple of months of course the festival can’t happen. But the world is changing every week. The festival and authorities are hoping that in a couple of months there may be medical answers that can change the game.”
The dichotomy in views is perhaps understandable. Those in France have less road to travel to get to Cannes and may incur less expense. The festival also has a unique standing in French culture. The government is trying to hold onto one of its most prized cultural events even if it must be a scaled back, less international version.
Despite a series of dramas in recent years, Cannes still has a unique standing on the global stage. The festival is not alone in thinking it is a special case. Much of the industry still feels the same. It remains the biggest film jamboree in the calendar, as it proved last year when it hosted movies including Parasite, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Pain And Glory, Les Miserables and Portrait Of A Lady On Fire.
Cannes, to an extent, is sustained by polemic and it thrives on the passions of its constituents. Disapproved of or adored, it’s never ignored.
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