Although the 73rd edition of the Cannes Film Festival was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers opted to showcase four films that were part of the 2020 Official Selection from Tuesday through Thursday this week, calling it “Spécial Cannes.” It also got in just under the wire as France imposed another nationwide lockdown beginning at midnight tonight.
Deadline spoke to Cannes Film Fest chief Thierry Fremaux about the experience, the aftermath of the usual festival’s cancelation and how things are shaping up for May 2021 when the 74th installment is due, for now, to take place.
DEADLINE: How did things go for you here? You said you were quite emotional on stage during the opening night.
THIERRY FREMAUX: I surprised myself by my emotion. The film was very well received. We’re here for this, so that the audience experiences a film and we wanted to light up the screen, at least four times during this year.
DEADLINE: When the curfew was recently announced in France, did think about canceling this event?
FREMAUX: No, the question wasn’t that. With Pierre Lescure and Cannes Mayor David Lisnard, we asked the question about maintaining the event in terms of the health situation for the public and as it was judged that there was no danger, so we kept it on track.
DEADLINE: What was your feeling about the cancelation of the regular festival?
FREMAUX: People said last spring, “It must be terrible, the cancelation.” No, what was terrible was the 30,000 deaths in France and all over the world. It wasn’t the physical cancelation of Cannes that weighed on us. However, we found ourselves with people who reproached us for being obstinate. We were not. The respect that we owed to the artists was to try to work.
DEADLINE: And now that the Official Selection has been traveling, how has that gone?
FREMAUX: We had two missions. We created an Official Selection so that in 30 years there will be the 2020 selection, and we wanted to accompany the films.
We did that in theaters, in festivals — we did a lot of collaborations. We went to Deauville, Lyon, San Sebastian, etc, and the solidarity was very lovely. Our selection is beautiful, it will be notable. Our films win prizes all over the place. We see how important festivals are.
And because we accompanied the films, we clearly had to present them here in Cannes. It’s not to fly the Cannes flag, it’s for those for whom Cannes is useful, the artists and the professionals.
DEADLINE: You certainly ended up choosing good dates given the lockdown is coming.
FREMAUX: I think effectively that we escaped, it was very close close close. This proves that we were correct to react naturally. It was natural for us to come here in respecting the law and the sanitary protocols.
This major crisis is an accelerator of change. We had already thought a lot about the next steps for Cannes and we’ll continue to do that. We hope that the festival in May 2021 will be the first global event post-Covid. I’m optimistic.
DEADLINE: And you already have contingency dates.
FREMAUX: Yes, the first half of July, the second half of July and the middle of August.
DEADLINE: How much advance time would you need to pivot?
FREMAUX: For a festival in mid-May we have until mid-April to decide. This year we had until mid-April, but we decided on March 19 to delay and then on April 13, Emmanuel Macron said no more cultural events.
DEADLINE: Will your practice between now and then be the same as each year? You’re receiving films, etc?
FREMAUX: Technically, we have a singularity this year which is that we saw films this that decided to move to 2021. For some foreign films, they’re waiting calmly until January or February to show us.
There’s also a particular case for French cinema. In order that the films don’t wait until April 15 2021, we are going to start a first French selection in November.
DEADLINE: And your views on the so-called “death of cinema” in the pandemic era?
FREMAUX: I often say to my American friends, “You are too pessimistic because you’re American, but I’m too optimistic because I’m French.” When there’s a lockdown, people don’t go to the cinemas. But already in France we’ve understood, we saw people return to cinemas. The excitement that is most absolute is that for the next three years there are beautiful films. It’s the films that make people return to cinemas.
I’m sad that Soul isn’t coming out in theaters, especially because it’s a masterpiece but I understand the problems that the companies face.
This year is the 125th anniversary of the birth of cinema, and this year we wanted to celebrate theaters (at the festival). Two World Wars didn’t succeed in closing cinemas and a little virus did it. But at the same time, it’s also the occasion to reflect on that and to think about the future.
DEADLINE: Do you think the studios will come back to Cannes next year if the situation is stabilized?
FREMAUX: I think the studios have a great desire to come back and if everything goes well and the situation is sorted next spring, that we’ll find everyone here: Europeans, Americans, South Americans, Africans, Asians, Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia.
I don’t want to say it’s 1946, but almost. In the post-war period there was hope and it’s for that I think one must really reflect on what’s happening so that we can measure the luck we have to see things return to just about normal.
DEADLINE: Did you receive a lot of support from the government this year?
FREMAUX: Yes, yes, of course. We lost a lot of money, but it’s not serious. Everyone lost a lot of money, the crisis is for everyone. We don’t have a right to complain, we are still the privileged and are privileged to see and show good movies.
The lockdown for people 70 years ago was caused by the war, so we’re doing alright. There’s worse things than staying home and reading and watching films.