Cannes cliffhanger remains on the brink

News magazine report suggests “event will not take place" as more events cancelled worldwide

by Richard Mowe

The 2019 opening night of the Cannes Film Festival - this year’s edition looks increasingly unlikely to take place
The 2019 opening night of the Cannes Film Festival - this year’s edition looks increasingly unlikely to take place Photo: Richard Mowe
It looks almost certain, barring a medical miracle, that the 75th Cannes Film Festival will not take place from 12 to 23 May due to the pressures and restrictions involving the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a report in the French news magazine Le Point the decision has not been officially taken as yet, but is likely to be carried out during a meeting between the Festival organisers, Cannes town hall, and the Government timed for 15 April, although the news will not be officially announced until the 16th at the Paris press conference which was supposed to reveal this year’s official selection as well as the rest of the jury serving under already announced president Spike Lee.

The report quoted a member of the Cannes administration as saying that it would be very difficult to select films from such countries as China, Korea, Iran and Italy and probably another 50 countries around the world in the knowledge that “the actors and directors would not be able to attend” due to travel restrictions.

The magazine also pointed out that to show films in the main 2300-seat Lumière auditorium would not be permitted under new French Government regulations prohibiting gatherings of more than 100 people. Also to be factored in, according to journalist Jérôme Béglé, would be the hyper-sensitivity of any American guests towards hygiene regulations in an uncontrolled situation.

The Festival attracts some 60,000 daily visitors while its roster includes some 5000 journalists. More than 12,000 participants come from 121 countries with more than 5000 companies represented in the Market in the Palais des Festivals. General nervousness from participants might lead to cancellations in advance while contamination during the course of the Festival would damage Cannes reputation as a leading resort and host of many festivals throughout the year.

Sponsors such as Chopard, L’Oréal and Renault are said to be anxious about being associated with an event that would unfurl in a state of crisis while any talent accompanying films undoubtedly have difficulties with travel even if they were prepared to commit.

It is unlikely Cannes could be postponed until later in the year because the film festival calendar in the autumn is extremely busy with Venice>, Toronto, San Sebastian and London all vying for attention, assuming by that time they will be able to go ahead.

Thierry Frémaux, the festival’s director, is said to remain optimistic, suggesting that the event still is two months away and the epidemic by that time may well have ameliorated. A suggestion that a reduced festival could take place over shorter time frame and without all the pomp and glamour for which Cannes is renowned, is said not be much favoured by the organisers.

Despite the claims in the article the Cannes Festival authorities are adamant that no definitive decision has been made. They said in a statement: “Despite some sensational headlines, there is no new elements regarding the Festival de Cannes, The event, that should take place from May 12 to May 23, is studying with care and clarity the evolution of the national and international situation, in close cooperation with the City of Cannes and the CNC [French National Centre for Cinema]. When the time comes, around mid-April, they will take the necessary decision together.”

In a sign of the worsening situation in France the Prime Minister Edouard Phlippe has announced this evening that all of France’s cinemas will have to close down from midnight tonight (Sat 14 March) as a way of stopping gatherings that could help to spread the virus.

The ban will also include theatres, bars, restaurants and any non-essential shops. The closure is for an indeterminate period.

Elsewhere in the world, the cancellations continue, with Sundance saying it will "suspend, reschedule, or re-imagine all live programs" through to the end of April.

In a message of solidarity to other festivals that have been forced to cancel due to Covid-19, Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam said: "This is a blow to our culture that will have ramifications not only for festivals and artists, but for nonprofits and companies who support them – theatres, performing arts organizations, and film societies in cities around the world. We are devastated for everyone whose lives and careers are being disrupted by this pandemic, especially the artists who are at the heart of all we do. At the same time, we are encouraged by the countless people who have seized this moment to champion independent media, from artists using their social media platforms to shine a light on others’ work to audience members who have rushed to support organisations that have had to cancel events and performances.

"In tumultuous times like these, the role of art is even more essential. It can not only entertain us – it can spark creativity, foster compassion, and bring us together. Particularly as we are limiting or foregoing in-person gatherings, we appreciate our connection with you, a global community of artists, supporters, and friends. Like our fellow members of the arts world, we look forward to welcoming audiences back into theatres and live events as soon as we can."

Also in the US, the Independent Film Festival Boston has been postponed along with the French Riviera Film Festival, which hopes to hold its event in June. Other postponements in recent days include Tribeca and SXSW.

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