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Cannes Says June Festival ‘No Longer an Option’ While Exploring Contingency

Festivals aren't allowed in France until at least mid-July, but it's unclear exactly what contingencies Cannes is exploring.

General view of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, southern France, 22 March 2020. France is under lockdown in an attempt to stop the widespread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus causing the Covid-19 disease.Coronavirus in France, Cannes - 22 Mar 2020

General view of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes

SEBASTIEN NOGIER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

It is no longer an option for this year’s Cannes Film Festival to occur in June, organizers announced Tuesday. The move came the day after French President Emmanuel Macron extended the nationwide lockdown and banned festivals until at least mid-July. However, Cannes organizers fell short of fully calling off the event.

“It is clearly difficult to assume that the Festival de Cannes could be held this year in its original form,” reads a Cannes press release. “Nevertheless, since yesterday evening we have started many discussions with professionals, in France and abroad. They agree that the Festival de Cannes, an essential pillar for the film industry, must explore all contingencies allowing to support the year of Cinema by making Cannes 2020 real, in a way or another.”

Organizers held steady for months in their assertion that the show would go on, despite the coronavirus pandemic forcing a halt of many aspects of the business. Organizers last month announced that Cannes had been postponed from its originally planned May 12-23 dates, with new dates being considered for the end of June.

After the novel coronavirus bludgeoned China at the beginning of the year, its spread began to take hold in the US and Europe; now nearly half the world’s 1.87 million confirmed cases of coronavirus are in Europe.

Some festivals, resolved to hold their events, have embraced virtual experiences to varying degrees. SXSW held its juried competition despite the festival’s cancellation, while Copenhagen’s documentary showcase CPH: DOX and the Visions du Réel moved their programming online.

For Cannes, CAA announced last month it was spearheading an online market to replace some of the on-the-ground activity at the Marché du Film — a key piece of Cannes’ value to the industry — while Marché head Jérome Paillard told IndieWire the market was making additional plans for online screenings and meetings that would take place regardless of what happens with the festival.

It’s unclear exactly what organizers mean when they say they’re exploring holding Cannes in one “way or another,” but festival director Thierry Fremaux told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn on April 8 he “can’t really understand” a digital festival.

“Cannes is the place for shows, for movies screened in front of 2,200 spectators,” he said, “with attention, noise, acclamation, critics, market consequences, etc. It is the greatest place for the annual meeting of world cinema, where people meet each other. It’s hard to think that it can be replaced by something virtual.”

The Lumiere Theatre, where the majority of Official Selections are screened, has a capacity of 2,300 people. Before France implemented its current lockdown regime, gatherings of 1,000 or more people were banned.

While the US’ National Association of Theatre Owners is hoping cinemas will begin to reopen in early June, it’s not going to happen overnight — it’s expecting social distancing measures like the French gathering cap will be imposted at first for cinemas worldwide. Stateside, that could include a 50 percent auditorium capacity implemented briefly before theaters were fully closed.

Additionally, rules from the International Federation of Film Producers stipulate that an online premiere counts as a world premiere, which means films that opt for such screenings will have a harder time screening at major European festivals. While that could be OK for smaller films, Cannes’ high-profile premiere considerations included Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” and Pixar’s “Soul.”

The festival’s 1968 edition was the most recent one to be canceled, in reaction to student protests and turmoil across France. The festival was also canceled due to budget issues in 1948 and 1950.

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