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The cancelled 73rd Festival de Cannes


Cinema de la plage. c. Festival de CannesIf the Coronavirus never spread across the planet, today would be opening day of the Festival de Cannes. Originally scheduled to take place from 12 - 23 May, the Cannes Film Festival is one of the most anticipated international events of the year. The entire Croisette gets lined in red carpet, posters of stars cover whole sides of buildings, and crowds gather outside the fancy hotels, hoping to catch a glimpse of an A-list star. 

Instead, for the first time since WWII, the festival has been cancelled and the Croisette lay bare, aside from locals out for a stroll. Organisers were committed to maintaining the festival up to the last possible minute. In fact, there was some criticism for their lack of transparency whilst all the other major events were preemptively cancelling. Rescheduling was difficult because they couldn’t interfere with other film festivals worldwide, but a date was decided for mid-July. However, after the announcement from President Macron about banning all large gatherings through July, the decision was made clear and the festival knew it had to do the unthinkable.  

For many, the Festival de Cannes may appear like a big celebration to shower praise on actors and filmmakers for work already completed. Which, in part, it is. But the most important part of the festival is what happens behind the scenes, in private meetings and conferences and networking. The international film industry relies heavily on the deals made in Cannes, where writers, producers, directors, agents and financiers can all meet. 

The Palme d’Or has become the award the industry looks to for future accolades. Last year’s Palme d’Or winner, Bong Joon Ho for “Parasite”, later won the Oscar for Best Picture, despite being a foreign language film - a first for the Academy. That win made all eyes turn to this year’s winner for a potential Oscar ‘nod’. But there won’t be a winner this year. 

To make up for this globally important aspect, the Festival de Cannes is launching the Marché du Film Online, a standalone online market created to support the international film industry and help professionals. It will be held from 22 to 26 June. Only open to industry professionals, it is designed to mimic the market experience in Cannes, replacing face-to-face meeting with video conferences, private meetings through a networking app and online screenings. There will be ‘virtual booths’ for agents, ‘Virtual pavillions’ for institutions like film commissions and country reps; they will also offer Speed meetings around composers, book publishers or producers.

The Festival de Cannes is also where many filmmakers choose to premiere their latest film, sometimes even shelving a film completed for months before, waiting for the magic ethos that the Croisette brings. In 2019, Quentin Tarantino was so determined to premiere his new film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” at Cannes, that he worked around the clock to finish the final edits in time. It premiered the same day he had premiered “Pulp Fiction” 25 years earlier. 

In an interview with Melanie Goodfellow of Screen Daily, Thierry Frémaux, the Delegate General of the Festival de Cannes said that he never thought the Festival would be cancelled in his lifetime. But, he said that without the stars, the public and the journalists, the festival wouldn’t be the same and it should always ‘put its best face forward’.  

For the industry side, it is important to recognise the films made and the festival organisers are currently in the process of choosing the films that will make the official selection. Mr Frémaux said: ‘in our heart of hearts what we want to do is promote the films that we saw and loved. We received films from around the world, magnificent works, and it’s our duty to help them find their audience.’ The Official Selection films will be announced in June.

The most news-worthy story of the 73rd Festival de Cannes was the selection of Spike Lee to be the Jury President. Right on the heels of the controversial Academy Awards for being - yet again - dominated by films made by and starring white men, the Festival’s announcement of the first black jury president made international headlines. In response to whether Spike Lee will return next year, Mr Frémaux spoke of ongoing conversations with the New York director, who, he says, always ends his messages with ‘Vive la France!’ and French flag emojis.  

‘Spike Lee told us he will be faithful to us, whatever happens. I hope that we’ll be able to make it happen next year. We exchange a lot of messages. He is symbolic of a city, New York, which has been particularly hit by the epidemic. The short film he just made capturing the city under lockdown with Sinatra singing ’New York, New York’ is extremely moving. … And to tell you everything, he showed us a beautiful film he made with Netflix [Da 5 Bloods]. The pitch? A group of Afro- American Vietnam War veterans in their 70s who decide to go back there because they have one last thing to resolve. It makes you want to see it, doesn’t it? It was the surprise that he gave us and it should have marked Netflix’s return to the red carpet, Out of Competition of course. We were set for a fabulous Cannes.’