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When French authorities, on May 26, tightened restrictions on those traveling from the U.K., it looked like it could be a major blow to the Cannes Film Festival, which hopes to stage a triumphant post-COVID pandemic return after a year’s hiatus, with an in-person red carpet-pallooza from July 6 until July 17.
After all, the U.K. is the third-biggest country in terms of industry attendees at the Cannes market. A total of 1,145 British professionals attended Cannes’ Marché du Film in 2019, a figure exceeded only by executives coming from the U.S. and France.
But concerns about the spread in the U.K. of the highly contagious B.1.617.2 strain of the coronavirus led France to join Germany and Austria in shutting its borders to all but “essential travel” from the U.K. British visitors to France will now also have to endure a week-long period of self-isolation upon arrival as well as show a negative PCR or antigen test taken less than 48 hours before departure. On the flip side, the U.K.’s own travel restrictions mean returnees from France will have to do a second, 10-day quarantine when they get back home.
While the festival immediately tried to calm fears, claiming that it was in communication with authorities and looking for the “best option,” for much of the British industry — which generally decamps from London en masse to the Croisette — any special dispensation isn’t likely to change plans: they weren’t going anyway.
For almost all the U.K. sales companies The Hollywood Reporter has spoken with, the physical edition of Cannes between July 6 and July 15 was simply not something they were looking to attend, even before the latest restrictions were revealed. “Sod that!,” said one producer and Cannes regular.
While many are eager to return to face-to-face meetings as soon as possible, fears over traveling in Europe (where vaccination programs are lagging behind the U.K.), the risk of booking often non-refundable travel and accommodation when little seems set in stone, and the cost-benefit analysis of a physical market meant the majority had already shifted their focus to the online-only pre-screening Marché du Film running June 21-June 25. “We simply aren’t sure if enough buyers are going to attend” the physical market, said one seller.
Most of the U.S. industry appears to be taking the same approach.
Last year’s virtual Marché du Film was an overwhelming success, with most of the biggest U.S. and U.K. sales companies, as well as the major U.S. agencies, expected to return this year. Several of the U.S. sales executives who spoke to THR said they had no plans to attend Cannes 2021 in person.
“We can get all our business done online at the virtual Marché, it’s actually more efficient and frankly a lot cheaper,” noted one American sales agent.
European companies, however, are expected to come out in force to support the festival and market, although their numbers will likely be down from past editions.
“We’re definitely going to be there on location,” Thorsten Ritter, executive vp of sales, acquisitions, and marketing at Germany’s Beta Cinema, told THR in an email. “But the number of people that will go will largely depend on whether we have films in the official lineup and how many are vaccinated by then.”
Brit companies and publicists with films screening are also expected to attend, and while the official lineup isn’t officially announced until June 3, THR understands that many had already been booking travel and accommodation. “But now with seven days isolation in France, that really pushes the costs up,” said one sales agent with a film heading to the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the festival.
The festival itself remains — naturally — bullish, despite the potential absence of a vast chunk of delegates from across the English Channel. Jérôme Paillard, executive director of the Marché du Film, said while many international participants “are still waiting to know the updated travel restrictions” the market expects to still have “a strong attendance from the U.S., from Asia, and from South America” in July.
If there’s anything the last year of chaos has shown — everything could (and likely will) change at a moment’s notice. European Union member states are currently set to re-open their border on June 9, which might help the U.K.’s case, although, thanks to Brexit, the country no longer benefits from being automatically part of these arrangements. Special exemptions could also allow execs and talent to travel on the condition they are fully vaccinated and have a negative PCR test in the days before the festival.
But any rule alterations would likely come less than a month before the festival is due to start, long after attendees would expect to have sorted their travel arrangements. And Cannes is not exactly known as a place where one can find an affordable last-minute deal.
As one publicist noted, the 2021 edition of Cannes — despite revised summer dates — sadly fell outside of the “sweet spot” for COVID-19 confidence, vaccinations, and travel restrictions. That honor, instead, lands at the feet of Venice, which is scheduled to take place Sept. 1-Sept. 11 and which the publicist expected to “once again be primed to be the festival everyone wants to attend.”
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