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Cineastes and movie execs won’t be the only ones celebrating when Cannes finally rolls out the red carpet July 6, kicking off the 74th Festival de Cannes. For thousands of people in the Riviera resort town, the festival means more than just a return to in-person premieres and film markets. For those who wait and bus tables in Cannes restaurants; for the bartenders who mix cocktails and the DJs who work the decks in the city’s countless nightclubs; for the porters, concierges, housekeeping and kitchen staff at the five-star hotels dotting Cannes’ legendary Croisette, the Cannes Film Festival is an economic lifeline.
The office of Cannes Mayor David Lisnard estimates that money spent in the city by visitors to conventions and trade shows accounts for about 85 percent of Cannes’ annual income. (In addition to the film festival, Cannes hosts TV markets MipTV and Mipcom, music-industry show Midem, and advertising showcase the Cannes Lions, as well as gatherings for the insurance, property and yachting industries.) The mayoral office has estimated the economic damage to the city from a year of the novel coronavirus pandemic — with months of shuttered restaurants, bars, nightly curfews and restricted international travel — to be close to $1 billion.
“We’re usually open eight months out of the year; last year we only worked two months because the rest of the time we were in lockdown,” says Xavina Navarro, artistic director of the Bâoli club and restaurant, a traditional Cannes festival hotspot. “We lost a lot of money, and we had to fight to keep our employees, to save their jobs, their lives and their families.”
Many of the city’s hotels and restaurants had to rely on government handouts — the French government has spent billions in employment furlough schemes and other support measures during the pandemic — to keep employees on the rolls and stave off bankruptcy.
For them, and for thousands more that work in the tourism and hospitality industry, the opening of the Cannes Film Festival is a beacon of hope.
“There’s a real sense of joy [ahead of the festival] because this is the first big event that Cannes will hold in almost two years,” says Béatrice Gagnaire, the front-of-house manager for the Majestic Hotel. The Majestic, directly across from Cannes’ Palais de Festival and its famous red carpet, will host this year’s festival jury, including jury president Spike Lee.
In 2019, for the last pre-pandemic festival, about 40,000 people a day went through the doors of Cannes’ hotels, bars and restaurants. Only about half that number is expected this year, with travel restrictions likely resulting in far fewer international execs and journalists being able to attend. France has begun to lift COVID-19 restrictions, though, meaning Cannes visitors will be able to dine and drink more freely. They’ll even be able to party, with clubs set to open — at 75 percent capacity — on July 9.
“We just got the go-ahead to open during the film festival, [and] people in Cannes will be able to go clubbing again!” says Navarro. “You have to understand how important it is that the festival is happening. Not just for our industry but for everyone living here. It’s the sign that we are coming back. That Cannes is coming back.”
This story first appeared in the June 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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