An article in the weekly news magazine Le Point, published Saturday, quoted an unnamed member of the film festival’s board of directors saying it would be “very difficult if not impossible” to hold this year’s event given the growing crisis surrounding the coronavirus and the drastic government measures taken to combat it.
France this week introduced new restrictions, limiting public gatherings to under 100 people and, from Monday on, is closing all schools, universities and daycare centers in a bid to stem the spread of the virus. Several other European countries, including Italy, Spain and Germany, have introduced a partial or total lockdown as infections and deaths rise across the continent. The U.S. has closed its borders to European travelers, having recently expanded its ban to visitors from the U.K. and Ireland.
Officially, Cannes has said it will not make a decision regarding this year’s festival until mid-April to give the new measures time to take effect. Cannes is scheduled to announce its official lineup on April 16. This year’s festival is scheduled to run May 12-23.
But the Le Point article quotes an unnamed Cannes festival board member as saying the new restrictions make this year’s event untenable.
“It will be very difficult, not to to say impossible, to select films coming from China, Korea, Iran, Italy and undoubtedly of about 50 countries, knowing that the actors and directors will not be able to travel,” the article quotes the board member as saying. “Showing films in a 2,000-seat auditorium [Cannes’ main gala theater is a 2,300-seater] will not be allowed, and the slightest alert will worry festivalgoers.” The board member noted he could not imagine Spike Lee, this year’s Cannes jury president, spending “15 days in the midst of a crowd in an uncontrolled state of health.”
But festival organizers insist there has been no change of plans and that they are waiting before making a final decision.
“Despite some sensational headlines, there are no new elements regarding the Festival de Cannes,” read a festival statement sent to The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
Cannes is one of the last major industry events in the first half of the year not to have already canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. SXSW (planned for March 13-22) and the Tribeca Film Festival (April 15-26) have both been nixed, as have such French events as SeriesMania in Lille and the TV confab MIPTV in Cannes, both scheduled for later this month.
If Cannes were to be called off, it would be the first time in the event’s 73-year history. The only time the world’s most prestigious film festival has been disrupted before was in 1968 when, after the fest had already begun, it was called off amid nationwide student and labor strikes in France.