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With the world’s biggest film festival only a few weeks away, Cannes made a very public show of force. Last Thursday, the city on the Cote d’Azur staged a dramatic, some would say chilling, test run of what might happen if terrorists target the stars, film industry execs and thousands of fans who descend on the Croisette every year.
A video of the exercise, which featured masked gunmen with machine guns storming the famed red-carpeted steps of the Cannes Palais as shots rang out, played on repeat on French television and circulated widely on the internet.
The purpose, according to Palais president Claire-Anne Reix, was to show fest attendees “that we are training, that we are preparing, that we are ready. It’s not frightening. What should be frightening is all the videos you see on the internet, not the coverage of an exercise.”
But for many heading to Cannes, the images of gunfights between police and men in balaclavas and the sound of (fake) car bombs exploding was anything but reassuring.
“I only found out we might be in danger when I saw that video — I wasn’t thinking about it until then,” said Yuhka Matoi, an international sales exec for Japan’s Tokyo Broadcasting System. “Maybe I’ll stay away from the red carpet [this year].”
Many attendees also question the tactic of carrying out the security test in public, with cameras running, questioning whether the exercise was more about PR than safety.
“Anyone who goes to Cannes knows the French are good at putting on a show. I hope the security video wasn’t just a performance to convince us they are prepared,” noted Alexander van Dulmen, CEO of Berlin-based licenser A Film, while Russian buyer Sam Klebanov speculated that “the main point of these drills is to repel the potential terrorists by showing that Cannes is not going to be such a soft target.”
Reix, however, insists the exercise served a useful purpose, identifying some areas that need improvement before the stars arrive on May 11.
The simulations were the first of their kind, put in place to test out the city’s new security protocols following the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris in November and in Brussels in March.
“You have to be prepared for what we consider a multi-terror event, not only in one place and not only in one hour — in a few places over a few hours,” city security consultant Nitzan Nuriel told The Hollywood Reporter.
Last year’s festival came after the infamous Charlie Hebdo massacre, but the brutality and seemingly indiscriminate nature of the more recent Paris and Brussels attacks has put Cannes on high alert. Most of the attendees who spoke to THR, however, say they have no plans to change their Cannes routines, taking a fatalist view of potential terrorist strike.
“We hear about plane crashes almost every day but we don’t stop flying,” said Russian sales agent Raisa Fomina of Intercinema. “There is no safe place in Europe and everyone risks his life, whether in France, Belgium, the U.K., anywhere. I do not think I shall change my habits.”
Added documentary producer Simone Baumann of Germany’s Saxonia Entertainment: “I honestly don’t care too much about it. I remember this after 9/11 — not just in Cannes but in Venice, at the TV markets. There are a lot of [dangerous] places. If it happens, it happens. Don’t worry about Cannes.”
The 69th annual Cannes Film Festival is set to run May 11-22.
Rhonda Richford in Paris, Gavin Blair in Tokyo and Nick Holdsworth in Moscow contributed to this report.
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