France's Reopening Plan Bad News for Cannes, Cinemas

Cannes Croisette March 25 2020

Theaters will not be allowed to reopen when the country starts lifting its lockdown orders May 11 and large gatherings, such as the Cannes Film Festival, will be remain banned until at least September.

France has laid out its plans to get back to work after the COVID-19 lockdown, but for the nation's film industry, the news doesn't look good.

Under the guidelines outlined by French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe to the country's National Assembly on Tuesday, cinemas will not be among the businesses allowed to reopen when France begins to loosen its lockdown measures May 11. 

The ban on large gatherings — meaning festivals and events that draw more than 5,000 people — will remain in place until at least September, Philippe said. Meaning the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, which has already been postponed twice, will not be held this summer in anything like its traditional form and is looking less and less likely to happen at all.

France can also say adieu to professional sports until September, meaning the 2019-20 soccer season is effectively over. The current Champions League tournament, which includes French sides Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon, may also have to be scrapped.

France plans to begin lifting its lockdown orders May 11, provided the number of new COVID-19 infections remains below 3,000 per day, Philippe said. The country is planning a two-step progressive easing of restrictions, with the first phase from from May 11 to June 2 and a second period from June 2 though September.

While schools, offices and shops will be allowed to get back to business starting May 11, cinemas, theaters and concert halls, along with large shopping centers, bars and restaurants, will remain closed. The government said it will make a decision after phase one, at the beginning of June, whether to keep those businesses closed or not.

That is likely to be of little comfort for French cinema owners and distributors, who have taken a major hit since the COVID-19 outbreak shut down operations across the country. France, which has been on lockdown since March 17, has seen a 36 percent drop in box office in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year.

Things are looking even tougher for Cannes, which in its traditional form qualifies as a "large event" under the government guidelines. The regulations mean Cannes likely could not take place until September at the earliest. After postponing the festival twice — from its original dates in late May and then from the late June — the French festival had most recently been looking at late August for possible alternative dates.

There has been talk of Cannes collaborating with the Venice Film Festival this year as a sign of solidarity during the COVID-19 crisis. Venice is still planning to hold its 2020 fest Sept. 2-12. It is unclear how the new French regulations will impact Cannes plans.