Hollywood Flashback: Strikes and Protests Cut Cannes Short 50 Years Ago

Jack Garofalo/Paris Match via Getty Images
Directors Truffaut (far right), Claude Berri (left of Truffaut) and Lelouch (hand on mouth) were among the activists occupying a Cannes screening room during the '68 protests.

The fest ended five days early after screening only 11 of the 28 films in competition and no awards were given.

Ahead of the 1968 Cannes festival, the biggest headache organizers encountered was Olivia de Havilland’s refusal to attend the May 10 screening of a restored print of Gone With the Wind because MGM refused to pay her travel expenses. That was a walk in the park compared to what was to come, as student protests and massive strikes in Paris began to spread nationally, with 3 million French workers taking to the streets.

This was the ’60s version of Occupy France. French cinema’s young directors — including Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle and Claude Lelouch — demanded that the festival stop, as well.

“These filmmakers were the first to grow up after the war,” says French director Michel Hazanavicius, who won an Oscar for The Artist and whose 1968-set film Godard Mon Amour premiered last year at Cannes. “The strike represented a change of generations.”

Those who’d invested heavily in the fest, however, wanted it to continue uninterrupted. 

As a member of the jury, Roman Polanski, then 34, found himself in the middle. He eventually decided to resign, but, as a refugee from communist Poland, he had reservations. “People like Truffaut, Lelouch and Godard are like little kids playing at being revolutionaries,” Polanski said at the time. “I lived in a country where these things happened seriously.” 

The fest limped along for a week but with most screenings disrupted. When the Spanish film Peppermint Frappe premiered, strikers attempted to close down the screening; even the film’s director, Carlos Saura, and star, Geraldine Chaplin, tried to hold the curtains shut as the titles ran.

The fest ended five days early after screening only 11 of the 28 films in competition; no awards were given.

“In France, we love to have strikes,” says Hazanavicius. “After soccer, it could be our national sport. May of ’68 is the one that will always be remembered.” 

This story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.