How Cannes Sacrificed Tradition to Land 'The Great Gatsby'

2012-44 TOWN The Great Gatsby H

Baz Luhrmann went incognito at an early test screening of The Great Gatsby at the Sherman Oaks ArcLight on Nov. 29. 

Historically, the coveted opening-night slot is reserved for films making their world premieres; "Gatsby" opens in North America five days prior to its Cannes sojourn and has no intention of shifting that date.

When word broke that Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby will open the Cannes International Film Festival on May 15, there was immediate speculation whether Warner Bros. would push back the film's May 10 release in North America.

The answer is no.

Festival director Thierry Fremaux, who has run Cannes for more than a decade, always has reserved the coveted spot for a film making its world premiere on the splashy Croisette. That way, he's ensured of creating the most buzz and publicity.

But Great Gatsby was selected even though Warner Bros. made it clear it wouldn't be able to shift the May 10 date because of the jam-packed summer calendar, studio insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter.

STORY: 'The Great Gatsby' to Open Cannes Film Festival

The screening in Cannes will, however, be timed to Gatsby's international rollout. The film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic novel stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher, guaranteeing plenty of wattage on the famous red carpet leading up to the Palais.

"All of this was prearranged," the studio executive says.

The move isn't without risk. If Gatsby garners negative reviews on the eve of its domestic launch, that could diminish its profile in Cannes.

Veteran marketing and publicity executives say Warner Bros. and producers Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick have likely shown the film, or extended footage, to select opinion-makers and are thus confident that Gatsby will click.

There are several reasons why Gatsby -- originally scheduled to open in December 2012 -- is a natural fit to kick off the 66th edition of Cannes. Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! opened the festival in 2001, and Fitzgerald is rumored to have finished writing Great Gatsby while taking up residence in the South of France with his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald. The film's star power is another draw.

VIDEO: 'Great Gatsby' Trailer

Commenting on Twitter, Fremaux said Fitzgerald in his time essentially "invented the Cote d'Azur (French Riviera)" and that the author and his wife were amorous fans of The Carlton Hotel in Cannes as well as the Hotel du Cap in nearby Antibes.

Still, it is virtually unprecedented to allow an opening-night film such leeway. Hollywood studio titles that have opened the festival in recent years, including last year's Moonrise Kingdom, Midnight in Paris (2011), Robin Hood (2010), Up (2009), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and The Di Vinci Code (2006) all made their world premieres on the Croisette.

Cannes wanted Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace to open the festival in 1999, but George Lucas and 20th Century Fox decided to premiere it in New York instead, prompting the festival to drop the prequel from the coveted opening-night slot.

Cannes did offer Phantom the closing-night spot, but Lucas passed on that, and the film skipped Cannes. The next two Star Wars films, 2002's Attack of the Clones and 2005's Revenge of the Sith, both played out of Competition at the festival.

Follow on Twitter @PamelaDayM