Mini-Cannes Festival Wraps Up as France Locks Down

Thierry-Fremaux_Pascal-Le-Segretain_Getty-Images_1282902499-1604047441
Pascal Le Segretain_Getty Images

Cannes Festival Director Thierry Fremaux

"Having this festival now, in this very tough moment for the film industry, is a way to prove that cinema will survive," says Cannes Festival Director Thierry Frémaux

Cannes wrapped a late, and truncated, version of its 2020 film festival on Thursday, just hours before all of France went into a second coronavirus lockdown.

The French Tech, a comedy from director Bruno Podalydès, closed the three-day mini-festival at 8 p.m. local time with a gala screening at Cannes' Palais des Festivals. At midnight, per orders announced a day earlier by French President Emmanuel Macron, the country closed shop, entering a second COVID-19 lockdown.

"We were the first major film event to be affected by the pandemic, and now we are the last festival of the autumn," Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux told The Hollywood Reporter, referring to his decision in May to cancel the physical Cannes 2020 festival. Instead, Frémaux unveiled the list of films that would have premiered on the Croisette this year, labeling them Cannes' "2020 Official Selection" and watched the movies tour various other international events.

"But it was always our desire that after we'd taken these movies around to theaters and to festivals — to San Sebastian, to Deauville and elsewhere — that we wanted to come here, to end the tour in the city of Cannes," said Frémaux.

In total, four feature films from the Official Selection — Emmanuel Courcol's The Big Hit!, Naomi Kawase's True Mothers, Beginning from first-time Georgian filmmaker Dea Kulumbegashvili, and Podalydès' The French Tech — got a physical screening in what will go down in history as the shortest Cannes festival of all time. Frémaux also screened a series of shorts and student films.

The mini-festival, officially called Special Cannes 2020, was held under strict COVID-19 protocols, with mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand-sanitizing measures enforced. The ugliness of the world outside intruded in the form of a knife attack in nearby Nizza, in which a man killed three people in what French authorities have deemed a terrorist incident.

But Cannes organizers did their best to keep the focus on the films, and to send a signal that the world's number one cinema event has not gone away.

"It was impossible for us to imagine a year without the Cannes Festival," said Jean-Michel Arnaud, president of the Palais des Festival. "Cannes Festival is not an event like all the others. ... That is why we did everything to make it happen. Even if it was just for a few days and a few movies. We had to mark the occasion and welcome the cinema world back to Cannes."

Arnaud says the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the Cannes economy, which is heavily dependent on trade fairs and industry events like the festival.

"Cannes lives from tourism and trade fairs. It has been a catastrophe," said Arnaud. "We've lost something like $800 million in revenues, year-to-date. Hotels were closed, restaurants were closed, the taxis weren't running. It is not only the Palais that suffered from this economic crisis, it is all the economic systems and the business model of Cannes that is collapsing."

Frémaux noted that the loss of the regular Cannes festival has had an noticeable impact on the intentional film industry.

"Cannes every year sets the tone for what will come in the months after: which films will be in the Oscar campaign, what the Baftas will look like, the French Cesar awards, and so on. And it impacts ticket sales," he said. "We have had some film events since but we can see they didn't have the media impact that Cannes has."

As France, and much of Europe, including Italy and Germany, enters a second lockdown, with theaters closing again, Frémaux says he is optimistic cinema will bounce back.

"This [current] lockdown is for four weeks. It was three months last time, and people went back afterward," he noted. "I had a lot of interviews in which people were asking about the death of cinema. And now we know: no, because people went back to watch films. And without some big American studios films...In the history of cinema we can look at many moments when we thought cinema was in danger. And especially this year. But at the end of the day, I don't think so. I think that this very tough moment is a way to prove that cinema will survive."

Frémaux is confident Cannes will hold a complete and "normal" festival next year. The official plan is to have Cannes 2021 in May, but Frémaux said they will shift the dates if the pandemic is still raging.

"We want a normal Cannes, not a Cannes with face masks,” he said. “We are already making plans so that, if we have to, we can hold the festival in July or August. But I think it will be May. I believe. I hope."