Plume of dust stretches across Atlantic

Even before Wednesday’s launch, the biggest newsmaker of the Cannes Film Fest may have already emerged: Mother Nature, who’s already delivered two show-stopping performances and whose actions promise to be a fest-long suspenser.

So far, the damage has been dealt with. But memories of last month’s European travel chaos, which affected most Mip-goers here, hover as a reminder that even the most powerful people in showbiz can’t hold a candle to the forces of nature.

After giant waves pummeled the Cote d’Azur last week and sent fest organizers and locals scrambling to complete preparations for the confab, the cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano was alterting the travel plans of many festgoers. And rain is predicted for the week, which could dampen the opening days — but could help disperse the ash cloud.

U.S. execs from Universal, which has the opening night offering “Robin Hood,” have landed in Cannes. Helmer Ridley Scott, however, will be a no-show, due to his recovery from knee surgery. And while Focus, Lionsgate and Summit, for example, said they were on track Monday to make their arrivals, others had tales of delays, lost luggage and diverted flights, including some from the U.S. that flew over Greenland and, ironically, Iceland.

In light of this, some said they’d drawn up contingency plans to take trains in from neighboring airports if their flights were rerouted.

Approximately 500 flights to Europe were impacted by the resurgent ash cloud over the weekend, forcing cancellations of flight in Italy, Portugal, northern Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and Scotland.

Air traffic was returning to some degree of normality Monday, but low-cost carriers in Europe were suffering delays due to schedule disruption. And there were some long delays due to the re-routing of the transatlantic flights, according to Eurocontrol, the European air traffic safety agency. According to Agence France Presse, some 20 flights into Nice, the airport that serves Cannes, were canceled.

With 48 hours to go, construction is, as always, in high gear, but the beachfronts already seem to have recovered from the 26 to 32-foot waves of May 5.

Locals were determined to get on with the show. Jean-Jacques Lottermoser of C-Beach said water and sand came into the restaurant during the wave surges but “we opened the next day to the public.”

Lottermoser said the city of Cannes responded quickly and sent manpower to help the merchants and restaurants, and most were open within 48 hours.

“Everything will be picture-perfect by Wednesday, in time for the festival,” promised Gerard Grizzetti, president of the beach restaurants’ union.

Still, attendance may be down, not due to weather worries but to economics, with one local expecting a 30 percent dip from 2008.

Sources at hotels, car services, and other support enterprises said bookings had been down slightly in 2009 though many budgets and arrangements that year had been made before the September 2008 economic collapse.

This year, however, seemed to indicate all planning was done mindful of the ongoing recession and cutbacks at most of the major players. But, as one studio exec said last year, the numbers may be down, “but everyone who should be here IS here.”

One upside of all the weather unpredictability and the aeronautic suspense: Cannes veterans love to complain about what a grind it is to attend. But those same gripers this year may be kissing the ground once they arrive.

(Timothy M. Gray and Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)

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