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Cannes on Alert: Millions Invested to Thwart Terror Attacks at Festival

Set to unspool just 10 days after France’s fateful presidential election, the Cannes Film Festival is ramping up security measures more than ever before.

The city is spending millions to bolster security as plans are being finalized for the world’s biggest festival, starting May 17, which is expecting stars like Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Isabelle Huppert, Kristen Stewart, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, and director Sofia Coppola.

But the question, for many festgoers, is how safe is Cannes going to be this year?

Between high-profile thieves, last year’s terror attack in Nice, rising far-right politics, and ongoing tensions with the local French-Arab community, the French Riviera has gone through a rough patch over the past few years. The pressure-cooker atmosphere has led the city of Cannes, which hosts numerous industry events such as Mipcom, MipTV, and the Cannes Lions, to ramp up its security standards to make international visitors feel secure.

The upcoming 70th edition will be the first Cannes Film Festival since the tragic attack in Nice when an Islam terrorist ran a cargo truck through a crowd watching fireworks on Bastille Day, killing 85 people, just 18 miles away from Cannes. The Nice attack took place on the Promenade des Anglais, which runs alongside the beach, like the Croisette in Cannes.

Since the Nice attack last July, the region has been more on edge than ever. The French Riviera has become a stronghold of the far right, which has stirred tensions with the French-Arab population in the region. Controversial presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who is running against Emmanuel Macron, gathered 30% of votes in the region, the country’s highest score for Le Pen’s political party, the Front National.

Cannes mayor David Lisnard, who commissioned an audit from Israeli counter-terrorism expert Nitzan Nuriel following the Paris attacks in November 2015, has taken strong measures to prevent a similar truck attack on the Croisette. Substantial barriers, most in the form of huge concrete planters, were installed along the sidewalk which leads to the Palais, the headquarters for most Cannes premieres and festivities.

The city will also spend $6 million to place automatic retractable bollards at every entry point to the town, said Yves Darros, who heads up Cannes police.

After Nuriel’s report, the city increased maritime surveillance of Cannes bay and the harbor. But that didn’t stop a French internet company from mounting a poorly-handled stunt last year during the festival. Guests at the luxurious Hôtel du Cap a few miles outside of Cannes were shaken when a raft full of men in matching helmets and military-style utility vests showed up at the hotel’s dock faking a terrorist attack.

Despite having some of France’s tightest security standards, Cannes has become notorious for its high-profile heists. In 2015, as much as $19 million worth of jewelry and watches were stolen from Cartier boutiques in in the city just before the festival. Aiming to prevent such thefts, the number of surveillance cameras was increased from 400 to 550 across the city’s tourist and festival venues in the last two years.

Cannes has also recruited a wide network of 500 local volunteers plus 80 “vigilant neighbors” who are in charge of patrolling across the city to watch out for suspicious activity and report it to authorities.

Last year, Cannes authorities organized a simulated raid involving fake bombs in the run-up to the festival in order to prepare for a potential attack. This year, it is believed that a similar event was organized, but details of the operation have been kept under wraps. Authorities have indeed been extremely tight-lipped about revealing any details of the preparations for obvious security reasons, as well as political ones, since the presidential and legislative elections are coming up.

Darros said festival organizers have been working hand in hand with various authorities at local and regional levels to ensure top-level security in and around the Palais.

“I’ve been doing the festival for 35 years and the security has always been great, but this year it will reach new heights,” said Darros, who also pointed out that, like last year, daily meetings with authorities and security staff will be held during the fest in order to adjust the level of security needed.

A top American sales agent with offices on the Croisette said, “We have been talking internally about measures to take if anything happens — from communicating with each other right away to make sure everyone is safe, to securing the office if needed.”

Cecile Gaget, head of international co-production and distribution at Gaumont, said she was concerned when she arrived in Cannes last year, but felt more secure when she saw snipers around the Palais from the rooftop of her office.

Some stars will arrive with their own security staff, who would have to be cleared by Cannes authorities and the festival staff. When it comes bodyguards bringing their own guns on the Croisette, they would need to be registered not only by the regional prefecture, but also by France’s interior ministry, according to a source.

France, which has been under a State of Emergency since the Paris attacks of November 2015, was just listed in the travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department on Monday, which mentioned the continued threat of terrorist attacks throughout Europe.

Citing recent attacks in France, Russia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, the U.S. State Department said ISIS and al Qaeda “have the ability to plan and execute terrorist attacks in Europe.”

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