In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the Cannes Film Festival won’t take the virtual route if it can’t be hosted as a physical event, festival director Thierry Fremaux has confirmed.
“(For) Cannes, its soul, its history, its efficiency, it’s a model that wouldn’t work. What is a digital festival? A digital competition? We should start by asking rights holders if they agree,” Fremaux tells Variety.
“Films by Wes Anderson or Paul Verhoeven on a computer? Discovering ‘Top Gun 2’ or (Pixar’s) ‘Soul’ elsewhere than in (a) theater? These films have been postponed to be shown on a big screen; why would we want to show them before, on a digital device?” said Fremaux, teasing some titles that have been in the mix for the upcoming edition.
There has been a giant question mark around the 2020 edition of the Cannes Film Festival since early March, when the coronavirus outbreak became a global issue. After weeks of speculation, organizers postponed the event on March 19 from its initial May unspooling to possibly late June or early July — firm dates still have yet to be set.
“Directors of ‘films’ are driven by the idea of showing their movies on a big screen and sharing them with others at events like festivals, not for their works to end up on an iPhone,” said Fremaux.
“If all the festivals are canceled, we will have to think of a way to showcase films, to avoid wasting a year, but I don’t think a precarious and improvised alternative of Cannes or Venice — no sooner done than forgotten — would be the solution.”
Due to the risk of piracy, among other issues, concerns surrounding rights and windowing are likely to emerge when the planned digital festival initiatives start rolling out later this year.
Fremaux’s declaration echoes Venice’s topper Alberto Barbera’s comments over the weekend, which threw cold water on the prospect of a digital element to Venice, and distinguished that fest from the digital-savvy Toronto International Film Festival, which is “a different type of festival,” according to Barbera.
Cannes’ refusal to go digital isn’t, of course, surprising. Fremaux is a die-hard lover of the big screen — he even hosts Lyon’s annual Lumiere Festival in homage to the French cinema pioneers, the Lumiere brothers.
Cannes has also built its reputation for being a prestigious launchpad for movies from around the world ahead of their theatrical bows in France and abroad — a model that has successfully worked for decades, as it did last year with Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” which went on to be a commercial hit and scoop four Oscars after winning the Palme d’Or.
The festival also works hand in hand with French distributors and exhibitors who are well represented on the board of the festival.
Despite France’s three-week lockdown, Fremaux maintains that the festival is carrying on with the selection of films while monitoring the evolution of the pandemic. Having already caused 8,911 deaths in France, coronavirus could reach a peak in the country by early next week, according to local reports.
Meanwhile, key sales agents who represent the majority of titles in competition have been submitting their films to Cannes’ selection committee, and the dates for registration have been extended by a month and a half, the festival recently said. Cannes also has the full backing of the city’s mayor, as well as the French culture ministry which announced Tuesday the launch of a support cell for festivals scheduled for 2020.