Despite a global health crisis that’s left borders in Europe closed, theaters shut down and large events banned in multiple countries, including France, the Cannes Film Festival refuses to throw in the towel and continues to explore alternate options.
The leading force behind the festival, director Thierry Fremaux, tells Variety that Cannes wants “to be present in the fall to contribute” to the industry and the reopening of theaters.
“The cinema and its industries are threatened. We will have to rebuild, affirm again its importance with energy, unity and solidarity,” Fremaux says. The Cannes chief also reveals there have been ongoing discussions with Venice Film Festival artistic director Alberto Barbera about “doing something together” if Cannes is canceled, while other festivals have also reached out to discuss partnerships.
And while the festival may take a different shape this year, Fremaux said the committee will continue watching submitted films until early June.
In Tuesday’s announcement, you said the festival will not take place in its initial form. Are you now considering a virtual festival or perhaps a festival that is shorter with fewer sections?
As we’ve said, there won’t be a virtual festival because it would make no sense considering what the Cannes Film Festival is. And there will be neither a shorter festival nor one with fewer sections. If the Cannes Film Festival takes place, it will do so in full possession of its image and resources. If it does take place, it will mean that life has won.
It won’t be this summer, that’s certain. Since Monday evening, we have (acknowledged) the impossibility of organizing Cannes in July. Today, it’s impossible to project ourselves in the short term: the fall festivals could all get canceled, or we could start seeing a clearer sky with the arrival of the summer, giving us the possibility to see the coming months from a fresh perspective.
What each and everyone must understand is that if we fight, it’s not (for) the festival itself, but to support the economic relaunch of the whole sector, on a global scale — the films, the artists, the professionals, the theaters and their audiences.
Are you planning to announce your Official Selection regardless of what happens?
In order to announce an Official Selection with films, one must have the approval of rightsholders so we’ll see. In any case, we are working on several hypotheses.
The denomination “Official Selection” implies that the festival is organized under its initial form. As we’ve said, it’s difficult to imagine that, as of today. We can imagine a Cannes 2020 label that would allow us to accompany and help promote films that we have seen and will be seeing until the end of June. (There are) beautiful films coming to us from the entire world; we must and we want to shine a light on them so that they can reach an audience when the time (comes for) their releases this fall.
What are the obstacles to postponing the Cannes Film Festival at the end of the summer or fall?
In France, the end of lockdown will begin on May 11, we will see how it goes. But if the virus is still a threat by the summer in Europe and in the U.S., the public authorities around the world won’t accept the staging of any large event for a long time. In Europe, there won’t be anything before mid-July; that means that the first events will take place in September. We will see how the festivals such as Venice, Toronto, San Sebastian and Deauville will roll out this year.
And it will all depend on the reopening of movie theaters, which is a crucial issue. The engagement of Cannes in favor of movie theaters remains unchanged. We must help them; it will take time. Today they are at their lowest point, we will need to support them. Platforms are thriving, but I believe that when life will start again, the theaters, the movies will have key roles to play with the public.
The Cannes Film Festival wants to be present in the fall to contribute to all this. The cinema and its industries are threatened, we will have to rebuild, affirm again its importance with energy, unity and solidarity.
Could there be an alliance of solidarity with other festivals, such as Venice or with your Lumière Festival in Lyon?
As every year, I speak a lot to (Venice director) Alberto Barbera, who is himself worried, obviously. Since the beginning of the crisis, we have raised the possibility of doing something together if Cannes was canceled. We’re continuing to discuss it. Other festivals have invited us: Locarno, San Sebastian, Deauville. These are gestures that touch us a lot. And in Lyon, at the Lumiere Festival (in October), we have planned to host a number of world premieres as part of the program.
What kind of dialogue have you had with directors and producers who need to know fairly soon what to do with their films?
The process is absolutely the same as usual: the directors made movies, they want them to be seen, they want me to call them back to give them some feedback. For now, artists and producers have been showing me their films normally. We will be seeing them until the beginning of June, if we need to. But as every year, (filmmakers) submit their movies to several festivals at the same time. The dialogue is just a little different this year because of the crisis. The uncertainty reigns over everywhere. Cannes represents for many a sort of communal house.