Sad and terribly disappointing as it may seem, the 2020 Cannes Film Festival will not happen this year, because of the current Coronavirus pandemic. This is official and final. At least, the event will not take place in the form that we have all come to understand, cherish and love. For me, this would have been my 30th edition, and the Festival's General-Delegate, Thierry Fremaux, averred, he has been at Cannes for 35 years. It must have been a shattering blow to a man for whom Cannes had become his very soul and spirit.
He told Screen: “On a personal level, I’m overcome with a great sense of melancholy and nostalgia. I’ve been going to the festival for 35 years. It’s my job, but beyond that it’s also an amazing convivial, human, artistic and gastronomic event, not just for me but for everyone who goes. Every year, we live an extraordinary experience. On a professional level, I’m facing an unprecedented situation, but with serenity."
But the never-say-die man is now thinking of ways to keep his beloved Festival alive – in some form.
Fremaux is moving ahead with screening this year's Festival selections at other Festivals under the label Cannes 2020. These titles will include those in Competition, A Certain Regard and Midnight Screenings. And Fremaux is planning to announce his official selections early June.
If one were to read between the lines, Fremaux is probably very keen on a collaboration with Venice, which is slated to start on September 2. But will this Festival on the island of Lido, off mainland Venice, be held at all, given the kind of humungous tragedy Italy has seen in recent months. Will the country be in a mood to celebrate cinema? Or, will it want the event to happen as a diversion from the distress and despair Italy has gone through? We would know all this in June.
Also, Cannes may partner with San Sebastian, New York and Fremaux's own Lumiere Festival at Lyon in October.
However, come what may, Cannes will not go digital. The Festival chief, who is a fervent supporter of film theatres, has vowed to help exhibitors lure back moviegoers this fall. “The cinema and its industries are threatened. We will have to rebuild, affirm again its importance with energy, unity and solidarity,” Fremaux told Variety in April.
In line with this, Fremaux said that "instead of unveiling the whole of what should have been this year’s official selections he would only announce a list of movies that were part of the roster and scheduled to be released in theatres between now and next spring."
Producers are also helping, and some of the films that were selected for 2020 edition have delayed their releases by a year, so that they may be considered for next year's event. After all, who wants to miss Cannes?
If all had gone well, the 73rd edition of Cannes would have begun tomorrow, May 12, and as one who has always landed there a day earlier, I can visualise the mood and atmosphere – euphoric, celebratory.
I still remember my first Cannes. It was a quaint little city on the shimmering blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. My friend, a wonderful human being and renowned journalist, Amita Malik, had told me to take the window seat in my flight into Nice, the nearest airport to Cannes. “You will feel a sense of dread when you find the plane seemingly ready to strike the sea, but do not worry it will not." In a very exciting way, the airport runway begins where the shoreline ends, and this feeling of elation and trepidation overcame me then. And also years later, as did the Festival itself.
Cannes was much less crowded than what it is today – with 4000-plus media men alone and thousands of industry professionals jostling for space and place in the queue to the movies. Today, unless you, as a journalist, have a good badge, getting into a screening venue could be next to impossible. Cannes follows a caste system, so to say, in the distribution of its Press badges. It has to. Otherwise, how can it accommodate the huge number of journalists?
Blessed are those with “White Badges” – and they can sail in and out of any venue. Those with “Pink With Yellow Dot Badges” are next in line of order and preference, and these men and women have more or less the same privileges as those with White. The “Pink Without A Yellow Dot” guys are not quite the happy ones, and they often find that they cannot get into a theatre, let alone Press conferences. And those with Blue or Orange or Yellow badges, their plight is simply abysmal.
In the early years, Cannes was also renowned for its parties, and it was said there were 200 parties every night. This may have been an exaggeration, but there were dozens, of course, each vying with the other to create fantastic memories. Several big boats or small steamers hosted parties in which wine flowed and the choicest of food was laid out.
Away from the parties, when sun shone, topless women posed for shutterbugs, hoping to catch the eye of some big producer or director for a career in cinema. What is more, some of them played volleyball on the beach, and crowds cheered them all the way. Cannes had its saucy side all right.
But these are all gone, and Cannes has slowly emerged as a great platform for great cinema. I am sure, come 2021 May, the Festival would be back in all its glory – with the pandemic a distant memory.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is author, commentator and movie critic
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