Cannes vs COVID-19: Matters arising

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Cannes vs COVID-19: Matters arising

With Victor Akande


IF the unexpected happens, going by the global worries over the Coronavirus epidemic, it would be the first time since the 73 years history of the biggest film festival in the world to press the pause button.

As the dateline of May 12 to 23, 2020 draws nearer, there have been speculations that the world cup of film festivals might be cancelled this year.

The French government has already issued a ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people following the first case of the virus in Cannes, confirmed on February 28.

The next day, the international television conference, MipTV, which takes place in the same city was canceled. These actions have heightened speculations surrounding the cancellation of the festival, adding to the fact that the coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

In France, where there are 1,784 cases and 33 deaths as of March 11, the virus is expected to peak in one month and projected to tail off in two months, around the time Cannes kicks off, according to Alexandre Bleibtreu, a doctor specializing in infectious, parasitic and tropical diseases at the Pitié-Salpêtrière, one of the country’s leading hospitals.

Should the unexpected happen, there will be a hitch in the world calendar of film festivals. There is usually a chain, from the major film festival that ushers in the year, leading to the following year when the almighty Oscar happens, with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) being the last window to the Academy Awards.

A pause in one leg of the calendar might affect the bunch that makes up film business in a given year. While few studios premiere films in the lineup, starry projects are often assembled at the Marche along with thousands of productions from around the world.

The absence of that market activity would have an unfathomable disruption on the routine for buyers and sellers around the world.

While Cannes may impact only a small fraction of the box office in the U.S., in other territories, its laurels can have a real lasting impact, if the thoughts of IndieWire’s Eric Kohn is anything to go by.

Companies that already have travel bans in place include Sony, Amazon, CAA and Warner Bros. Apart from travellers from Europe and Asia who certainly will be more affected even if Cannes festival eventually holds, there is a projection that even North Americans traveling to the festival might face the risk of being quarantined for 14 days if they make the trip to France, or not be allowed to fly back home after the festival, should the virus reach its peak in the U.S. in the run-up to Cannes.

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Although, president of the Cannes Film Festival Pierre Lescure agrees the 2020 edition of the prestigious festival will be canceled should the coronavirus outbreak worsen in France and around the world, businesses have continued as usual. There was confirmation of official selection for April 16, including a 9 per cent increase in accreditation requests from last year.

“We remain reasonably optimistic in the hope that the peak of the epidemic will be reached at the end of March and that we will breathe a little better in April,” Lescure tells Le Figaro. “But we are not oblivious. If not, we will cancel.”

Lescure also provided context to a Variety report from earlier this week that claimed Cannes had declined to accept an insurance offer for pandemics.

As the Cannes president explains, “This offer was made to us about ten days ago, but it was totally disproportionate.

We were only offered to cover ourselves up to 2 million euros while our budget is 32 million. It was really peanuts. The company was clearly playing the bounty hunters and we of course declined this proposal.”

The cancellation of SXSW has created several financial repercussions for the Austin-based organization (about one-third of the company was laid off this week), but Lescure says Cannes would not face the same potential situation.

The president says, “It doesn’t matter because we have reservations. The endowment fund that we have set up allows us to face at least one year without revenue.”

There are indications, as part of the measures to ease the situation, that seating will be limited in the main auditorium where gala world premieres are hosted.

The Palais venue has 853 seats in the orchestra and an additional 1,456 seats on the balcony. But this option, among others, could be short-lived if the country is placed in quarantine, as is the case in Italy.

Cannes vs COVID-19: Matters arising

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