FRANCE. Cannes: The year 2020 was a big blowout for not just Cannes that derives its essence from its annual celebration of world cinema, but for the whole world.
The iconic red carpet, one of the most awaited yearly global phenomena, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic did not see its glamour in 2020. But to everybody’s relief, with falling infection rates and rising vaccinations, the international film festival has plunged right into 2021.
This huge plunge means an expanded program in store for the 74th Festival de film de Cannes. The official competition this year includes 24 films, a few more than usual over the festival’s almost two-week duration. There are dozens of additional films from around the world being screened out of competition. In addition, a new section called Cannes Premieres has also been organized comprising selections from a year’s worth of cinema that was missed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Oh my gosh, it’s such a pleasure, a real emotion,” Pierre Lescure, president of the Cannes Film Festival told NPR in an interview from his office overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. “Yes, Cannes is back, but more importantly cinema is back,” said Lescure.
With freedom comes responsibility
Organizers had put Cannes on hold until France’s pandemic restrictions were lifted. But given the pandemic situation, people wore masks on the “Croisette” the famous boardwalk that runs along Cannes’ beaches.
There are also testing sites and temperature checkers in front of popular venues like the casino. Another catchy point is that stars will be allowed to go maskless on the red carpet, however, a health pass is required to enter, and there will be fewer glitzy parties.
First of its kind jury
Posters of the festival as always, decorate the town, from storefronts to the Croisette. But this year is different, in the sense, it is a first for the jury head to appear on the official festival poster. Jury president Spike Lee looks out ironically through his large black glasses, framed by two palm trees on the poster. There’s more, it is also the first time a Black filmmaker is presiding over the jury.
Cannes President Lescure said Spike Lee’s presence is particularly meaningful amidst a pandemic and worldwide call for racial justice. “Because of his filmography, because of his talent because of his political and social actions, because of who he is,” said Lescure. “It seemed to us he was the right man, in the right place, at the right moment.”
Another big reason this year’s festival is historic is that the jury has included more women than men. At the opening day press conference, jury member Mati Diop and her fellow jurors highlighted the importance of greater equity and inclusion in legacy institutions like Cannes.
In 2019, Diop made history becoming the first woman of colour to have a film in competition at the festival with her feature Atlantics.