Post Paris attacks, Cannes tries hard to balance security with festivity

  • AP, Cannes, France
  • Updated: May 12, 2016 14:28 IST
French police officers patrol in front of the Festival Palace before the opening of the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 11, 2016. (REUTERS)

As the 69th Cannes Film Festival begins in France on Wednesday, the security around the place has been beefed up considerably.

Coming six months after the Paris attacks in November, the festival has elevated security measures. But particular care has been made, festival organizers say, to preserving the spirit of the annual cinema celebration.

Bomb sweeps and bag checks have been stepped up. A dramatic, unnerving drill was held last month in which mock gunmen stormed the festival’s palace hub. And festival president Pierre Lescure has said that about 500 highly-trained security agents will be on guard around Cannes’ red-carpeted headquarters, the Palais des Festivals. That’s in addition to around 200 police and extensive surveillance cameras throughout Cannes.

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View of the Festival Palace in the bay of Cannes. (REUTERS)

But the festival, which opens Wednesday, has also sought to counter the heightened state by continuing with business as usual. The party will most definitely go on.

“The atmosphere is good,” festival director Thierry Fremaux said in an interview Tuesday. “Cannes is a celebration of life, of cinema. These films have a big fighting spirit,” he added. “This is also what makes Cannes and we still want to show that.”

Perhaps signaling that maintaining such a balance will have its difficulties, moments after Fremaux spoke, alarms rang out inside the Palais, forcing an evacuation.

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French Gendarmes on a boat patrol in the bay of Cannes to survey the coast and the boats few hours before the opening ceremony. (REUTERS)

But on the eve of Wednesday’s opening festivities - including a new ‘welcome party’ for festivalgoers on the beach - beefed up security was far from omnipresent. The most striking change, as many noted, weren’t security agents but a wardrobe change for the ubiquitous festival ushers. To glowing reviews from critics, their traditionally beige suits have been replaced with blue ones.

“The French public statement was very clear, is very clear,” Fremaux said. “The festival is as usual, the same way as usual, so everything will be fine.”

That was consistent with earlier statements made by Lescure, who pledged that “the maximum” has been done to balance security and ensure “that the festival remains a place of freedom.”

Others have emphasized that Cannes, the world’s pre-eminent film festival, must be diligently guarded.

“We must keep in mind as we prepare to open this festival that we are faced with a risk which has never been as high, and faced with an enemy determined to strike us at any moment,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Monday in Cannes.

“We must demonstrate extreme vigilance at all times,” he said.

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French soldiers patrol in front of the Festival Palace before the opening ceremony. (REUTERS)

Security was also increased last year following the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015. But after 130 were killed in the Paris attacks, France remains in a state of emergency.

“Cannes must be protected not because of the cocktail parties, but because it is a professional event of a high level which brings honour to France,” Mayor David Lisnard said.

Traditions rigorously guide Cannes, which runs through May 22, culminating with the presentation of the Palme d’Or. Onlookers will be paying close attention to see if the customary pageantry of the festival red carpet changes even slightly.

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A view of the port of Cannes and the Suquet, old city area of Cannes. (REUTERS)

Kicking off the festival Wednesday will be Woody Allen’s 1930s Hollywood comedy Cafe Society. On tap are films from Steven Spielberg (The BFG), Jodie Foster (Money Monster), Pedro Almodovar (Julieta) and Jim Jarmusch (Paterson). Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Kristen Stewart and Russell Crowe are among the stars expected to attend.

Outside the Palais on Tuesday, festivalgoers voiced support for any necessary security measures. “We can’t stop doing things just because there is potential danger,” said Cecil Brown of Paris. “We will just continue.”

A woman walks past chairs displayed on a red carpet in the Palace Festival on the eve of the opening ceremony. (REUTERS)

Robert Willington of Cannes asked, “What, we should stop having concerts and playing music and enjoying ourselves and doing what we love? I don’t think so.”

Wayne Reilly, from Indiana, also said he was undeterred.

“I’m willing to put up with more security, that’s OK,” said Reilly. “I’d prefer not, but it’s all right so we can keep doing these things. But I’m not going to let what they are doing stop me. It’s too beautiful here to miss it.”

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