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Cannes is empty, the day the film festival should have begun

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The stars of Cannes film Festival have stayed home, its prestigious grounds repurposed as a homeless shelter, its beaches closed.

The French Riviera resort of Cannes would normally be a buzz with cinema glitterati on a Tuesday such as this — scheduled as the opening night of the annual festival — but during the time of coronavirus, it is a ghost town.

The world’s biggest film festival was canceled this year for the first time since World War II.

A couple of mask-wearing residents sit on the edge of the empty promenade to catch the morning sun, dangling their feet above the sand and next to an “Access and Swimming Prohibited” sign. An elderly group play petanque quietly next to the deserted roads. On Tuesday a large message of “THANK YOU” for coronavirus emergency workers was installed on the iconic billboard usually reserved for each year’s festival poster.

“I’m overcome with a great sense of melancholy and nostalgia,” Cannes Delegate General Thierry Fremaux told Screen Daily about this unprecedented week. “Cannes has only ever been cancelled once, due to the Second World War, and stopped once, in May ’68.

“I could never have imagined something like this. Who could foresee that so many countries around the world would be caught out by the epidemic?”

While the cancellation represents a blow to the directors, actors, producers and distributors it serves, it has also devastated the legions of businesses and unsung subcontractors that rely on the festival.

“For us, it’s really a very big [financial] loss,” said Joseph Rappa, owner of a snack-vending kiosk. “The festival represents a large part of our annual revenues so it’s very serious problem.”

For others, it’s worse.

Pierre Dambrine works building film stands inside the Palais des Festivals, the retro building complex in which the screenings and awards ceremonies take place.

“There is no more work at all,” Dambrine said. “We don’t know at all when things will resume.”

Since March, the local government repurposed the festival’s building complex as a shelter for homeless. Every day, dozens of the destitute can be seen walking behind a fenced-off area, where journalists were once used to interviewing movie stars.

Shops started reopening on Tuesday, with some high-end boutiques such as Valentino and Saint Laurent set to open their door again, but the mood is still gray. The famous Martinez hotel, where many of Cannes’ stars stay during the 12-day event, will remain closed for at least one more month.

Fremaux has expressed pessimism about the immediate future of the film industry, but said it would rebound.

He said the cancellation of this year’s events won’t stop the festival recognizing 2020’s film talent — and Cannes organizers will announce an Official Selection for this year at the beginning of June.

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