“Oh my gosh, it’s such a pleasure, a real emotion,” Pierre Lescure, president of the Cannes Film Festival tells NPR in an interview from his office overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. “Yes, Cannes is back,” says Lescure, “but more importantly, cinema is back.”
The opening night film was Annette, a highly anticipated musical by filmmaker Leos Carax. Originally slated to make its debut at the 2020 edition, ‘Annette’ was kept on ice for a year out of loyalty to Cannes, says Lescure.
The day before opening night, technicians checked the sound systems and put finishing touches on the entrance to the Palais des Festivals, where movie stars from around the world walked up the iconic red carpeted stairs to kick off the 74th edition of the iconic festival, according to NPR.
Organizers waited until France’s pandemic restrictions were lifted to hold Cannes. But COVID-19 has made for a somewhat different scene this year. People wear 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.
You can already feel the star presence, as music streams from swanky beachfront restaurants. This year a giant screen and chairs have been set up in the sand by the sea, for an outdoor nightly cinema experience.
Visitors take selfies in front of the famous red carpeted stairs. And then there are the regulars like Joseph Morpelli, who has set up his ladder across from the stairs, as he does every year. "We love cinema and we love the actors that go with it," he says.
Morpelli's is one of dozens of ladders chained to palm trees and poles, glinting in the sun. The ladders are part of Cannes folklore and it's all in pursuit of a better view and a chance to call out to the movie stars as they arrive.
As always, posters of the festival decorate the town, from storefronts to the Croisette.
This year's poster features jury president Spike Lee looking out ironically through his large black glasses, framed by two palm trees. It's not only the first time a black filmmaker presides over the jury, it's also the first time a jury head appears on the official festival poster.
Jury member Mati Diop also made history in 2019 when she became the first woman of color to have a film in competition at the festival with her feature ‘Atlantics’. This year's jury, which awards the festival's highest honor, the Palm D'or, also includes more women than men. At the opening day press conference, Diop and her fellow jurors emphasized the importance of greater equity and inclusion in legacy institutions like Cannes.
Cannes President Lescure says Spike Lee's presence over the festivities in such a moment — amidst a pandemic and worldwide calls for racial justice — is particularly meaningful.