Cannes juggles security with not cramping stars

The Cannes film festival opens this week with the authorities in the French Riviera resort torn between the need for tight security and wrecking the party of a particularly starry year.

Cannes juggles security with not cramping stars
French gendarmes taking part in a mock terrorist attack exercise in front of the "Palais des Festivals" as part of the security measures set for the upcoming Cannes film festival. Photo: AFP

France is still officially under a state of emergency six months after the Paris attacks in which 130 people died, and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve will visit the town himself to oversee measures.

He promised “the highest level of security possible given the context of the terrorist threat”.

With a host of Hollywood stars including Julia Roberts, Jodi Foster, Sean Penn, Robert De Niro, Kirsten Dunst, Charlize Theron, George Clooney and Jeff Bridges due on the Croisette for the festival which starts Wednesday, police are taking no risks.

They staged a simulated terror attack last month on the Palais des Festivals, where the films in the running for the Palme d'Or are shown, to test their new emergency response plan.

Air and sea exclusions zones are also being declared — including a ban on drones — with a security cordon thrown around Cannes and all road and rail routes leading to the town.

Mayor David Lisnard said the police were being ordered to “randomly search people in the street. We are taking all measures so that the festival will be both safe and popular,” he said.

More than 500 security personnel will guard the Palais des Festivals itself and prefect Adolphe Colrat will announce Monday the number of police and paramilitary gendarmes that are being drafted in to patrol around that cordon.

He has already said that security with be “a degree above last year's levels” which were themselves ramped up after the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks in Paris.

But many are worried that too much security will cramp Cannes, making the already hectic merry-go-round of screenings, meetings, interviews and parties all the more difficult to navigate.

The head of the Directors' Fortnight section of the festival, Edouard Waintrop sounded the alarm, telling reporters he had been forced to cut screenings.

“We will have exceptional security measures in place this year. We've lost 17 hours of screenings — the equivalent to four films — due to the new security protocols for gaining access to the cinemas.

“If the numbers have fallen this year, it's not out of choice but rather necessity,” he added.

The festival's president Pierre Lescure insisted a balance had to be struck between security and freedom of movement.

Nevertheless, there would be no compromising on the “sealed bubble” around the Palais, he said, where the stars including Russell Crowe, Kristen Stewart and Ryan Gosling will walk the red carpet.

With quarter of a million visitors due in the Mediterranean resort during the festival, which runs until May 22, bottlenecks and queues are inevitable, however.

And no amount of security in the past has deterred the determined criminals and cat burglars of the Cote d'Azur.

The so-called Pink Panther gang were blamed for a €103 million ($130 million) gem theft in 2013 from the Carlton hotel where Alfred Hitchcock's classic film “To Catch a Thief” was set, and last year robbers escaped with €17.5 million worth of jewellery after holding up the Cartier boutique on the Croisette.

The festival's opening film, however, comes from a seemingly more innocent era. Woody Allen's “Cafe Society” starring Kristen Stewart, is about a young couple who fall in love in 1930s Hollywood.


US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.