The Cannes Film Festival Rolls Out The Red Carpet After COVID-19 Cancellation After the cancellation of the festival in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Cannes Film Festival returns to the French Riviera with an expanded program and a historic jury led by filmmaker Spike Lee.

Cannes Rolls Out The Red Carpet For An Expanded, More Inclusive Film Festival

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Like almost all cultural events that required gatherings and global travel, last year's Cannes Film Festival in France was canceled because of the pandemic. But, today, the festival has returned to its red-carpet glory for its 74th edition. There were movie stars, fans with iPhones and fully vaccinated, tested international press at the opening night premiere.


SHAPIRO: Joining us now from the festival to tell us about what's new this year is NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

Hi, Eleanor.


SHAPIRO: Describe the scene where you are.

BEARDSLEY: I'm at the Palais des Festivals where it all happens, and the stars arrived tonight. They walked up that red carpet, climbed those iconic, red-carpeted stairs. Then, there are fans yelling, photographers snapping. It's very exciting. And all of this is just yards from the beaches and the Mediterranean Sea, where you can see yachts anchored offshore.

You know, there's really nothing more glamorous than opening night at Cannes. And tonight, the film that kicks it all off is "Annette." It's a modern opera by French director Leos Carax, starring French actress Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of singer Edith Piaf, and Adam Driver, with music by the 1970s band Sparks.


SPARKS: (Singing) So may we start? May we start, may we, may we now start?

SHAPIRO: I imagine a lot of health and safety precautions went into making this year's festival possible. What has that process been like?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, absolutely, Ari. It's not just about having your press accreditation and getting your bag checked anymore. To get into this festival palace where it takes place, you have to show a QR code from a double vaccination or a negative test less than 48 hours old, and they're really checking every time you come in and out. There are testing tents everywhere and people taking temperatures before letting people come into venues. The mayor of Cannes actually said, you're safer seeing a movie here than going to the supermarket.

SHAPIRO: And there's history being made this year. I've seen some amazing photos of Spike Lee in a hot-pink suit. Tell us about him.

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely. Spike Lee is the first Black president of the prestigious Cannes jury. He's also the first jury president to feature on the official Cannes poster. He's sort of the logo for the 74th edition. There's - you know, it's a picture of the top half of his face, his eyes looking through these thick, black glasses framed by two palm trees.

And this is a big deal, Ari, because this poster is everywhere - in every shop window, on big banners all along La Croisette, which is the famous boardwalk along the beach here. It's very striking.

I spoke to the president of the Cannes Film Festival, Pierre Lescure, and he said there's definitely something different about having Spike Lee preside over the jury at this moment.

PIERRE LESCURE: Because of his filmography, because of his talent, because of his political and social action, because of who he is, it seemed, to us, it was the right moment and the right man in the right place at the right time.

SHAPIRO: And Spike Lee spoke to the press today. What did he say?

BEARDSLEY: He did. You know, it was at their jury's press conference. He was wearing a Paris T-shirt and a cap with a 1619 logo on it. That sort of set the tone. He said he had a very special place in his heart for Cannes, and it's the world's best film festival. But he also spoke tough words about the racial reckoning in the U.S. that's echoed around the world. He compared what happened last summer with the killing of George Floyd to his 1989 film "Do the Right Thing," which premiered here at Cannes, where there was a character called Radio Raheem who was killed. And here's what he said.


SPIKE LEE: You would think and hope that 30-something-[expletive] years later that Black people would stop being hunted down like they're animals, so - I'm glad to be here, though. (Laughter) Thank you.


BEARDSLEY: You know, Ari, I should add that this year's jury has more women than men for the first time ever, which includes actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, who spoke about how women see things differently. They tell different stories. And it also includes French director Mati Diop. She's the first Black woman to win a prize at the Cannes Festival in 2019 for her film, "Atlantics." And the jury called this the first festival of a new era.

SHAPIRO: So let's talk about the movies. What's playing? What are people excited about?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Ari, there are 24 movies in the official competition. Sean Penn has a new film out. There's a new film by Wes Anderson, international auteurs from Iran and Morocco. And because Cannes didn't happen last year, they have a real surfeit of films, so they've even created a new non-competition category to show some of them. And then, there's going to be some fun screenings of good, old blockbusters, including "Fast & Furious 9," just to mark that cinema is back.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reporting from the Cannes Film Festival.

Congratulations on getting this plum assignment. I'm jealous.

BEARDSLEY: (Laughter) Thank you, Ari.

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