An ash-colored pall could settle over the Cannes Film Festival


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Will Russell Crowe and Sean Penn need to board a steamship?

With the Cannes Film Festival just three days away, the volcanic ash that has played havoc with European flight for the last month threatens to swirl up some trouble for the venerable film festival -- prompting delays, cancellations and creative means of alternative travel.

As of Sunday, France’s Nice airport, which serves Cannes and the surrounding area, remained open, but a number of flights scheduled to arrive there had been canceled. The moves follow cancellations over the last several days of flights originating in countries including Ireland and Italy as Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano spews a fresh round of ash into the atmosphere.


Canceled flights could mean that participants in the world’s largest film festival would arrive days late, or scrap their plans altogether, leading to a potential dearth of media and stars in a festival typically littered with them. (Crowe and Penn, for instance, are supposed to arrive in the festival’s early days to promote their films ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Fair Game,’ respectively.)

There’s little chance major events would be canceled outright, but media and screening schedules could be substantially juggled as talent, executives, media and the general public scramble to arrive in the South of France.

Even flights that have reached their destination successfully have taken much longer than usual. On Friday, a flight from New York to Nice -- a primary way by which Angelenos reach the Cannes Film Festival -- took 10 hours instead of the usual seven as pilots made a circuitous mid-air detour to avoid the ash cloud.

If those types of delays continue, they could cascade through the system and create numerous headaches in the tightly timed world of the Cannes Film Festival, where screenings and media opportunities are carefully packed together.

Because they draw a diverse group of international attendees, film festivals are particularly vulnerable to airline delays prompted by global calamities. In 2001, the Toronto Film Festival was thrown into disarray when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred just days before the festival was scheduled to start.

And last year, a global swine-flu outbreak threatened to disrupt Cannes before the fears settled down and the festival came off without a hitch.


This year, the Icelandic volcano appears poised to do its own damage, potentially causing a fall-off in the number of attendees. But at least one veteran we spoke to was looking at the bright side: ‘Maybe this means you’ll actually be able to move on the Croisette.’

-- Steven Zeitchik (follow me on Twitter @zeitchiklat)