If creating a mood of fear and anxiety is the objective, terrorism has already scored a victory with this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
The annual soiree on the French Riviera, set to begin its 12-day cinematic orgy May 8, has been under a cloud of speculation since the April 14 raid on Libya, and it’s now apparent that the festival will do without many big-name American stars and some big-spending Hollywood executives.
Not everyone cites the fear of terrorism as the reason for staying away, but the cancellations are coming in waves.
Who can blame them? The Cannes Film Festival, about to repeat itself for the 48th time, is one of the highest - profile events in the world. It has often been the scene of political action--protests, strikes, a riot or two--and this year about 3,000 journalists will be on hand to report whatever occurs.
As one studio stay-at-home said, “It’s a perfect opportunity for any nut case to make a statement.”
Steven Spielberg and Whoopi Goldberg, both originally scheduled to appear for the out-of-competition screening of “The Color Purple,” have canceled.
Kim Basinger, who was to appear with Robert Altman’s “Fool for Love,” and Barbara Hershey, one of the stars of Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” have canceled. Martin Scorsese, director of “After Hours,” which is in competition, has canceled (though co-stars Rosanna Arquette and Griffin Dunne are still planning to be there).
It’s not clear whether Burt Reynolds and Sylvester Stallone ever intended to be in Cannes, but their names showed up on various Cannes celebrity lists and representatives for both now say they will not be there.
Most of the major studios routinely send executives to the festival, even when they have no films on display. This year, it seems only those studios with films selected for competition are going.
Warner Bros. has three films on the gala screening list at Cannes. Two of them--Spielberg’s “The Color Purple” and Scorsese’s “After Hours"--have already played out in the United States, but Cannes will provide a good boost for their European runs.
The studio also has “The Mission” in competition. The just-completed South American period adventure stars Robert De Niro and is the first film for director Roland Joffe since “The Killing Fields.”
A Warner Bros. spokesman said Joffe and “The Mission” producer David Puttnam will attend. But De Niro, who has accompanied films to Cannes twice in the last three years (“King of Comedy” in 1983 and “Once Upon a Time in America” in 1984) is busy with a New York play and probably will not be there.
The studio denied rumors this week that its top executives were staying home.
The Cannon Group, which has three films in competition (Andrei Kanchalovsky’s “Runaway Train,” Altman’s “Fool for Love” and Franco Zeffirelli’s “Otello”), will be there with a full complement of about 20 people, according to spokeswoman Priscilla MacDonald.
Cannon also will be involved in the opening-night screening of Roman Polanski’s “Pirates,” a Dino De Laurentiis production that Cannon will distribute in the States this summer. Polanski, who jumped bail after being convicted of unlawful intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in California eight years ago, is planning to attend the festival.
MacDonald laughed when asked about the rumor that Cannon President Menahem Golan had hired Israeli secret police to guard the company’s base in the Carlton Hotel.
“We think the French government has things under control,” she said. “We are doing nothing differently.”
Festival organizers say they are taking extraordinary security measures this year, and news accounts from Europe have predicted that Nice Airport, about 30 miles east of Cannes, will look like an armed camp. The French are reportedly assigning patrols along the coastal road all the way to the Italian border.
Many of those canceling their trips are not using the fear of terrorism as a reason. Universal Pictures had scheduled a screening of “Psycho III” for May 19, and planned to produce director/star Tony Perkins at a press conference. That decision was changed, said a studio spokesman, because the film’s release will come several weeks after Cannes and there was nothing to be gained by the early exposure.
Emilio Estevez was also to have been at Cannes, representing “Wisdom,” which he wrote, directed and starred in. His representatives say he canceled because he is still editing the film.
There have even been cancellations among the media. Earlier this month, “Good Morning America” decided against originating its show from Cannes, and the syndicated “Entertainment Tonight” announced that its co-anchors Mary Hart and Rob Weller would not be going to Cannes after all. Instead, they will host the show during those two weeks from New York with daily features filed from the festival by reporter Barbara Howar.
Organizational events that had been fixtures of Cannes also have been canceled. The Motion Picture Exporters Assn. of America canceled both of its traditional meetings, one for advertising and publicity executives, the other for heads of its members’ international divisions.
“Some fellows are concerned about terrorism, but mostly, it’s their wives,” said Myron Karlin, the organization’s president. “We aren’t recommending that people stay away. We just thought it would be wise to postpone our meeting and have it in the U.S.”
For most people, the deciding factor on going to Cannes this year seems to be whether it’s absolutely essential for business reasons.
“This would have been my 10th year at Cannes and all year long, my wife and I looked forward to it,” said Tony Didio, chairman of American Entertainment Venture Corp., a Beverly Hills-based production company. “But the truth is I don’t have to be there, and I can’t imagine having a lot of fun with that (the potential of terrorism) hanging over our heads.”
Besides its competition and party atmosphere, Cannes is also one of three annual international film markets , and most of those American independent companies that depend on the market for sales will apparently be there.
Jonas Rosenfield, head of the American Film Market Assn., said 68 of its member companies will be at Cannes--about the same as a year ago--and that their meetings are going on as scheduled.
“Among sellers, there seems to be a full contingent and from the market standpoint, we view it as business as usual,” said Eddie Kalish of Producers Sales Organization. “We won’t know about the turnout of buyers until we get there.”
It’s a good news/bad news situation for the Americans selling films in Cannes, said Kalish. The weak dollar in Europe attracts business for American product, but no one can be cavalier about the danger that may exist.
“There is a lot of concern,” Kalish said. “Everybody you talk to says they are going to stay out of crowds. But if the weather is nice, they’ll all be out there.”
Cannes regulars say they are going to avoid what they perceive as the two most likely terrorist targets: the Carlton Terrace, a popular sidewalk bar where many stars, star gazers and industry high-rollers hang out, and the formal competition screenings at the Palais des Festival.
But for a number of others we spoke with, Cannes is simply too important, or too much fun, to allow outside pressures to interfere.
“Frankly, it did not occur to me not to go,” said Joanne Koch, executive director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which mines Cannes for candidates for its fall New York Film Festival. “Even if it were not vital that I be there, I think I would go.”
Koch has made the annual pilgrimage to Cannes 14 times, following each one--as many Cannes regulars do--with a European vacation.
“I don’t want to be cavalier about this,” Koch said, “but when you live in New York City, you’re not exactly in the safest place in the world. The odds (of being hurt) are probably worse on the Long Island Expressway.”
Nevertheless, Koch is going to make one concession this year.
“I’m not going to carry my New York Film Festival tote bag,” she said.