When the Cannes Film Festival announced Monday that it would open on May 15 with Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” it raised more than a few eyebrows.
The Cannes opening-night film is almost always a world premiere, as both the festival and Hollywood studios seek the most publicity bang for their buck. But Warner Bros.’ “Gatsby” comes out in North America on May 10.
Why would Cannes open its high-profile festival with a movie many tastemakers and filmgoers in the U.S. will have already weighed in on? And, more important for Hollywood, why would a studio not want to use Cannes as a world-premiere platform?
On Tuesday, Warner Bros. executives said they were sticking to the date for the 3-D drama but said they hoped the Cannes slot would offer other advantages.
“I think it will breathe a different kind of life into the domestic play,” Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. president of worldwide marketing, told The Times. “This is a film for the entire summer, not just for opening weekend or the weekend after.”
Kroll ruled out moving the film’s U.S. opening back a week to May 17. “We’re very, very happy with this date,” she said. “It’s not going to change.”
In a sense, the move is a throwback to a time when studios didn’t open many of their major releases day-and-date around the world. “Gatsby,” in which Leonardo DiCaprio stars as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s complicated title character, will now play a May 1 premiere in New York, which will set up the May 10 wide release in the U.S.
Then it will basically do it all over again in Europe, with the May 15 Cannes premiere and an opening in France and other major European territories in the days that follow.
Essentially, Warner Bros. is gambling that the virtues of the May 10 date — it is ahead of when the season of big releases gets crowded with films such as “Stark Trek Into Darkness” on May 17 and Warners’ own “The Hangover Part III” on May 24 — outweigh the buckets of free publicity that come with world-premiering a movie at Cannes.
For the festival, the calculus is also tricky. Opening night has become a major Hollywood showcase in recent years under artistic director Thierry Frémaux, with hits such as “Up” and “Midnight in Paris” getting their start in the slot. By making an exception, Frémaux is hoping that the subject matter and the star power offset the fact that this is a movie much of the English-language media might consider old news.
Whether the festival will make the exception for other movies — studios routinely date their spring releases for after Cannes because of the unwritten rule that the fest requires a world premiere — remains to be seen; several insiders The Times spoke to Tuesday believe it’s a one-time exception.
Warner Bros., at least, is happy it will have the chance.
“If the timing of our release had been different we would definitely have followed the more traditional model and used Cannes to set up the world,” Kroll said. “But I’m happy it worked out,” she added, noting that “Gatsby” has the kind of throwback glamour Cannes traffics in. “I’ve always thought Cannes is perfect for this film, which is sumptuous and audacious and a real experience, and Cannes is a place of romance and mystique.”
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