Cannes Glamorama: Art And Scandal On The Red Carpet

As the 66th edition of the world's top film festival opens in the south of France, a rare glimpse at its tumultuous origins and ever sparkling history.

The Cannes red carpet
The Cannes red carpet
Thierry Gandillot


CANNES – The city of Biarritz could have been Cannes. In 1938, the Venice Mostra was about to crown an American film when the jury, under German influence, suddenly changed their mind and gave the award to Leni Riefensthal’s Gods of the Stadium. This is when France decided to organize its own festival. But where? Cannes, in the south, on the French Riviera, and Biarritz, a coastal town in the southwest, were close contestants, but in the end, Cannes was chosen.

The first edition of the festival was set to be held on September 1, 1939. Douglas Fairbanks, Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, Paul Muni, Norma Shearer and Mae West were all planning on coming over from the United States.

Back then, Cannes’ famous Croisette Boulevard, which lines the seafront, was already the place to be for movie stars. As for those taking part in the competition, France had sent directors Julien Duvivier, Jean de Baroncelli and Christian-Jaque; the Americans entered Victor Fleming’s Wizard of Oz and Cecil B. DeMille’s Union Pacific, while the Soviets chose Tractor Drivers, Lenin in 1918 and, most notably, the prophetic If War Comes Tomorrow. The war did come, and the festival was postponed to 1946.

All that is left from this initial festival “concept” is a poster that was designed by Jean-Gabriel Domergue. But from this poster alone, one can already catch a glimpse of everything that would later make the magic and paradoxes of Cannes. It features an elegant redheaded woman, wearing an open-back evening dress matching her hair color. She is applauding with her long fine hands, somewhat reminiscent of Rita Hayworth’s delicate gloves in Gilda. Next to her is a man wearing a tuxedo and carrying a monocle.

Right from the start, the sparkle and sequins were rubbing elbows with the harsh reality of the world. Out in the distance, military tanks were roaring, and grey Wehrmacht uniforms started marching on Europe.

Gilles Jacob, the festival’s president, has managed to make it the most widely broadcasted event after the Olympics – with more than a billion viewers worldwide. For him, the 1985 poster is the one that best symbolizes the Cannes spirit. It depicts a couple, dancing in a warm embrace. First in black and white, colors then start appearing, frame-by-frame, before the couple makes its exit. “Dancing a last waltz in the middle of a convulsing world. I think this is the ultimate symbol of the Cannes elegance.”

The last barricade against Hollywood

The festival will never forget it was born on a volcano. It will keep choosing artistically challenging films, at the risk of sparking controversy. “First and foremost, Cannes is about artistic fervor,” says Veronique Cayla, a former artistic director for the festival who now presides over France’s Arte TV channel. “Today, the world of cinema has two poles: there is Hollywood, and Cannes – art house cinema vs. the Hollywood entertainment machine. I find it really moving to see a whole community of artists coming together from all over the world, without knowing each other. I loved seeing Japanese Takeshi Kitano leave his ivory tower to engage in a passionate conversation with Iranian Abbas Kiarostami, in an implausible language.”

Being shown at Cannes doesn’t guarantee a film’s success, but it can change a director’s career completely. But make no mistake: some Palmes d’Or -- the award for best film -- are complete flops (only 91,000 people bought a ticket to Bille August’s Best Intentions), while others reach three or five million viewers in the box office (MASH, Apocalypse Now, Pulp Fiction, The Piano).

But that is not the real point. Take Uncle Boonmee by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. On the morning of its Cannes screening, the film had no distributor, but after the festival it garnered 130,000 viewers in France. Not impressed? For Thierry Fremaux, deputy director of the festival, “There is an obvious Cannes effect. Uncle Boonmee would have maybe sold 10,000 tickets in France without Cannes. Every movie that wins the Palme d’Or attracts more viewers thanks to it. The legend that all the films winning a Palme are commercial failures is a total cliché. Art house cinema is more often art house than commercial cinema is commercial, don’t you think?”

Of all the movies that were awarded the Palme d’Or, some were really unexpected winners. In that category, Gilles Jacob recalls The Given Word, by Brazilian director Anselmo Duarte, which won the highest prize in 1962 “while Bresson, Bunuel, Antonioni and Satyajit Ray all had their films in the official selection. But I feel very proud that directors such as Soderbergh, Jane Campion, Moretti, Lars von Trier and the Dardenne brothers got to show their first films in Cannes.” To that list, he could have also added Tarantino, Scorsese, Kusturica and the Coen brothers.

My piece of advice to young journalists: never miss the “little film” shown on the last Saturday; it can sometimes turn out to be a winner. The perfect example of this is Rosetta, which won the prize in 1999, at a time when the Dardenne brothers were still completely unknown.

In 1991, the president of the jury Roman Polanski kept complaining to everyone that he had not seen any film deserving a Palme d’Or. But on Saturday, Gilles Jacob saw him coming out of the Lumière theatre with a big smile on his face: he had just watched Barton Fink by the Coen brothers, whom nobody knew at the time.

Sparkle and scandals

Cannes is a festival where all ambitions and hopes are possible – where fantasies come to life on the mythical red carpet. Cannes is where spectators can wait for hours, come rain or shine, just to catch sight of a star for a few seconds, or to get an autograph.

Gilles Jacob had the genius to understand in the 1970s that he needed to establish a balance between art house cinema and the red carpet. “It was deliberate. One boosts the other, one transcends the other. What I have learnt over the years is that Sharon Stone can complete, glorify and highlight the cinema of Manoel de Oliveira, the great Portuguese filmmaker. This enriches them, like a good Bordeaux Margaux wine perfects a Saint-Nectaire cheese, and I say this with all due respect.”

But the festival never compromises on its principles. So when Lars von Trier, who was “born” in Cannes, made some dubious remarks about Hitler, Jews and Nazis, he was immediately kicked out of the festival, and missed the opportunity of winning a second Palme d’Or. He got a knuckle tattoo like Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter -- with the word “f*ck,” instead of Mitchum’s “love” and “hate.” Scandals are an integral part of Cannes. Just like the tuxedos…

After the French student protests and massive strikes of May 1968, when directors Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut hung onto the curtain in the main theatre to try and stop the festival, the managers of the festival had pondered whether it was a good idea to go on with the compulsory tuxedo rule for the viewings held at night. They stood firm. The Cannes dress code is no joking matter.

Burkina Faso director Idrissa Ouedraogo learnt this lesson the hard way. The winner of the 1990 special jury prize for Tilai once showed up in a traditional outfit. Although very stylish, his outfit looked more like a pair of pajamas than a tuxedo, and he was denied entrance to the cinema. He then recalled what his grandfather used to say: “Son, if you go to a place where everyone is acting crazy, just do the same, they must have a good reason.” Cannes is a place where everyone is acting crazy… but in a tuxedo.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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