Cannes 2022 starts on May 17 continuing till May 28, against the backdrop of Russian President Vladimir Putin sending troops into Ukraine on February 24, plunging the country into war. 

The European film festival is cognizant of the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and armed conflict and has designed its poster to reflect this. Apart from the token show of support, the Cannes has further extended solidarity by banning Russian delegations and the nation’s movies from being screened at the festival. 

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Heading into the 75th edition of Cannes, where the festival has set apart a separate Ukraine Day to help the war-torn nation, here is a look at Festival de Cannes’ stances taken during times of unrest, focusing on the current edition, and the 21st instalment which had to be shut down. 

Lights, camera, pack up: War halts Ukraine’s film production 

Ukraine, which had in recent years, become an attractive shooting location, due to tax exemptions, saw film and television production coming to a halt when Moscow’s assault began. 

Darya Bassel, a Ukrainian film producer, told The Wrap, “It’s not a situation where one can think of filming something”, adding, “It’s not even like it was in the Ukrainian revolution in 2013. It’s much much worse. People are terrified, and they’re just trying to be safe.” 

The interview was published on February 25, and Russia’s onslaught has only become more ferocious since then, severely impacting the Ukrainian entertainment industry. 

The Ukraine Day salve 

The business counterpart of the festival – Marche du Film, or Cannes Film Market, has set aside May 21 as Ukraine Day. 

The organizers announced an “action-packed Ukraine in Focus program with targeted events designed to support filmmaking in the war-torn territory and provide Ukrainian film industry professionals with networking opportunities, pitching sessions and financing opportunities”. 

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This includes events like ‘Ukrainian Producers Under the Spotlight’, where six promising producers from the nation will be presented, and ‘Ukraine Docs-in-Progress Showcase’, where four documentaries in progress will be shown, to try and pitch them to sales agents, decision-makers, and festival programmers. 

The Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF), Northern Europe’s only A-category film festival, is also teaming up with Marché du Film’s Goes to Cannes program, to present Ukrainian projects in various stages of post-production, to find sales agents, distributors, or even festival selection. 

Marché du Film is also supporting an initiative to bring together funds in Europe to help Ukrainian movies in the final stages of post-production, so they may be screened. 

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Apart from that, Ukrainian films will be screened at the festival as well, including Maksim Nakonechnkyi’s Butterfly Vision (Un Certain Regard), Sergei Loznitsa’s The Natural History of Destruction (Special Screenings) and Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s Pamfir (Director’s Fortnight).

Zhanna Ozirna’s Ground Zero has been selected for La Fabrique Cinéma (Institut Français) and Iryna Tsilyk, Ukrainian director and screenwriter, is a member of the L’Oeil d’Or Jury. 

Cannes vs Putin 

The film festival’s ban on Russian delegates isn’t a blanket ban. It only extends to those who support Putin’s regime and his actions in Ukraine. 

Cannes’ statement reads, “However, we would like to salute the courage of all those in Russia who have taken risks to protest against the assault and invasion of Ukraine. Among them are artists and film professionals who have never ceased to fight against the contemporary regime, who cannot be associated with these unbearable actions, and those who are bombing Ukraine.”

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The Cannes has always embraced a culture of protest, and the statement continues, “Loyal to its history that started in 1939 in resistance to the fascist and Nazi dictatorship, the Festival de Cannes will always serve artists and industry professionals that raise their voices to denounce violence, repression, and injustices, for the main purpose to defend peace and liberty.” 

The festival has also chosen to screen Lithuania’s Mantas Kvedaravičius’ documentary ‘Mariupolis 2’, on May 19. 

The director was allegedly killed by Russian forces while filming in the Azov Sea port town of Mariupol, which Moscow now claims to have “liberated“. 

As per the Cannes press release, “the Lithuanian moviemaker, Mantas Kvedaravičius, who directed Barzakh (2011), Mariupolis (2016) and Parthenon (2019), was captured and murdered by the Russian army in Mariupol in early April. His fiancée, Hanna Bilobrova, who was with him at the time, was able to bring back the footage filmed there and edited it with Mantas’ editor Dounia Sichov. It was essential to show it, we added it.” 

The Panahi politics 

Cannes’ political stance has shone through in previous instances as well, like when Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was banned from leaving the country. 

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When his film was screened at the festival, it was met with a standing ovation, and an empty chair was placed on the stage as a symbolic gesture denoting the director’s absence. 

French New Wave washes over Festival de Cannes 

This current culture of protest has been long inculcated in the French Riviera film festival, due to revolutionary auteurs who made their presence felt with their films and statements. 

Perhaps the most infamous instance was 52 years ago when a press conference was held at the Jean Cocteau Theatre in Cannes, on May 18, 1968, calling for the festival to be cancelled. 

The 21st edition was well underway when central figures of the French New Wave – François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard – called the meeting. 

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Truffaut, ‘The 400 Blows’ director, called for the festival to be shut down as a show of solidarity with the strikes and demonstrations going on across France, protesting authoritarianism and the Vietnam War. Known today as the May 68 protests, the demonstrating students brought the nation’s economy to a halt at the peak of their dissent. 

While Truffaut said, “I want the festival to close”, amid boos, Godard who’s directed countless masterpieces like ‘Breathless’ and ‘Le Petit Soldat’ (‘The Little Soldier’), shouted back “We’re talking solidarity with students and workers, and you’re talking dolly shots and close-ups. You’re idiots!” Godard, now 91 years old, has not attended the festival over its last several editions.

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Claude Lelouch and Milos Forman withdrew their films and Roman Polanski was disgruntled with the situation until the general unrest among those present led an official to announce the festival was being shut down since they couldn’t guarantee uninterrupted screenings. 

Ethics are the aesthetics of the future 

Truffaut died in 1984, and Godard has been absent in many of the recent editions of Cannes, even when his films have been screened. In 2014, when the French filmmaker was asked if he’d attend – the year his movie ‘Goodbye to Language’ was competing for the Palme d’Or – Godard replied in the negative. 

When asked why, he said “because I have already been”, speaking to Swiss television channel RTS. 

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There won’t be any calls to shut down the 75th edition of Europe’s most prestigious film festival, but the culture of solidarity and protest sewed into the very fabric of its existence – upheld by greats like Godard and Truffaut- continues to hold strong. 

As Cannes prepares to showcase more budding talent, and a wide range of cinema’s finest offerings, the festival continues negotiating an ethical standpoint with an aesthetic one. 

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Even if Godard isn’t present, his dictum – “Ethics are the aesthetics of the future” – uttered by Bruno Forestier, the protagonist in ‘La Petit Soldat’ rings true. It is one of life’s many ironies, that this line comes from either the revolutionary Vladimir Lenin or the writer Maxim Gorky – both Russians.