CANNES, France – Has anyone notified Woody Allen that he’s about to land in what could be considered the world’s softest target?
The 80-year-old filmmaker is returning to Cannes as his 47th movie and the first one to be shot digitally, Café Society, starring Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, and Kristen Stewart, opens the 69th annual Festival de Cannes on May 11.
Allen will be part of a stellar lineup of directors and stars descending upon what will be a heavily fortified Croisette—including Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Jodie Foster, Steven Spielberg, Ryan Gosling, Charlize Theron, Marion Cotillard, and more.
The famously New York-centric Allen, an unapologetic Luddite who doesn’t use a computer and has never sent an email, told The Hollywood Reporter last week that he used to ship his films to Cannes but never went himself because he hates to fly and can’t handle the time change. He’s only started to come to Cannes recently because his much younger wife, Soon Yi Previn Allen, 45, likes it, he said.
It’s unclear if Allen knows that the annoyances of plane travel and jet lag have been dwarfed by rising fears of terrorism in the South of France, particularly Cannes, following the recent attacks in Brussels and Paris.
Last month, Italian intelligence reported that ISIS was planning attacks on beaches in the South of France and Italy.
Allen may not have seen the chilling, much-circulated (on the Internet and French TV) video showing masked gunmen storming the steps of the Palais and detonating car bombs all over the town—all part of a faux terrorist attack drill directed by French officials on April 21 in advance of the festival.
More than 200 volunteers took part in what was called a simulated “multi-terror” exercise right in the heart of Cannes, a drill that backfired in some quarters when people complained that the video might inflame tensions and needlessly scare people.
“It [the video] looks like a movie that Woody Allen would make about his worst fears,” said Olivier, a nine-year veteran of the Cannes police force, who asked that his last name not be used when he spoke to The Daily Beast on the Croisette Thursday.
Fortunately, by the time Allen and others arrive, a massive security force including 200 armed police, an unknown number of undercover officers, and 500 security cameras—all overseen by former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) brigadier general and counterterrorism expert Nitzan Nuriel, will be in place to protect the estimated 200,000 festival attendees.
According to reports, Cannes Mayor David Lisnard has implemented a “full security audit” by Nuriel, who served as a military attaché to the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., and was awarded the Legion of Merit from the U.S. for his work as a liaison between the IDF and the U.S. Armed Forces. The National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN), the special operations unit of the French National Gendarmerie that was established following the Munich massacre, has also demanded blueprints of all the major hotels along the Croisette, studying them in relation to to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
In addition, special attention is being paid to the possibility of attackers coming by sea, Yves Daros, director of the municipal police, told Le Monde.“No boat will be able to enter the Bay of Cannes without being checked,” he said.
At the MIPTV Media Market in Cannes last month, security was considerably ramped up, including metal detectors and regular checkpoints to search bags and scan badges, as well as a rigorous security checkpoint 20 meters away from the Palais. No suitcases were permitted in or around the Palais, and vehicles entering the Palais were heavily vetted.
The last major terrorist threat near to Cannes occurred back in February 2014, when, in the lead-up to the Paris attacks, French authorities arrested Ibrahim Boudina, an extremist who’d allegedly returned from fighting with ISIS in Syria. He was apprehended inside his father’s apartment building in Mandelieu-La Napoule, just down the coast from Cannes, where, according to CNN, police discovered “bomb-making instructions and three soda cans filled with the high-explosive compound TATP.”
Due to November’s Paris attacks, France is set to remain in a state of emergency until May 26, which allows authorities to conduct raids and place citizens under house arrest without prior authorization. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert for Europe until June 20 because: “Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation.”
Given the star power of this year’s festival and some of the eagerly-awaited films, however, security fears may fade into the background once the red carpet is rolled out every night.