Cannes on high alert as ex-IDF General oversees film festival's security

Published May 11th, 2016 - 07:48 GMT
The Cannes Film Festival kicks off today amid heightened security measures including bomb sweeps and extensive bag checks. (
The Cannes Film Festival kicks off today amid heightened security measures including bomb sweeps and extensive bag checks. (

The 69th Cannes Film Festival comes six months after Islamic State jihadists launched coordinated attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead, and France remains under a state of emergency.

“We must keep in mind as we prepare to open this festival that we are faced with a risk which has never been as high, and faced with an enemy determined to strike us at any moment,” said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

“We must demonstrate extreme vigilance at all times.”

Cazeneuve, who visited the city two days before it becomes the world movie capital for the two-week cinematic extravaganza, said the stakes were high for security forces.

Last month, Cannes Mayor David Lisnard commissioned a security audit from IDF Brig. Gen. (res) Nitzan Nuriel to help local authorities and emergency response teams prepare for a possible “multi-terror event.”

“The line has shifted. Things that we used to do in the previous festivals are probably no longer relevant,” Nuriel told the Hollywood Reporter last week.

“You have to be prepared for what we consider a multi-terror event, not only in one place and not only in one hour — in a few places over a few hours,” he said.

Nuriel, a former head of the Counter-Terrorism Bureau in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, last month directed a simulated terror attack on the famed Palais des Festivals theater to test the city’s bolstered security measures.

“The most important thing is to make sure that we have the know-how, the capability, and are fully trained to take the responsibility if something should happen,” Nuriel said of the large-scale exercise.

A video of the exercise, which featured masked gunmen with machine guns storming hotels and car bomb attack on a local school, played repeatedly French television and was widely circulated online.

“Security is not only a slogan, it’s something you can feel,” Nuriel added.

Under Nuriel’s direction, during the 10-day festival bomb experts will carry out daily sweeps throughout the city as 200 armed police officers, an unknown number of undercover officers, and 500 security cameras will be in place to protect the estimated 200,000 festival attendees.

Air and sea exclusion zones are also being declared — including a ban on drones — with a security cordon thrown around Cannes and all road and rail routes leading to the town.

Festival president Pierre Lescure has said that this year “the maximum” has been done to balance security and ensure “that the festival remains a place of freedom.”

Cazeneuve said the city had to take into account “the global nature of the event, its visibility, the high number of celebrities who must be protected, the concentration of crowds in public spaces, without forgetting the need to preserve the atmosphere of conviviality which is crucial to the success of the festival.”

Lisnard dismissed concerns that the tight security will throw a wet blanket over the parties, glitter and glamour of the event.

“Do you think an attack brings merriment? We have succeeded in preserving the festival atmosphere. The public will be at the foot of the (red-carpeted) steps. All the parties will be authorized, but security must be taken care of,” he told AFP.

“Cannes must be protected not because of the cocktail parties, but because it is a professional event of a high level which brings honor to France.”

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