The Cannes Film Festival has been postponed to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The event, one of the world's most important film festivals, was meant to run May 12-23, but organisers has said in a statement that could not happen, reported The New York Times.
"Several options are considered in order to preserve its running, the main one being a simple postponement," the organizers' statement said. That could be a shift to late June or the beginning of July, it added.
Spike Lee had been chosen to lead the festival's jury this year, and would have been the first black person to do so in the festival's 73-year history.
Rumors had been circulating that the festival would be canceled or postponed since March 8, when France brought in restrictions on mass gatherings, limiting them to 1,000 people, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. That is a lower capacity than the festival's largest venue. On Saturday, Le Point, a French newsmagazine, published an article in which an anonymous member of the festival's board was quoted saying that this year's film festival would not take place. But later that day, the organizers denied any decision had been made.
"Despite some sensational headlines, there is nothing new to say," Aïda Belloulid, the festival's spokeswoman, said in a text message at the time.
She said a decision would be made in mid-April when the festival's program was to be announced, but the situation in France has escalated. The country is now on lockdown, and people can be fined for leaving their homes for reasons other than buying food, traveling to work or exercising. More than 4,000 people were fined on Wednesday, according to France24, the state-owned international news service.
Cannes' statement came after several other major cultural events in Europe made similar reckonings with the pandemic in recent days. On Wednesday, the Eurovision Song Contest was canceled, as was Glastonbury, the British music festival, which was meant to celebrate its 50th year.
On Thursday, the Oberammergau Passion Play, a once-in-a-decade re-enactment of the life of Jesus, was also postponed to 2022.
But Cannes lack of action so far had made it an outlier in the movie industry, with theaters shuttered across Europe and North America, movie release dates — including the next James Bond film — being pushed back, and sets closed, forcing many in the industry to fear for their future.
Movie theater owners in the United States have already asked for government help and promised to try and support former staff out of work because of the crisis.
Cannes's organizers said in their statement that they will make a decision about what to do next.
"In the meantime, the Festival de Cannes lends its vocal support to all of those who firmly call on everyone to respect the general lockdown, and ask to show solidarity in these difficult times for the entire world," it said.
The statement ends with, "See you very soon."