Summer festival fever: Something for everyone as France's culture events return

·5-min read

A flurry of world-famous summer festivals get underway this week in France, with many making their triumphant return for the first time since 2019. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has revamped the season's calendar of great culture bashes – some top-flight festivals have reluctantly cancelled, others opted to delay deeper into summer, but many are going ahead, with more or less creative coronavirus concessions. FRANCE 24 takes a look at a red-letter week of French summer festivals.

Pandemic constraints have been largely lifted in France, despite nascent concerns in the country over Covid-19's Delta variant. The nationwide curfew that persisted through autumn, winter and spring is over and, as of June 30, cinemas are back to full capacity while concerts and festivals can go ahead with spectators allowed to stand for the entertainment.

Some restrictions remain. Capacity is limited (75 percent) at indoor events. Health passes proving vaccination, recovery or virus-negative status are required for events with more than 1,000 people attending, indoors or out. Face masks are mandatory for smaller events where the health pass isn't compulsory. For larger events, masking is nevertheless officially recommended.

On Sunday in Paris, the Solidays Festival went ahead at the Hippodrome de Longchamp with an abridged special edition dedicated to healthcare professionals. The annual music festival, the proceeds of which go to the fight against AIDS, drew 4,000 carers' names from a proverbial hat with each allowed to bring a guest. But other top festivals are welcoming the general public back en masse with (more or less) open arms after long pandemic hiatuses. The newly relaxed rules make this a particularly monumental week for cultural festivals in France, with something on offer for everybody.

Photography: Les Rencontres photographiques d'Arles

Arles, July 4 to September 26

The festival in Arles has been drawing photography's biggest names to the south of France for 50 years. Its 2019 edition, the most recent due to its reluctant Coivd break last year, drew 145,000 visitors to admire the work displayed at heritage sites around the ancient city. One highlight this year is a retrospective of the work of Swiss-French photography icon Sabine Weiss, who turns 97 this month, at the Chapelle du Museon Arlaten – Musée de Provence. Another is "The New Black Vanguard: Photography between art and fashion" at Sainte-Anne church. The images displayed therein are meant to open up "conversations around the representation of the Black body and Black lives as subject matter; collectively, they celebrate Black creativity and the cross-pollination between art, fashion, and culture in constructing an image", according to the festival notes.

Theatre: Avignon Festival

Avignon, July 5 to 25

After a 2020 pandemic hiatus, the 75th edition of the festival that rivals Edinburgh as one of the world's largest performing arts events opens Monday night with a hotly anticipated Tiago Rodrigues production of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard", with French film star Isabelle Huppert at the Palace of the Popes. The 44-year-old Rodrigues on Monday was named the Avignon Festival's next director, beginning in the autumn of 2022. The Portugal native will be the first foreigner to take the helm.

Film: Festival de Cannes

Cannes, July 6 to 17

Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux has been clear about what the 12-day event is meant to signify this year. As Frémaux said when he announced the 2021 slate of films last month: "Cinema is not dead." France's signature film festival was first postponed then cancelled last year. After a rough year for cinema, this 74th edition was bumped to July from its usual May spot, but will go ahead without the virtual component common to pandemic-era film fests. Moreover, masked filmgoers on the Croisette will be permitted to fill theatre seats to capacity. Twenty-four films – including offerings from Cannes veterans Wes Anderson, Jacques Audiard, Asghar Farhadi, Leos Carax and Nanni Moretti – will be vying to succeed 2019 winner "Parasite" for the Palme d'Or, with Spike Lee presiding over the jury.

Music: Festival des Vieilles Charrues

Carhaix, July 8 to 18

France's biggest music festival has welcomed the likes of James Brown, Iggy Pop and Bruce Springsteen to the Brittany countryside over the past 29 years. But the 2020 edition had secured arguably its flashiest headliner ever in Céline Dion – with all 55,000 tickets for her show snapped up in just nine minutes – before the event was cancelled over Covid-19. This year, Les Vieilles Charrues is adapting to pandemic conditions with 10 evenings of concerts instead of its usual festival format. French and/or French-speaking artists dominate the nightly marquees, including Woodkid, Vianney, Gaël Faye, Miossec, Pomme and Catherine Ringer of Les Rita Mitsouko. So what about Céline Dion? Her heart will go on, eventually – the Quebec diva is already booked for the 2023 edition.

Music: Les Francofolies de la Rochelle

La Rochelle, July 10 to 14

France's foremost celebration of French-language music returns to the charming Atlantic Coast port city of La Rochelle after its own 2020 pandemic hiatus. With more than 75 concerts slated for seven venues over five days, the star-studded 2021 line-up features Francis Cabrel, Vitaa & Slimane, Jean-Louis Aubert, Vianney, Alain Souchon and Grand Corps Malade. It all wraps up, when else, on Bastille Day.

A bit of everything: Paris Plages

Paris, July 10 to August 22

The French capital's urban beach did go ahead last summer on the banks of the Seine and at La Villette Bassin despite the pandemic, a welcome respite from coronavirus cancellations in an unusual year. The 2021 edition will see a third venue added to the festivities, the Jardin du Trocadéro in the 16th arrondissement, entirely dedicated to sport. The new site, across the river from the Eiffel Tower, will host live broadcasts of the Tokyo Olympics, the last Summer Games before Paris welcomes the event in 2024. This summer, the Trocadéro site will present an international skateboard event from August 16 to 18 and, stretching beyond the usual Paris Plages schedule, host the European Cup of 3-on-3 basketball from September 10 to 12.

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