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Bomb Sweeps, Bag Checks at Cannes Film Festival Ahead of Festivities

CANNES, France — Coming six months after the Paris attacks in November, the 69th Cannes Film Festival has elevated security measures, swarming the French Riviera resort town with an increased police presence.

But particular care has been made, festival organizers say, to preserving the spirit of the annual cinema celebration.

Bomb sweeps and bag checks have been stepped up. A dramatic, unnerving drill was held last month in which mock gunmen stormed the festival's palace hub.

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Members of the French military patrol to supply security at the 69th international film festival, Cannes, on Wednesday, May 11. Joel Ryan / AP

And festival president Pierre Lescure has said that about 500 highly-trained security agents will be on guard around Cannes' red-carpeted headquarters, the Palais des Festivals. That's in addition to around 200 police and extensive surveillance cameras throughout Cannes.

But the festival, which opens Wednesday, has also sought to counter the heightened state by continuing with business as usual. The party will most definitely go on.

"The atmosphere is good," festival director Thierry Fremaux said in an interview Tuesday. "Cannes is a celebration of life, of cinema."

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"These films have a big fighting spirit," he added. "This is also what makes Cannes and we still want to show that."

Perhaps signaling that maintaining such a balance will have its difficulties, moments after Fremaux spoke, alarms rang out inside the Palais, forcing an evacuation.

But on the eve of Wednesday's opening festivities — including a new "welcome party" for festivalgoers on the beach — beefed up security was far from omnipresent. The most striking change, as many noted, weren't security agents but a wardrobe change for the ubiquitous festival ushers.

To glowing reviews from critics, their traditionally beige suits have been replaced with blue ones.

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"The French public statement was very clear, is very clear," Fremaux said. "The festival is as usual, the same way as usual, so everything will be fine."

That was consistent with earlier statements made by Lescure, who pledged that "the maximum" has been done to balance security and ensure "that the festival remains a place of freedom."

Others have emphasized that Cannes, the world's pre-eminent film festival, must be diligently guarded.

"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," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Monday in Cannes.

"We must demonstrate extreme vigilance at all times," he said.

Security was also increased last year following the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015. But after 130 were killed in the Paris attacks, France remains in a state of emergency.

Traditions rigorously guide Cannes, which runs through May 22, culminating with the presentation of the Palme d'Or. Onlookers will be paying close attention to see if the customary pageantry of the festival red carpet changes even slightly.

Kicking off the festival Wednesday will be Woody Allen's 1930s Hollywood comedy "Cafe Society." On tap are films from Steven Spielberg ("The BFG"), Jodie Foster ("Money Monster"), Pedro Almodovar ("Julieta") and Jim Jarmusch ("Paterson").

Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Kristen Stewart and Russell Crowe are among the stars expected to attend.