Against a backdrop of swine flu and the deepest global recession in living memory, much is being hoped for from this year’s Cannes festival in terms of lifting industry confidence and helping unlock new deals and investment.

And the international film industry has never been more in need of a morale boost. The credit crunch has squeezed film financing in the same way it has constricted investment in every other sector. This is a perfect storm for anyone in the content business, including film production and distribution.

“The good news is that Cannes can still capture the imagination and headlines of the world - and can give the entire industry an enormous boost”

The industry is being battered by the economic slump, rising piracy and the ongoing struggle for smaller independent films to find either sufficient funding or audiences for their output. Add in the prospect of a global flu pandemic and you have plenty of reasons to feel fearful, if you’re looking to find them.

But the good news (and there is some) is that the Cannes film festival remains an international event that captures the imagination and headlines of the world - and can give the entire industry an enormous boost.

There have already been encouraging signs in the run-up to this year¹s festival, with real positives emerging. Among them is the calibre of the Competition line-up and the decision by the festival committee to put big-name directors to the fore. There is already a healthy buzz of anticipation building around Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric, Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, Jane Campion¹s Bright Star and Quentin Tarantino¹s long-awaited Inglourious Basterds, the latter bound to spark a media feeding-frenzy. And the decision to make Pixar¹s 3D animation Up the opening film sends a compelling message about how the film industry continues to innovate to attract audiences.

More good news is that so far this year, box-office figures are holding up remarkably well, with the public going to the cinema to escape the global gloom. Confidence, within the industry itself and among cinema-goers, will be critical to the film business emerging from the economic downturn in good shape. Cannes, of course, can only do so much.

The big black cloud over all this is the fear of a global flu pandemic, which is already causing concern among some delegates scheduled to travel to Cannes. All the glamour of the Croisette won’t help if the scenes of cinemas being closed across Mexico are repeated in other markets. What we really need is a confident Cannes and - critically - confirmation the flu outbreak is being contained. Let’s hope we get both.