The 73rd annual Cannes Film Festival was scheduled to take place from 12 to 23 May 2020. On 13 January 2020, Spike Lee was named as the president of the Jury. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic in France, festival management announced on 14 April 2020 that the festival could not be held in its "original form", with alternative means of observing the festival being explored.
Earlier, festival management considered holding the festival in June or July, after not cancelling the event. In mid-March, the festival's main venue, the Grand Auditorium Louis Lumière, was converted into a temporary homeless shelter. In May 2020, it was announced that no physical edition of the festival would take place, but a revised Official Selection of films was confirmed on 3 June 2020. Before announcing the list of films from the official selection, Thierry Frémaux the director of the Cannes Film Festival, said in an interview that he was talking with Spike Lee and also was hoping to have him as president of the jury on the 2021 edition. He also confirmed that Lee's film Da 5 Bloods was supposed to be the return of Netflix to the red carpet in the Out of Competition category.
In September, organizers announced that a limited outdoor festival, featuring screenings of four official selection films, the short film competition and the Cinéfondation Selection would take place on the Croisette from 27 to 29 October. The Semaine de la critique program also launched a free online screening of its short film selections in October.
The films selected for the short film competition were announced on 19 June, a few weeks after the rest of the official selections. Despite the cancellation of the overall festival, the short films were announced with an indication that the competition would still proceed in the fall, with the exact dates and jury members to be named at a later date; in September, it was announced that the short films would be screened as part of the special outdoor screening series on the Croisette in October.
The Short Films and Cinéfondation Jury composed of Damien Bonnard, Rachid Bouchareb, Claire Burger, Charles Gillibert, Dea Kulumbegashvili and Céline Sallette, has awarded the 2020 Prizes of the Cinéfondation film school competition on 28 October 2020 on the stage of the Grand Théâtre Lumière as part of “Cannes 2020 Special”. The First Prize was awarded to Ashmita Guha Neogi for the film Catdog, the Second Prize was awarded to Yelyzaveta Pysmak for the film My Fat Arse and I and the Joint Third Prize was awarded to Lucia Chicos for the film Contraindications.
A full Directors' Fortnight selection could not be announced due to it being incomplete when the festival was cancelled. However, two titles were announced in July 2020 so that they could utilise the Director's Fortnight label.