The Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes Film Festival is the most important cinematographic event, both for its commercial reach in terms of movies propagation and promotion at the international level and the artistic prizes at stake: the festival helps discover and establish directors by mapping out the status of cinema and the current state of the world. This unique Festival offers to the cinema industry a scene where small budget films with limited audiences meet with big productions destined for the masses. This is where its originality and power reside.

Cannes versus Venice

Europe in the 1930s witnesses the birth of two major cinema festivals: the Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematographica nested in the Venice Biannual since 1932 and the International Movie Festival of Brussels in 1935. In 1938, the political instability, diplomatic tensions and totalitarian menaces heavily weighing on Europe come to light. The Venice Festival, supervised by the Mussolini power, crowns Leni Riefenstahl’s "Olympia" (Les Dieux du Stade) a movie dedicated to the glory of Nazi Germany.
Jean Renoir’s movie "La Grande Illusion" is denied of his prize after the intervention of Mussolini. Renoir was also at the time seen as The filmmaker of the Popular Front. In order to counter the dominated ideology in Venice, France decides to create its own festival. The art critic and diplomat Philippe Erlanger, instigated the idea and worked on the project with the support of Jean Zay, Minister of the Popular Front, Public Instruction and Art School official. A large part of the political and syndical opinion, including the PCF and CGT, supported the creation of a festival based in France with the objective of openly competing with the Festival of Venice, which was led by the fascist power.

Mostra di Venezia al Palazzo Ducale 1947 Mostra di Venezia al Palazzo Ducale 1947

A popular party

Several options of seaside cities were considered as a venue such as Biarritz, Nice, Vichy or Monaco: the organisers were looking for palaces and big theatres. However, the communist deputies of Cannes and Nice, Henri Pourtalet and Virgile Barel, used all their influence to redirect the festival towards Cannes. The city’s Mayor, Dr. Picaud, nicknamed “the poor people’s doctor”, a previous resistant and socialist, wanted the festival to be a popular party. He was able to convince the city’s population of completely immersing themselves into the project. The State, the municipality and the General Council of the Alpes-Maritimes financed the event that was scheduled to take place from the 1st to the 20th of September 1939. The presidency of this first edition is given to Louis Lumière himself.
However, September 1st of 1939 will forever be known as the date Germany launched its first attack on Poland, instead of being the date of the cinema festival. On the 3rd of September, the United Kingdom and France declare war to Germany. Seven years will pass before the first opening of the International Cannes Film Festival.

The Festival Objective

After the Liberation, Philippe Erlanger, General delegate of the Government to the Festival in its aborted version of 1939, restored the project, while The De Gaulle Government of 1945 encouraged its revival for the following year. Its principle will be founded on the idea of a professional event gathering the most representative movies of the producing countries in the same place, at the same time.
21 countries participated in the first edition of 1946. 11 prizes were distributed, notably to "Rome, Open City" by Roberto Rossellini and "Bataille du Rail" by René Clément (produced by the General Cooperative of French Cinema). These two movies were heavily influenced by the years of war that Europe went through, and glorified the laborer’s resistance. Since then, Cannes has been the place where movies of all genres and forms (fictions, documentaries, animations...) are the messengers of the world, from Japan to Argentina, from Iran to China, and all their points of views.

Palais des Festivals et des Congrès

Workers from the city volunteered to build the Palais de la Croisette after their own working hours. Female activists of the PC weaved the stage's monumental red curtains. In 1947, at the opening of the festival's second edition, the volunteers and militants climbed on stage under the applause of the festival goers.

A Palm and a Jury

If directors and producers consider the “Palme d'Or” as a favorable influence on the commercial destiny of their movies, their sole presence in the official selection is as valuable as the prize itself. The Festival contributes to the emergence of moviemakers who will forever change cinema history. Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luis Bunuel, Akira Kurosawa are proof of how the festival pushed their fame forward.
However, we would have to wait until 1964, approximately twenty years after the Festival's launch, for a filmmaker to preside over the Jury. It was Fritz Lang. Since then, academicians and celebrities of the showbiz world who used to form the Cannes juries were to give away their seat to cinema professionals and celebrities. Therefore, in order to solve worldly issues, and especially political ones generated by a Festival that lets countries compete for considerable cultural and economic stakes, the organizers kept making adjustments in order to refocus the Festival on its only cinematographic preoccupation.

The birth of sub-sections

The French Syndicate of Cinema Critics created in 1962 the Semaine de la Critique, being the first parallel section of the Festival’s official selection, with the target of honoring the directors' first and second films. Later on, it will then become an exceptional revealer of talents: Shirley Clarke, Bernardo Berolucci, Jean Eustache, Wong Kar Wai, Jacques Audiard or Arnaud Desplechin, they all made it to the official selection in the future.
In 1968, after an agitated month of May that caused the cancellation of the festival, the Société des Réalisateurs de films (SRF) was making claims regarding the removal of the dress code and a prize list voted by the public. Which led to a “counter-festival” the following year: La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Directors’ Fortnight). Under the slogan “Free Cinema”, the event was put together hastily in barely 2 months. 62 full-length feature films and 26 short films are screened. Since its creation, “the Fortnight” has programmed the first movies of Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Nagisa Oshima, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Ken Loach…

The Festival seeks its independence

After the success of parallel sections promoting freedom and boldness lacking in the official selection imprisoned in a system where participating countries have the power to send the movies they want, Cannes inevitably seeks its independence. In 1972, and thanks to the administrative council’s vote, along with its President Favre Le Bret, the Festival becomes the only decision-maker of its selections.

The Festival of Diversity

The Cannes Film Festival draws its singularity in its search for rich theme proposals. In addition to its two forementioned “parallel sections”, other sections were added in later years: Un Certain Regard, la Cinéfondation, le Marché du film, l’Association du Cinéma Indépendant pour sa Diffusion (ACID), Cinéma des Antipodes et Visions Sociales… Most of these selections are redistributed free of charge in theatre networks with Cannes Cinéphiles accreditation that deliver every year around 5000 certifications for cinema lovers. Being a historical meeting point between the industry's professionals and film lovers, Cannes aims to preserve its artistic standards in the selections, despite the considerable financial stakes.

The Festival in numbers (year 2015)

The Festival has a yearly budget of 20 million euros; Half of it is financed by public funds such as the Ministry of Culture, CNC, Cannes City, the PACA Regional Council, and The 06 General Council. The rest comes from industry professionals' syndicates, institutional partners, and private companies. 4700 journalists representing 3000 Medias (TV, radios, and written press) from 96 countries attend the festival. 1296 full-length feature films have been shown in 2015, all sections mixed.