Ah, yes. The Cannes International Film Festival. A yearly event that showcases over 1,500 films from over 100 countries and attracts the film industry elite, and all the press, glitz and glamour that goes with them. With over six sections, including the Palme d’Or (an award for directors); Out of Competition; Un Certain Regard (showcases world cinema); Cinefondation(presents 15 short films selected by the festival from around the world) has its own jury, three awards are presented for best 3 films; Critics’ Week; Directors’ Fortnight and Marché du Film, the festival has certainly grown over the past 64 years.
Cannes, the unlikely resort town, was chosen as a host for this festival largely because its municipal authorities agreed to cover the building costs of a dedicated venue. Situated on the South Eastern coast of France, along the Côte d’Azur, Cannes enjoys good weather year round. With its long, summery days, it is obvious why the invitation-only festival is so well anticipated, and reported on.
But where did it all start? How did this événement irrésistible come to be?
After an attempted start in 1939 and subsequent hiatus during World War II, the very first festival-proper was held in Cannes in 1946.
The only other breaks came in 1948 and 1950 because of budgetary problems and in 1968 when, although firmly established by then, cultural minister André Malraux tried to fire Henri Langois, the co-founder and head of Cinématèque Française causing an outrage amongst ‘new wave’ directors who ultimately brought the festival to a standstill (Langois was reinstated eventually but it was too late to resume the festival).
Cannes was originally planned for September (a cunning plan devised by city officials to extend the tourist season by two weeks) but after tourist industry professionals argued that holding an event as the season was winding down would be a futile attempt at prolonging the season. The significant growth of the festival also prompted its move to April in the 1950s to put it in the same stead as festivals such as Berlin and Venice which were held earlier in the year, and because many world premieres were being missed.
1954 brought with it two things that changed the festivals image considerably. The first came from Suzanne Lazon, a Parisian jeweller, who put forth the idea that the festival trophies include a palm leaf motif to symbolize the trees which had become iconic of the city. After approval from the festival board, the name of the Grand Prix, the festivals’ top award, was renamed the Palme d’Or.
Then there was the incorporation of a slightly saucier image for the festival. This was kicked off by Simone Sylva, a French starlet, when she ‘got her boobs out’ while standing next to Robert Mitchum.
Although Cannes was initially an event for tourists and socialites, the festival eventually grew into a “place for the international film industry to gather, do business, and discuss future projects.” This was further boosted by the introduction of the first Marché du Film in 1959. The event, held on the rooftop of the Palais Croisette, became an official part of the festival in 1961. The Marché du Film was started to help meet the needs of film industry professionals with special sessions held exclusively for producers (including the Producers Network and Producers Workshop), Cinando, the professional database of professionals that includes contact information, projects in development and films for sale. Based on the key principles of efficiency, publicity and opportunity, the event, along with the festival itself, soon grew into one of the largest media events of its kind.
In 1965, still riding on its’ success from the previous decade, the festival appointed its’ first female jury president, Olivia de Havilland, who was succeeded the next year by Sophia Loren.
Whilst this period witnessed the presentation of many crucial films, some felt that it was becoming increasingly difficult for newer filmmakers to get their films into the festival. This led to the start of the Semaine Internationale de la Critique (International Critics’ Week), in 1962 which focused on the work of first and second time directors.
A second sidebar, Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (“Directors’ Fortnight”) was formed by the Société des Réalisateurs de Films after the 1968 standstill. The Quinzaine set out to be a forum that allowed films to be presented in a manner that was void of any restrictions, diplomatic or other.
Yet another change came in 1972 when, after years of having films submitted by an elected representative from each participating country, the board of directors announced that the festival itself would take care of the process of choosing films to include in the official selection process. This process is still used by most modern international film festivals.
Although the 1970s film scene was largely ruled by the new generation of American directors, it wasn’t only the American movies that stole the spotlight. With this growth came the 1975 decision by the then festival boss Maurice Bessey to introduce three new sidebars – Les Yeux Fertiles (“Fertile Eyes”), l’Air du Temps (“Spirit of the Time”), and Le Passé Compose (“The Perfect Past”) – which were later merged to create one category, Un Certain Regard. Delegate Générale Gilles Jacob, the 1978 president, also introduced the Camera d’Or, which highlighted and awarded first-time feature films across any and all festival sections.
In the 1980s, after considerable growth, the festival was faced with the task of finding a new home. The festival commissioned a new Palais des Festivals et des Congrès to be built. The new festival home was completed in 1982 and the festival was held there the following year.
Highlights of the 1990s included Jane Campion making festival history as the first female director to be awarded the Palme d’Or for the film “The Piano” in 1993, the 50th anniversary of the festival in 1997 and the creation of Cinéfondation, a new sidebar dedicated to showcasing the best work from the training institutions around the world.
Towards the year 2000, the name of the festival was changed to the shorter “Festival de Cannes” and the festival goers saw the inauguration of two sidebars- the Cannes Classics which highlighted films of importance from previous festivals and from other festivals, as well as new world cinema section, Tous les Cinémas du Monde, which was added in 2005. The festival also began to choose films based on their ability to showcase the importance of digital technology in the film industry.
Fast forward to 2012 and the festival is still going, stronger than ever, with luxurious sponsors and elegant attendees none the less. 64 years on, and some 61 Présidents du Jury later, the film industry still attends, the crowds still gather and the Cannes Film Festival keeps growing.
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