Cannes Film Festival

From New World Encyclopedia
Cannes Film Festival
LocationCannes, France
AwardsPalme d'Or, Grand Prix
Festival date2021
WebsiteCannes Film Festival
Cannes seen from Le Suquet

The Cannes Film Festival (French: Festival de Cannes), until 2003 called the International Film Festival (Festival International du Film), is an annual film festival held in Cannes, France, which previews new films of all genres, including documentaries, from all around the world. Founded in 1946, the invitation-only festival is held annually (usually in May) at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès.

It is one of the "Big Three" major European film festivals, alongside the Venice Film Festival in Italy and the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany, as well as one of the "Big Five" major international film festivals, which consists of the three major European film festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, and the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City, United States. The Festival encourages the development of the cinematographic art in all its forms, and works to create and foster a spirit of collaboration between all film-producing countries, rejecting all forms of censorship.


The Cannes Film Festival is one of the major film events in the world, today a major forum for film-producing countries. While the first official festival took place in 1946, the beginnings are to be found several years earlier in 1938, when Jean Zay, the French Minister of National Education, on the proposal of high-ranking official and historian Philippe Erlanger and film journalist Robert Favre Le Bret decided to set up an international cinematographic festival.

The early years

Note from 1939 with the French Government's decision not to participate at the Venice Film Festival anymore, but instead to host its own festival in Biarritz, Cannes, or Nice

The creation of the Festival can be largely attributed to the French desire to compete with the Venice Film Festival, which at the time was the only international film festival and had shown a lack of impartiality with its fascist bias during those years.[1] The political interference seemed evident in the 1937 edition when Benito Mussolini meddled to ensure that French pacifist film La Grande Illusion would not win.[2]

The last straw was in the 1938 event when Mussolini and Adolf Hitler respectively overruled the jury's decision in order to award the Coppa Mussolini (Mussolini Cup) for the Best film to Italian war film Luciano Serra, Pilot, produced under the supervision of Mussolini's son, and the Coppa Mussolini for the Best foreign film to Olympia, a German documentary film about the Berlin 1936 Summer Olympics produced in association with the Nazi Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda despite the fact that the regulations at that time prohibited awarding a documentary.

Outraged by the decision and as a measure of protest, the French, British, and American jury members decided to withdraw from the festival with the intention of not returning.[3] This snub encouraged the French to found a free festival. Thus, on May 31, 1939, the city of Cannes was finally selected as the location for the festival over Biarritz, and the town hall along with the French government signed the Festival's official certificate with the name of Le Festival International du Film.[4]

The reason for choosing Cannes was because of its touristic appeal as a French Riviera resort town and also because the city hall offered to increase the municipality's financial participation, including the commitment of building a dedicated venue for the event. The first edition was planned to be held from September 1 to 20, 1939 in an auditorium at the Municipal Casino, with Louis Lumière as the honorary president. The aim of the Festival was to "to encourage the development of the cinematographic art in all its forms, and create and foster a spirit of collaboration between all film-producing countries."[3]

Hollywood stars of the moment like Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Tyrone Power, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mae West, Norma Shearer, Paul Muni, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, and George Raft arrived thanks to an Ocean liner chartered by MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). On August 31, the opening night gala took place with the private screening of the American film The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara and directed by William Dieterle. The next day, on September 1st, German troops invaded Poland. As a result, the festival was postponed for 10 days and was to be resumed if circumstances allowed.[4] However, the situation only worsened and on September 3, France and the United Kingdom declared war against Germany, sparking the Second World War. The French government ordered a general mobilization and this prevented the festival from continuing; it was finally cancelled.[5]

In 1946, the festival was relaunched and from September 20 to October 5, 1946, twenty-one countries presented their films at the First Cannes International Film Festival, which took place at the former Casino of Cannes.[6] In 1947, amid serious problems of efficiency, the festival was held as the "Festival du film de Cannes", where films from sixteen countries were presented. The festival was not held in 1948 and 1950 due to budgetary problems.

In 1949, the Palais des Festivals was expressly constructed for the occasion on the seafront promenade of La Croisette, although its inaugural roof, while still unfinished, blew off during a storm. In 1951, the festival was moved to spring to avoid direct competition with the Venice Festival which was held in autumn.[5]

1950s and 1960s

Poster for the 49th Cannes Film Festival on a billboard in Paris, 1996

During the early 1950s, the festival attracted much tourism and press attention, with showbiz scandals and high-profile personalities' love affairs. At the same time, the artistic aspect of the festival started developing. Because of controversies over the selection of films, the Critics' Prize was created for the recognition of original films and daring filmmakers. In 1954, the Special Jury Prize was awarded for the first time. In 1955, the Palme d'Or was created, replacing the Grand Prix du Festival, the previous most prestigious award. In 1957, Dolores del Río was the first female member of the jury for the official selection.[7]

In the 1950s, some outstanding films, like Night and Fog in 1956 and Hiroshima, My Love in 1959 were still excluded from the competition for diplomatic concerns. Jean Cocteau, three times president of the jury in those years, in frustration said: "The Cannes Festival should be a no man's land in which politics has no place. It should be a simple meeting between friends."[8]

In 1959, the Marché du Film (Film Market) was founded, giving the festival a commercial character and facilitating exchanges between sellers and buyers in the film industry.

In 1962, the International Critics' Week was born, created by the French Union of Film Critics as the first parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival. Its goal was to showcase first and second works by directors from all over the world, not succumbing to commercial tendencies. In 1965 Olivia de Havilland was named the first female president of the jury, while the next year Sophia Loren became president.[9]

The 1968 festival was halted on May 19. Some directors, such as Carlos Saura and Miloš Forman, had withdrawn their films from the competition. On May 18 filmmaker Louis Malle along with a group of directors took over the large room of the Palais and interrupted the projections in solidarity with students and workers demonstrating throughout France,[10] and in protest of the eviction of then President of the Cinémathèque Française. The filmmakers achieved the reinstatement of the President, and they founded the Film Directors' Society (SRF) that same year, with the mission to "defend the artistic and moral freedoms and the professional and economic interests of filmmaking and to participate in the development of new structures for cinema." In 1969 the SRF, led by Pierre-Henri Deleau created the Directors' Fortnight (Quinzaine des Réalisateurs), a new non-competitive section that programs a selection of films from around the world, distinguished by the independent judgment displayed in the choice of films.[11]

1970s and 1980s

During the 1970s, important changes occurred in the Festival. In 1972, Robert Favre Le Bret was named the new president, and Maurice Bessy the General Delegate. He introduced changes to the selection of the participating films, welcoming new techniques, and relieving the selection from diplomatic pressures, with films like MASH, and later Chronicle of the Years of Fire marking this turn. In some cases, these changes helped directors like Andrei Tarkovsky overcome problems of censorship in their own country.[12] Until that time, the different countries chose the films that would represent them in the festival. In 1972, Bessy created a committee to select French films, and another for foreign films.[13]

In 1978, Gilles Jacob assumed the position of General Delegate, introducing the Caméra d'Or award, for the best first film of any of the main events, and the Un Certain Regard section, for the non-competitive categories. Other changes were the decrease of length of the festival down to thirteen days, thus reducing the number of selected films; also, until that point the Jury was composed by Film Academics, and Jacob started to introduce celebrities and professionals from the film industry.[14]

In 1983, a new, much bigger Palais des Festivals et des Congrès was built to host the festival, while the Directors' Fortnight remained in the old building. The new building was nicknamed "The Bunker," provoking much criticism, especially since it was hardly finished at the event and several technical problems occurred.[15] In 1984 Pierre Viot replaced Robert Favre Le Bret as President of the Festival.[15] In his term, the Festival started including films from more countries, like Philippines, China, Cuba, Australia, India, New Zealand, and Argentina. In 1987, for the first time of the Festival, a red carpet was placed at the entrance of the Palais. In 1989, during the first Cinéma & liberté forum, hundred directors from many countries signed a declaration "against all forms of censorship still existing in the world."[16]

Stars posing for photographers are a part of Cannes folklore.

1990s to present

In 1998, Gilles Jacob created the last section of the Official Selection: la Cinéfondation, aiming to support the creation of works of cinema in the world and to contribute to the entry of the new scenario writers in the circle of the celebrities.[17] The Cinéfondation was completed in 2000 with La Résidence, where young directors could refine their writing and screenplays, and in 2005, L'Atelier, which helps twenty directors per year with the funding of their films.[18][19]

On July 1, 2014, co-founder and former head of French pay-TV operator Canal+, Pierre Lescure, took over as President of the Festival, while Thierry Frémaux became the General Delegate. The board of directors also appointed Gilles Jacob as Honorary President of the Festival.[20]

During the 2000s, the Festival started focusing more on the technological advances taking place in the film world, especially digital techniques. In 2004, restored historical films of the Festival were presented as Cannes Classics.

On March 20, 2020, organizers announced the postponement of the Cannes Film Festival 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the festival was later cancelled outright.

In 2022, the festival denied press accreditation to Russian journalists associated with outlets not opposed to the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war.[21] On the opening night of the festival, the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, made a video appearance where he talked about the war and the role of cinema in it.[22]


The Cannes Film Festival is organized in various sections. The Official Selection highlights the diversity of cinema. Films presented In Competition are representative of "arthouse cinema with a wide audience appeal." Un Certain Regard focuses on works that have an original aim and aesthetic. Other sections include historically important films, short films, and a selection of films submitted from film schools.[23]

  • The Official Selection – The main event of the festival.
    • In Competition – The films competing for the Palme d'Or. They are projected in the Théâtre Lumière.
    • Un Certain Regard – Films selected from cultures near and far; original and different works. They are projected at the Salle Debussy.
    • Out of Competition – These films are also projected in the Théâtre Lumière but do not compete for the main prize.
    • Special Screenings – The selection committee chooses for these films an environment specially adapted to their particular identity.
    • Cinéfondation – About fifteen shorts and medium-length motion pictures from film schools over the world are presented at the Salle Buñuel.
    • Short Films – The shorts competing for the Short Film Palme d'Or are presented at Buñuel and Debussy theatres. There are approximately 10 films in this competition.
    • Cannes Classics – It celebrates the heritage of film, aiming to highlight works of the past, presented with brand new or restored prints.
    • Cinéma de la Plage – Screening of Cannes Classics and Out of Competition films for the mass public on Macé beach, preceded by a program dedicated to film music.
  • Parallel Sections – These are alternative programs dedicated to discovering other aspects of cinema.
    • International Critics' Week – Since 1962, it has focused on discovering new talents and showcasing first and second feature films by directors from all over the world.
    • Directors' Fortnight – Since 1969, it has cast its lot with the avant-garde, even as it created a breeding ground where the Cannes Festival would regularly find its prestigious auteurs.
    • ACID (Association for Independent Cinema and its Distribution)
    • Tous les Cinémas du Monde – It showcases the vitality and diversity of cinema across the world. Each day, one country is invited to present a range of features and shorts in celebration of its unique culture, identity and recent film works.
  • Events
    • Marché du Film – The busiest film market in the world.
    • Masterclasses – Given in public by world-renowned filmmakers.
    • Tributes – Honors internationally renowned artists with the presentation of the Festival Trophee following the screening of one of their films.
    • Producers Network – An opportunity to make international co-productions.
    • Exhibitions – Each year, an artist, a body of work or a cinematographic theme becomes the focus of an exhibition that diversifies or illustrates the event's programme.
    • 60th Anniversary – Events organised in 2007 dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Festival.

Festival leadership

The President of the Festival, who represents the Festival in front of financial partners, the public authorities and the media, is elected by the board of directors of the Festival, officially named the "French Association of the Film Festival."

The Board is composed of authorities of the world of cinema, as well as of public authorities which subsidize the event. The President has a renewable 3-year mandate and appoints the members of his team, including the General Delegate, with the approval of the board of directors. Sometimes a President, after his last term, becomes the Honorary President of the Festival.

The General Delegate is responsible for the coordination of the events. When Gilles Jacob passed from General Delegate to the position of the President, in 2001, two new positions were created to take over his former post, the General Director to oversee the smooth running of the event, and the artistic director, responsible for the selection of films. However, in 2007, the Artistic Director Thierry Frémaux, became again the General Delegate of the Festival.


Prior to the beginning of each event, the Festival's board of directors appoints the juries who hold sole responsibility for choosing which films will receive a Cannes award. Jurors are chosen from a wide range of international artists, based on their body of work and respect from their peers. The appointment of the President of the Jury is made following several annual management proposals made in the fall and submitted to the Festival's board of directors for validation.

  • Feature Films – An international jury composed of a President and various film or art personalities, who determine the prizes for the feature films in Competition.
  • Cinéfondation and Short Films – Composed of a President and four film personalities. It awards the Short Film Palme d'Or as well as the three best films of the Cinéfondation.
  • Un Certain Regard – Composed of a President, journalists, students in cinema, and industry professionals. It awards the Un Certain Regard Prize for best film and can, moreover, honour two other films.
  • Caméra d'Or – Composed of a President, as well as film directors, technicians, and French and international critics. They award the best film in any category.

The jury meets annually at the historic Villa Domergue to select the winners.


The most prestigious award given at Cannes is the Palme d'Or ("Golden Palm") for the best film. There are many other awards for movies show in Competition, in Other Sections, as well as awards given by independent organizations.

  • Competition
    • Palme d'Or – Golden Palm, for Best Film
    • Palme d'Or du court métrage – Best Short Film
    • Grand Prix – Grand Prize of the Festival
    • Prix du Jury – Jury Prize
    • Prix de la mise en scène – Best Director
    • Prix d'interprétation masculine – Best Actor
    • Prix d'interprétation féminine – Best Actress
    • Prix du scénario – Best Screenplay
  • Other Sections
    • Prix Un Certain Regard – Young talent, innovative and audacious works
    • Cinéfondation prizes – Student films
    • Caméra d'Or – It rewards the best first film of the Festival, choosing among the debutants' works among the Official Selection, the Directors' Fortnight and the International Critics' Week selections.
  • Given by Independent Entities
    • FIPRESCI Prize – The International Federation of Film Critics awards prizes to films from the main competition section, Un Certain Regard and parallel sections
    • Directors' Fortnight Prizes
    • Prix Vulcain – Awarded to a technical artist by the CST
    • International Critics' Week Prizes
    • Prize of the Ecumenical Jury
    • François Chalais Prize
    • L'Œil d'or – Best documentary film
    • Trophée Chopard
    • Palm Dog – Best canine performance
    • Queer Palm – Best LGBT-related films
    • Cannes Soundtrack Award
    • Pierre Angénieux Excellens in Cinematography
    • Women in Motion: Since 2015, award delivered by Kering and honoring major achievers in raising awareness around women issues in the film industry.


Today the Festival is one of the "Big Three" major European film festivals, alongside the Venice Film Festival in Italy and the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany, as well as one of the "Big Five" major international film festivals, which consists of the three major European film festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, and the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City, United States.[24]

Cannes has found its own niche among the major film festivals:

Cannes is where you discover the next big thing in art house cinema — Parasite debuted there last May — and where critically acclaimed directors bow their latest efforts, best seen last year with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.[25]

The festival has become an important showcase for European films: Along with other festivals such as the Venice Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival, Cannes offers an opportunity to determine a particular country's image of its cinema and generally foster the notion that European cinema is "art" cinema. The festival has become "extremely important for critical and commercial interests and for European attempts to sell films on the basis of their artistic quality." [26]

Additionally, given massive media exposure, the non-public festival is attended by many stars and is a popular venue for film producers to launch their new films and to attempt to sell their works to the distributors who come from all over the globe.


There are more than twenty films that premiered at Cannes which have garnered controversies, including boos and walkouts, some of which went on to receive the top honors of the festival. Included on that list are the following: Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Lynch's Wild at Heart, Cronenberg's Crash, Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, Von Trier's Antichrist, Refn's Drive, Malick's The Tree of Life, and Assayas' Personal Shopper.[27]

In 2017, along with the 70th anniversary events of the Festival, changes in the rules on theatrical screening caused controversy.[28] In 2018, the enforcement of theatrical screening in France resulted in Netflix withdrawing their films from the festival.[29]


  1. First Cannes Film Festival A&E Television Networks. Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  2. Gerard Delanty, Liana Giorgi, and Monica Sassatelli (eds.), Festivals and the Cultural Public Sphere (Routledge, 2013, ISBN 978-0415714969).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Richard Crouse, Reel Winners: Movie Award Trivia (Dundurn, 2005, ISBN 1550025740).
  4. 4.0 4.1 History of the Cannes Film Festival Festival de Cannes. Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Céline Keller, 1938–1951: The birth of the Festival Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA). Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  6. In September 1946, the festivities begin! Festival de Cannes. Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  7. Jennifer Algoo, Honoring the Female Trailblazers of Cannes Harpers Bazaar, May 25, 2017. Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  8. Céline Keller, 1952–1959: Celebrities, politics and the film world Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA). Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  9. Céline Keller, 1960–1968: The growing legitimacy of cinema and a world of new horizons Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA). Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  10. 1968 - Sous la plage, les pavés Cannes. Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  11. The SRF Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  12. Céline Keller, 1969–1977: A Festival that moves with the times Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA). Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  13. 1972 - Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est gentil Cannes. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  14. Gilles Jacob, Citizen Cannes: The Man behind the Cannes Film Festival (Phaidon Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0714861906).
  15. 15.0 15.1 Céline Keller, 1978–1986: A wind of change Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA). Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  16. The History of the Festival, The 80s: The Modern Era Festival de Cannes. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  17. Presentation Festival de Cannes. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  18. Céline Keller, 1987–1996: The first Palme d'Or for a woman director Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA). Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  19. Céline Keller, 1997-today: The Festival enters a new century Institut national de l'audiovisuel (INA). Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  20. Georg Szalai, Cannes Film Festival Names Pierre Lescure President The Hollywood Reporter, January 14, 2014. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  21. Scott Roxborough, Cannes Fest Declines Accreditation for Russian Journalists From Outlets That Don't Oppose War on Ukraine The Hollywood Reporter, May 9, 2022. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  22. Marianne Garvey, Volodymyr Zelensky made a special appearance at Cannes Film Festival CNN, May 18, 2022. Retrieved March 25, 2023.
  23. What is the "Official Selection"? Festival de Cannes. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
  24. Marijke de Valck, Brendan Kredell, and Skadi Loist (eds.), Film Festivals: History, Theory, Method, Practice (Routledge, 2016, ISBN 978-0415712477).
  25. Scott Roxborough, Berlin Rebooted: Festival Shuffles Lineup, Aims for Recharged Market The Hollywood Reporter, February 16, 2020. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
  26. Jill Forbes and Sarah Street, European Cinema: An Introduction (Red Globe Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0333752098).
  27. Zack Sharf, Cannes Controversy: 22 Movies That Earned Boos and Walkouts, From 'Taxi Driver' to 'Neon Demon' Variety, May 16, 2022. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
  28. Rachel Donadio, Netflix Defends Strategy at Cannes: 'The Culture Is Changing' The New York Times, May 19, 2017. Retrieved March 23, 2023.
  29. Allyson Chiu, Cannes Film Festival bans Netflix films from competition. Also, no more selfies The Washington Post, March 26, 2018. Retrieved March 23, 2023.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Craig, Benjamin. Cannes - A Festival Virgin's Guide. Cinemagine Media Publishing, 2018. ISBN 1999996100
  • Crouse, Richard. Reel Winners: Movie Award Trivia. Dundurn, 2005. ISBN 1550025740
  • de Valck, Marijke, Brendan Kredell, and Skadi Loist (eds.). Film Festivals: History, Theory, Method, Practice. Routledge, 2016. ISBN 978-0415712477
  • Delanty, Gerard, Liana Giorgi, and Monica Sassatelli (eds.). Festivals and the Cultural Public Sphere. Routledge, 2013. ISBN 978-0415714969
  • Jacob, Gilles. Citizen Cannes: The Man behind the Cannes Film Festival. Phaidon Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0714861906
  • Toubiana, Serge, and Gilles Traverso. Cannes Cinema. Phaidon Press, 2011. ISBN 978-2866427054

External links

All links retrieved November 25, 2023.


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