Inaugurated in 1946, the Festival of Cannes is all about the celebration of film. Today, it is an important meeting point for the 12,000 or so “wheelers and dealers” of the film industry. More so a meeting place for the professionals than the punters, for 10 days of the year Cannes is in the spotlight as the stars gather and the directors and producers wait for the jury to pick the winners. If you fancy a spot of glamour in your life, why not head over to Cannes for a chance to mingle amongst the stars and celebrities.
The first edition of the Festival was originally set to be held in Cannes in 1939 under the presidency of Louis Lumière. However, it was not until over a year after the war ended that it finally took place on 20 September 1946. It was subsequently held every September – except in 1948 and 1950 – and then every May from 1952 onwards.
As late as1959 there were only a few dozen participants and one screening room made out of fabric stretched across the top of the old Palais Croisette. This tiny market became the international event it is today: conceived, organised, and planned around one goal: the successful production of all films, created on the initiative of Jean Zay, the then Minister for Education and Fine Arts, who was keen to establish an international cultural event in France to rival the Venice Film Festival.
While early editions of the Festival were primarily a social event from which almost all of the films went away with an award, the appearance of stars from around the world on the Festival’s red carpet and increasing media coverage quickly earned it a legendary international reputation.
In the 1950s, Hollywood became enamoured with everything French and this infatuation blossomed into a wildly popular series of films including An American in Paris, Gigi, and Funny Face. The attendance of the great movie stars such as Kirk Douglas, Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly, Brigit Bardot, Gina Lollobrigida and Cary Grant, and the meteoric career of Brigitte Bardot, ensured that the Cannes Film Festival became part of the international circuit.
Awarded for the first time in 1955 to the film Marty, directed by Delbert Mann, the Palme d’Or replaced the Grand Prix, which had been awarded to the best film In Competition until then.
In the 1960s, two independent selections were created in parallel to the Official Selection: the Semaine Internationale de la Critique in 1962 and the Directors’ Fortnight in 1969. Before 1972, the films that competed in the selection were chosen by their country of origin. From 1972 onwards, however, the Festival asserted its independence by choosing the films that would feature in the Official Selection for itself.
And if you can’t make it to Cannes, you can still be part of the event. Since 2011, the opening film has been released in French cinemas on the same day as its screening at Cannes, and the opening ceremony has been broadcast in cinemas enabling audiences to experience the Festival launch night live.
At Cannes, the Cinéma de la Plage, an outdoor cinema, screens a different film each night - and, since 2010, even the occasional world première – as part of its theme-based programme. These open-air screenings are open to everyone and represent a strong link with the general public.