How the world’s most famous film festival came to be what it is today.
Suzana Rabello de Souza
If you don’t know much about the Cannes Film Festival, then you might think it is simply this event where film directors showcase their movies and receive prizes for them, which is probably famous only because big celebrities attend to it… Oh, you couldn’t be more wrong! But worry not, FabUK magazine is here to tell you all the important bits of history surrounding this fascinating Festival. And what is more, this year the Festival celebrates its 70th anniversary and FabUK will be there to cover it all for you.
So let’s get started! Initially named Festival International du Film (International Film Festival), the event was an initiative of France Minister of Education and Fine Arts, Jean Zay. France, the United Kingdom and the USA felt the Venice Film Festival – which had been running for 6 years back in 1939 and was the world’s fair for cinema – was getting a little too… political on its choices. An article on the 1939 July edition of Time magazine read “In the past, this annual, late-summer gathering to pick the world’s best films has chosen such universally acclaimed cinemas as Man of Aran, Anna Karenina, Mayerling, La Kermesse Héroïque. But two years ago B. Mussolini began to take a personal, political interest in the cinema business, and last year cinema industries not bedded in the Rome-Berlin axis began to feel its centrifugal force.” It’s a strong statement and although it’s the voice of Time magazine, not the Festival organizers’; it’s still a report on how the film industry was feeling back then. The first edition of the Cannes Film Festival was supposed to take place in September of that same year. But instead, war happened. World War II. Only one year after the war ended did the Festival finally have its first edition, in 1946.
In the first few years, the event did not have the size and reach it has now – most of the films presented would receive an award and the whole Festival felt more like a social convention. The 1948 and 1950 editions even got cancelled due to budgetary reasons – although in 1949 the event received an official home with the construction of the Palais des Festivals. Nevertheless, exactly because of its broad acceptance of film genres, encouragement of all forms of filmmaking and the spirit of collaboration among countries also interested in developing their film industry, the Festival started to draw the attention of world stars and media – the more it got covered, the more people wanted to know and be part of it.
The 1950s, therefore, saw the rise and broad internationalization of the Cannes Film Festival, with the attendance of big names like Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren, Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, Romy Schneider, Cary Grant, Simone Signoret, Kirk Douglas and many others. It was also in the 1950s, more precisely 1955, that the famous Palme d’Or was created to award the director of the best feature film screened at the Official Competition of the Festival – up until then the award was called Grand Prix, and even though it was resumed from 1964 to 1974, from 1975 on the Palm d’Or was reintroduced and is, still today, the symbol of the Cannes Film Festival.
As years passed, more and more programs, sections and events were incorporated into the main agenda – reinforcing the Festival’s commitment to broad approaches on filmmaking. Hence the creation of the Marché du Film (Film Market), in 1959 – a market created to support and promote networking among all those involved in the film industry. On its first edition, the market was nothing more than a big fabric tent made screening room on the top of the Palais Croisette; nowadays, it attracts over 12,000 participants in 34 screening rooms.
If the 1950s brought the Festival to the world’s attention, from the 1960s on it’s been steadily expanding. In 1962 La Semaine de la Critique (The Critic’s Week) was created. The idea actually came from the year before, when the Association Française de la Critique de Cinéma (French Association of Film Critics) brought to the Festival a screen adaptation of a theatre play. Produced by Shirley Clarke, The Connection was adapted from a Jack Gekber’s play produced by The Living Theatre. The screening of such an alternative production (keeping it in mind it was the early 1960s) was a huge success and thus, in 1962, a whole week parallel to the main event was created to support the diversity in filmmaking.
A similar thing happened in 1969, with the creation of the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Director’s Fortnight), though the events inspiring it was very different. The 1968 edition of the Cannes Film Festival was called off midway due to the protests and strikes that took place all around France. Dissatisfied with the traditional institutions, predominant values, consumerism and capitalism, hundreds of students started the occupation of universities while around 11 million factory workers engaged in strikes. Despite the intense violence, the protest was also an artistic movement leading to the creation of songs, posters, graffiti and slogans. There was no way the Festival could have continued whilst such mayhem and in solidarity, with the students and workers, it was cancelled. Therefore, in 1969, the Director’s Fortnight was created with the slogan “Cinema at Liberty”, which has been the underline propeller of the event throughout the years. According to Édouard Waintrop, Artistic Director of the Directors’ Fortnight, “Its concern is to bring new talents to the fore, surprise audiences with new and unknown facets of known talents; to vary the pleasures, in a word, to show what’s most exciting in world cinema and what rises to the top among the new trends.”
The Cannes Film Festival kept expanding and creating more awards to embrace all sorts of filmmaking and in 1978, 2 more awards were introduced. The Caméra d’Or (Golden Camera) was created to honour the best first feature film presented in any of the Festival’s selections. Now, the term “first feature film” might sound a bit confusing in this context, but it basically means a director’s first film, in whatever format, consisting of 60 minutes or more. The goal of the award was to encourage the directors to undertake the production of a second film. As for Un Certain Regard (A Certain Glance), the other award created in 1978, the aim was to recognize directors who can tell stories in non-traditional ways, using different styles and points of view.
And the Festival does take filmmaking encouragement seriously. So much so, in 1991 it received its first Leçon de Cinéma (Film Masterclass) – a masterclass on the art of film directing. Every year, important names of the film industry are invited to deliver lessons and talk about their own views and opinions on filmmaking and directing. Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-wai, among many others have shared their knowledge and experience in this interactive section of the Cannes Film Festival.
Fortunately, this gorgeous idea of using the Festival as sort of an academy was so well received, that in 1998 the Cinéfondation was created to screen short and medium-length films produced by film schools from around the world. Dedicated to keeping an eye out for new talents, each year it receives more than 1,600 student films and the selected ones are presented in the official Cannes Selection. Its success made it possible, in 2000, to create the Résidence, a place for young directors to work and receive assistance on their projects. Over 170 filmmakers from a variety of countries have been welcomed in the Résidence du Festival since its creation. And if that wasn’t good enough, in 2005 the Cinéfondation received one more expansion: the Atelier. With the aim to secure funds for directors to complete their films, every year the Atelier selects about 15 to 20 projects and invites their directors to the Festival, putting them in contact with producers, distributors and other filmmaking professionals in order to boost their production process.
More than a festival to celebrate and recognize films and directors, the Cannes Film Festival became in itself a rich archive of the history of filmmaking around the globe. Many names and stories got recognized and shared thanks to Festival’s engagement in welcoming diversity, helping young talents, promoting networking and “simply”, providing a space where film lovers can present their works.
This year’s edition marks the 70th anniversary of the Festival and you can take a look at everything that’s being planned for this special occasion on the Festival’s official website. FabUK magazine will be there to cover it all for you and of course, take the best shots of all the amazing outfits flowing around. Save the date, May 17th-28th, and keep an eye on FabUK media channels for updates and live coverage!