All about the Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes Film Festival is one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Created in 1946 by Philippe Erlanger, Jean Zay and Albert Sarraut, this festival takes place every year in May, in the city of Cannes, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. Known for its Croisette and its famous climb of the steps, the Cannes Film Festival, formerly known as the international film festival, awards the Palme d’Or for the best film each year. In this article, we will discuss the beginnings of the Cannes Film Festival, its history, the prizes awarded, as well as the film selection process. We’ll also take a look at some of the most famous films that won awards at Cannes!

The beginnings of the Festival

The Cannes Film Festival was officially created in 1939, but this first edition was canceled following the declaration of the Second World War. It will be necessary to wait until 1946 for the first edition of the Cannes Film Festival to take place from September 20 to October 5, in the municipal casino of Cannes. This first edition was a real success, but following the refusal of the French government to fund the festival each year, the show union decided to build the Palais des Festivals as a matter of urgency in order to host the 1947 edition. The Palais des Festivals, also known as the “Palais Croisette”, was inaugurated on September 11, 1947, the day before the opening date of the Cannes Film Festival, with an unfinished roof that would eventually come off during a storm on closing night! The closing ball and the prize-giving will finally take place at the municipal casino in Cannes.

The film selection at Cannes

In 1947, Robert Favre-le-Bret joined the management of the Cannes Film Festival and set up a film selection commission at the national center for cinematography. The latter must provide the dates and rules of other festivals taking place in Europe and other countries. Informed producers can then send their films to the commission so that it can establish the selection for the festival. A feature film can be selected without its final editing being completed, but films that have participated in another international festival or have been screened in theaters cannot be part of the selection. To be selected, the duration of the short films must not exceed 15 minutes. Today, there are 2 selection committees:

  • The first committee: created by Gilles Jacob, it selects foreign films and is made up of 4 members: a journalist, a director, a film buff and Laurent Jacob, son of Gilles Jacob.
  • The second committee: composed of unknown members, it selects French films.

The 2 committees are subject to professional secrecy and are supervised by Thierry Frémaux, general delegate of the Cannes Film Festival since 2007.

The Cannes Film Festival and the famous climb of the steps
The Cannes Film Festival and the famous climb of the steps

The evolution of the film festival

In 1950, the Cannes Film Festival became the biggest cinema-related event in France and from 1951, the festival took place in the spring, during a different period from the Venice Film Festival, which usually takes place in September. In 1969, Pierre-Henri Deleau created the Directors’ Fortnight, a parallel selection which presented foreign films made by unknown filmmakers who were not part of the selection. In 1978, Gilles Jacob, new general delegate of the festival, created the Golden Camera, a prize which rewards young artists with promising talent. The latter also reduced the duration of the festival from 15 to 13 days, then from 13 to 11 days, while reducing the number of films selected. In 1983, the Palais des Festivals, which had become too small and dilapidated over the years, underwent major expansion and renovation work to extend its surface area to 10,000m².

The jury and the various prizes of the Cannes Film Festival

Each year, the Cannes Film Festival appoints a jury and its president. The latter must be a world-renowned personality in order to reassure the directors in competition on his knowledge of cinema. In 2021, director Spike Lee presided over the 74th edition of the Cannes Film Festival. The jury is made up of 8 personalities, mostly from the world of cinema or entertainment. In 2020, French actress Sophie Marceau was a member of the jury.

For the feature film, the jury awards the following 7 prizes:

  • The Palme d’Or: this supreme award is given to the best film.
  • The grand prize: this prize rewards the second best film.
  • Best Actress Award: This award is given to the best actress.
  • The prize for male interpretation: this prize rewards the best actor.
  • The prize for directing: this prize is awarded to the best director.
  • The screenplay prize: this prize is awarded to the best screenwriter.
  • The jury prize: this prize rewards the film that has shown the most originality.

The “un certain regard” prize is awarded to the best film in the parallel selection (unofficial selection) to reward young talents and unknown filmmakers. For short films, the jury awards “a short film gold palm”. Film school students are rewarded with “the Cinéfondation prize”. Finally, “the golden camera prize” rewards the best film in the selection of the directors’ fortnight. Critics’ Week also awards the following prizes:

  • The grand prize: it is awarded to a feature film.
  • The revelation prize: this prize is also awarded to a feature film.
  • The discovery prize: it is awarded to a short film.
The 2021 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival
The 2021 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival

Famous films and the Golden Palms of the Cannes Film Festival

In 1993, Jane Campion, director and screenwriter of the film “The Piano Lesson” was the first female filmmaker to win the Palme d’Or. It will be necessary to wait until 2021 and the French director Julia Ducournau to see a second woman win the supreme award of the Cannes Film Festival. The list of the most beautiful palmes d’or is:

  • Pulp Fiction : Quentin Tarantino received the Palme d’Or for this cult film in 1994.
  • Apocalypse Now: Francis Ford Coppola received the Palme d’Or in 1979.
  • Taxi driver: Martin Scorsese’s film won an award in 1976.
  • Paris,Texas: palme d’or of the festival in 1984.
  • The pianist: Roman Polanski received the Palme d’Or in 2002.
  • La vie d’Adèle: Palme d’Or in 2013.
  • Sailor and Lula: Palme d’Or in 1990.
  • The umbrellas of Cherbourg: palme d’or in 1964.
  • A man and a woman: Claude Lelouch’s film won the prize in 1966.

In 2022, the Cannes Film Festival will take place from Tuesday May 17 to Saturday May 28. The film Top Gun 2 will be screened in world premiere and the arrival of Tom Cruise is awaited by the public of the Croisette for the climb of the steps.

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