The Cannes International FIlm Festival: History and Present

Photo Credit: Various
May 2nd, 2014

The annual Cannes International Film Festival continues to showcase the work of emerging talents and venerated masters. Originally a small, anti-fascist festival designed to compete with the Venice Biennale, the Cannes Festival of today is a week-and-a-half-long celebration of arts and entertainment. The Cannes of today involves dozens of countries and attracts attention on a global scale.

The history of the Cannes Film Festival has origins with the political climate of 1930s Europe. Disturbed by the influence of the Italian and German states on the culture of European film, French Minister of National Education Jean Zay created a new international film festival. The city of Cannes, Alpes-Maritimes on the French Riviera was selected amidst competition from other French cities, like Vichy, Biarritz and Algiers. After years of planning, the inaugural event was scheduled to be held throughout the month of September, 1939, only to be cancelled by Hitler's invasion of Poland and the onset of World War II.

The French ambition for a major international film festival was revived following the war. The Cannes Film Festival began on September 20th, 1946. The festival was held every September through 1951, excepting budget-based cancellation in 1948 and 1950. In 1952, the festival was moved to May out of consideration for the elder Venice Biennale each fall.

For decades, Cannes has hosted the launch of some of the most influential films and careers in cinematic history. The list of the festival's big winners includes some of the best-known names in movies, including Quentin Tarrantino ("Pulp Fiction," 1994), Lars Von Trier ("Dancer in the Dark," 2000), Martin Scorsese ("Taxi Driver," 1976), Francis Ford Coppola ("The Conversation," 1974 and "Apocalypse Now," 1979) and the Coen Brothers ("Barton Fink," 1991).

Under the guidance of Cannes President Gilles, the festival extended its platform to student filmmakers around the world through the Cinéfondation program. Each year, the Cinéfondation selects 15 to 20 student films of short-to-medium length for competition. The top three student films are decided by the Cinéfondation and Shorts Jury.

Each year since 1946 has produced only one or two first-place winners. The coveted prize for best full-length feature film was originally called the Grand Prix, French for "Grand Prize." The Grand Prix trophy was redesigned each year until the Palme d'Or ("Golden Palm") supplanted it as the top prize in 1955. Designs from jeweler Lucienne Lazon and artist Sébastien won the open competition for the design of the palm and its pedestal, respectively. In 1964, copyright issues forced the Festival to return to the Grand Prix for 11 years. The Palme d'Or has held its top spot continuously since 1975.

Today, the Cannes Film Festival offers 8 awards in its feature film competition. With the exception of the Palme d'Or du court métrage and the Cinéfondation prizes, all of the festival's official award-winners are chosen by the Cannes Film Festival jury.

Palme d'Or – the Best Motion Picture
Grand Prix – the first runner-up
Prix du Jury – the second runner-up
Palme d'Or du court métrage –the Best Short Film
Prix d'interprétation féminine – the Best Actress
Prix d'interprétation masculine – the Best Actor
Prix de la mise en scène – the Best Director
Prix du scénario – the Best Screenplay

The Festival also offers 3 awards available to films outside of regular competition.

Prix Un Certain Regard – in recognition of young, innovative talent
Cinéfondation prizes  - the best of the student films
Caméra d'Or – the jury's selection for Best First Feature Film

In addition to the Festival's official awards, various independent agencies may confer awards to films screened at Cannes, most notably the International Federation of Film Critics.

The 2014 Cannes Film Festival includes 48 full-length features in and out of competition in special screenings and in midnight showings. Entrants include many first-time directors, past award-winners and Hollywood stars, like Tommy Lee Jones and Ryan Gossling. Nine additional films are included for competition in the short-film category. Cinéfoundation presents 15 offerings from film students from around the world. The program also screens "Les Gens Du Monde," a full-length documentary tribute to the 70th Anniversary of the "Le Monde" Newspaper.

The Cannes International Film Festival has screened thousands of motion pictures from entrants all over the world. Cannes is one of the oldest and most respected events in the world of film. It serves both as an important marketplace for distribution for independent filmmakers in Europe and as a showcase for Hollywood pictures hoping to make a strong critical impression. The success of the festival is due in part to the determination of its organizers despite early obstacles and the keen eyes of its selectors in choosing quality films.