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Cannes Film Festival

Get details on the Cannes Film Festival, from how it began to what it has become.

Once a year the town of Cannes becames the center of the film industry. [©Shutterstock 2010]
©Shutterstock 2010
Once a year the town of Cannes becames the center of the film industry.

The Festival de Cannes, otherwise known as the Cannes Film Festival, is one of the world's most prestigious and influential events devoted to film. Celebrities, filmmakers and journalists descend on the glamorous French Riviera town each year for 12 days to honor selected films and the artists who make them.

The festival is important to the film industry, both internationally and in America, because it is more than just an awards competition. The Cannes Film Festival is a major networking opportunity for those in the film industry who go there to make contacts and seal deals.

The Palme d'Or is to Cannes what the Oscar is to the Academy Awards. The trophy, which is based on the Cannes' coat of arms, is awarded to the best director of a feature film every year. It is the festival's most prestigious prize. Made of 24-carat gold, the award is presented in a case of blue Moroccan leather. The UK Telegraph calls Cannes the "most glamorous event on the festival calendar."

Getting into the actual Cannes Film Festival is almost impossible, even for a filmmaker, as films must receive an invitation to be shown after submission. To the individuals who do not have connections in the film industry, the festival is off limits.

Many people interested in the Cannes Film Festival show up just to soak in the atmosphere -- strolling along the croisette promenade and gazing at movie stars, paparazzi, yachts and the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Visitors must find a place to stay well in advance, however, and they should expect large crowds.

History of the Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes film festival was founded in 1939 by Jean Zay, the French minister for public instruction and the arts, who wanted to create an international festival for film. Cannes, located in the picturesque South of France, was chosen for its sun and beauty. World War II caused the festival's inaugural event to be postponed, however. After the war ended, the process began again.

In the beginning, every film received an award, so the festival's format was very different from today's format. The festival was more of a forum than a competition. In the modern era, the Cannes' prizes are very competitive and prestigious. Years ago, countries chose which of their own films to submit to the festival. Eventually, that process was also changed. Today the Cannes' board invites films to participate.

How the Festival Works

Films selected for the competition are placed into different categories and judged by juries composed of festival officials and those in the international film industries. Films are placed into one of the following categories:

  • In Competition. The 20 films competing for the Palme d'Or.
  • Un Certain Regard. About 20 films from different cultures. This event is designed to honor cinema around the world.
  • Out of Competition. Films that are screened but not competing. These are sometimes popular films that the festival wants to screen but not place in competition for awards. Sometimes, directors show films that are in progress.
  • Special Screening. Films chosen because they represent a specialty.
  • Cinefondation. Films and shorts from world film schools that are presented in an effort to reveal new talent.
  • Short films. The 15 films competing for a short film Palme d'Or.

Festival Initiatives

Numerous Cannes Film Festival initiatives help the festival promote film beyond the event itself. These initiatives include:

  • The Producer's Network, which helps producers find investors.
  • Short Film Corner, a program designed to encourage the showing of short films.
  • Atelier, a program to help young filmmakers find international investors.
  • Cinema de la Plage, one of the only ways for people outside of the industry to partake in the films at Cannes. Films are screened on the beach.
  • Critics' Week and Director's Fortnight are screenings that developed in the wake of strikes but now have become staples.
  • Opening and closing ceremonies, special screenings and other events are also held during the festival.

Wheeling and Dealing

The Marche du Film, or the "film market," is the major event at Cannes where the marketing, selling and networking takes place. The Marche du Film is arguably what makes Cannes so important to the film industry. The festival's Web site says it had 10,500 international participants last year. According to the Marche du Film Web site, it is the world's most important event where films are sold. The Web site has downloadable maps of Cannes, information on accommodations and other facts that might assist those not in the film industry.

Facts and Figures

  • Only one female director has ever won the Palme d'Or -- Jane Campion for "The Piano Lesson."
  • Five directors have won the Palme d'Or twice.
  • Half of the festival's 20 million Euro budget comes from public financing. The rest comes from private and professional donations.
  • Many other juried awards are presented at Cannes. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) provides a detailed listing.

Attending Cannes

According to Cannes Guide, it is nearly impossible to get tickets to screenings without being in the film industry. Occasionally, a few tickets are available to Director's Fortnight sidebar presentations. Even tickets to the beach showings must be obtained from the tourist office. People can't just buy tickets -- they need to know someone in the film industry to get them. Those with tickets are given a unique ticketing code, which they must use to obtain their tickets.

Getting into the many parties held in association with the festival can be just as difficult as obtaining tickets. It can even be tough to get into restaurants and hotels during the Cannes film festival. Many festival-goers fly into the airport in nearby Nice, France, and take a shuttle to Cannes. People who have attended say a tourist's best chance to see stars is to crane their necks at the red carpet or spot them at hotels.

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