The Cannes Festival in France

The Cannes Festival: History, development, Controversies, Judges, Prize & more

The Festival de Cannes, which takes place in May, dominates the city and international tabloids. Film industry professionals, international celebrities, and upcoming actors mingle with the public in search of unexpected encounters and photos. The Cannes Film Festival, also known as the Cannes Film Festival in English and, until 2003, the International Film Festival (Festival international du film), is an annual film festival held in Cannes, France, where new movies of all genres, including documentaries, are previewed.

The FIAPF formally acknowledged the festival in 1951. On July 1, 2014, Thierry Frémaux was appointed General Delegate and Pierre Lescure, co-founder and former CEO of French pay-TV service Canal+, assumed the position of Festival President. It is also one of the “Big Five” important international film festivals, together with the three important festivals in Europe and Sundance in the United States.

History of the Cannes Festival

Robert Favre Le Bret, a cinema journalist, and Philippe Erlanger, a high-ranking official and historian, proposed that the Cannes Film Festival be formed in 1938. French Minister of National Education at the time was Jean Zay.

History of the Cannes Festival
History of the Cannes Festival

They received assistance from the British and Americans. When Benito Mussolini interfered to stop the French pacifist film La Grande Illusion from winning the 1937 competition, the political intervention was evident.

Why does Cannes city choose to hold festivals?

The French, British, and American jury members decided to leave the festival to never return because they were outraged by the decision and as a protest gesture. This snub gave the French the idea to organize a free festival.

As a result, on May 31, 1939, Cannes was selected as the festival’s location rather than Biarritz. The event was then formally registered under the name Le Festival International du Film by the municipal council and the French government.

Tourists were drawn to the French Riviera resort town of Cannes. The city hall also suggested raising municipal funding involvement and pledging to build a specific venue for the event. These elements influenced the choice of Cannes.

The first edition, which was planned to take place in an auditorium at the Municipal Casino from September 1 through September 20, 1939, was supposed to have Louis Lumière as its honorary President. Its objectives included “fostering a spirit of collaboration between film-producing countries and stimulating the growth of all forms of cinematographic art.”

The Cannes Festival
The Cannes Festival

The reason for the cancellation of the Cannes Festival in the first year of opening

Hollywood royalty who arrived aboard an Ocean liner that MGM had chartered included Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mae West, Norma Shearer, Paul Muni, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, and George Raft.

On August 31, a private screening of the William Dieterle-directed American movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton, took place as part of the opening night gala. German soldiers invaded Poland the following day, September 1. As a result, the celebration was postponed for ten days and would only start if the circumstances allowed it.

The situation was only going to get worse, so on September 3, France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, starting the Second World War. The French government issued a general mobilization, which made it impossible for the festival to proceed, and as a result, it was ultimately canceled.

The red carpet of the Cannes Festival
The red carpet of the Cannes Festival

Events at Cannes Festival

The First Cannes International Film Event, which took place at the former Casino de Cannes from September 20 to October 5, 1946, when the festival was reinstituted, featured screenings of films from twenty-one different countries.

Despite considerable operational challenges, the festival opened in 1947 with pictures from sixteen countries and was known as the “Festival du cinema de Cannes.” In 1948 and 1950, the event was postponed because of financial restrictions.

While it was still being built, the first roof of the Palais des Festivals, which was constructed expressly for the event in 1949 on the La Croisette beach promenade. The festival was moved to spring in 1951 in order to avoid a confrontation with the Venice Festival, which took place in the fall.

Events at Cannes Festival
Events at Cannes Festival

How Cannes Festival developed

From 1950 to 1960

The festival garnered a lot of press coverage and tourists in the early 1950s thanks to scandals involving the entertainment industry and relationships with famous people. At the same time, the festival’s artistic side began to take shape.

The Critics’ Prize was established to honor innovative films and risk-taking filmmakers as a result of disagreements regarding the film selection process. The Special Jury Prize was first given out in 1954.

The Grand Prix du Festival, which had been awarded until that year, was replaced by the Palme d’Or in 1955. Dolores del Rio served as the first female jury member for the formal selection in 1957.

The Cannes Festival Development: From 1950 to 1960
The Cannes Festival Development: From 1950 to 1960

From 1970 to 1980

The festival underwent significant alterations throughout the 1970s. Robert Favre Le Bret took over as President in 1972, and Maurice Bessy was chosen as a generic delegate. With movies like MASH and, subsequently, Chronicle of the Years of Fire signaling this direction, he initiated significant modifications in the selection of the participating films, inviting new techniques and releasing the selection from diplomatic demands.

In certain cases, these modifications let filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky get through censorship issues in their nations. Additionally, until that point, the various nations selected the movies representing them at the festival. However, Bessy established two committees in 1972—one for choosing foreign films and one for choosing French films.

The red carpet

A red carpet was laid out at the Palais entrance for the first time in the festival’s history in 1987. One hundred directors from various nations signed a proclamation “against all forms of censorship currently present in the world” in 1989 at the first Cinéma & Liberté event.

Learn about the highlights of the Cannes Film Festival in photos, known in French as “La montée des marches.”

The Cannes Festival Development: The red carpet
The Cannes Festival Development: The red carpet

From 1990 to now

The final category of the Official selection, la Cinéfondation, was established by Gilles Jacob in 1998 with the goal of promoting filmmaking worldwide and assisting upcoming screenwriters in breaking into the elite group of celebrities. The festival began paying increasing attention to technological developments in the film industry in the 2000s, particularly those involving digital technology. Documentaries were among the restored vintage films from the festival that were shown as Cannes Classics in 2004. Thierry Frémaux was appointed General Delegate in 2007.

Some Controversies on the Cannes festival

  1. Numerous gender and sexual controversies have recently surrounded the Cannes Film Festival. One of these events, dubbed “Heelgate,” occurred in 2015 when numerous female attendees of a red-carpet premiere were denied admittance because they were wearing flat-soled shoes rather than high heels. Many female celebrities attended other red-carpet premieres without shoes or with flat-soled shoes as a sign of solidarity and outrage over the occurrence.
  2. In 2015, General Delegate Thierry Frémaux allegedly “banned” selfies on the festival’s red carpet
  3. The issue of altering the rules on theatrical screenings generated controversy in 2017, along with the festival’s 70th-anniversary celebrations. Due to France’s requirement for theatrical screenings, Netflix withdrew its films from the festival in 2018.
The Cannes Festival, France
The Cannes Festival, France

Programs of the Cannes Festival

There are several parts to the Cannes Film Festival.

  1. The Official Selection, which serves as the festival’s centerpiece.
  2. The movies up for the Palme d’Or are in competition. In the Lumière Théâtre, they are projected.
  3. Un Certain Regard – Original and distinctive films drawn from various cultures. At the Salle Debussy, they are being projected.
  4. Out of Competition – These films are also shown in the Théâtre Lumière, but they are not in competition for the top honor.
  5. Special Screenings – The selection committee selects a setting specifically tailored to these films’ unique identities.
  6. Cinéfondation – The Salle Buuel screens approximately fifteen short and medium-length motion movies from worldwide film schools.
  7. Short Films: The Buuel and Debussy theaters screen the short films for the Short Film Palme d’Or. There are about ten films entered in this com.
  8. Cannes Classics – This festival honors film history by showcasing classic movies in brand-new or restored prints.

    Programs of the Cannes Festival
    Programs of the Cannes Festival
  9. Cinéma de la Plage – A program devoted to cinema music is presented before screenings of Cannes Classics and Out of Competition movies for the general public on Macé beach.
  10. Parallel Sections – These are alternate programs for learning about different facets of the film.
  11. International Critics’ Week: Since 1962, this event has highlighted the emerging talent and first and second feature films by international filmmakers.
  12. Directors’ Fortnight – Since 1969, it has sided with the avant-garde and acted as a nursery ground for the prominent auteurs that the Cannes Festival would frequently discover.
  13. ACID (Association for Independent Cinema and Distribution) (Association for Independent Cinema and its Distribution)
  14. Tous les Cinémas du Monde – This film demonstrates the diversity and vibrancy of cinematic art around the globe. In honor of its distinctive culture, identity, and most current cinema productions, one country is invited to exhibit various features and shorts each day.
The Cannes Festival, The red carpet
The Cannes Festival, The red carpet

About the Cannes Festival

  1. The world’s busiest film market is called Marché du Film.
  2. Masterclasses – Public lectures delivered by well-known filmmakers.
  3. After one of their films has been screened, the Festival Trophee is presented as part of the Tributes section, which pays tribute to the artists.
  4. A possibility to create international co-productions is provided through the Producers Network.
  5. Exhibitions – Each year, an exhibition that diversifies or complements the event’s schedule is organized around a particular artist, a body of work, or a cinematic theme.
  6. 60th Anniversary – In 2007, celebrations for the festival’s 60th anniversary were held.

Judges in Cannes Festival

The jury panels, chosen by the festival’s board of directors ahead of each event, are entirely in charge of choosing which movies will be honored with a Cannes award. Jurors are chosen from a wide range of artists worldwide based on their body of work and reputation among their peers. Before the President of the Jury can be chosen, the festival board of directors must endorse many annual management suggestions made in the fall.

  • Feature movies
  • Movies on Demand and Shorts
  • No Particular Regard
  • camera d’Or
Judges in Cannes Festival
Judges in Cannes Festival


  • Each year, the jury convenes at the famed Villa Doumergue to choose the winners.
  • For best picture, the Palme d’Or (“Golden Palm”) is the highest honor conferred at Cannes.
  • Competition in Cannes Festival
  • Palme d’Or – Golden Palm
  • Palme d’Or du court métrage – Best Short Film
  • Grand award – Grand Prize of the Festival
  • Award du Jury – Jury Prize
  • Award de la mise en scène – Best Director
  • Award d’interprétation masculine – Best actor
  • Award d’interprétation féminine – Best actress
  • Award du scénario – Best screenplay
Prize of the Cannes Festival
Prize of the Cannes Festival


Various sections of the Cannes Festival

  • Award Un Certain Regard
  • Cinéfondation prizes
  • Camera d’Or
  • Given by Unrelated Parties
  • Prix Vulcain
  • Directors’ Fortnight
  • FIPRESCI Prizes
  • Prizes for International Critics Week
  • François Chalais Prize

    The Cannes Festival, Cannes, France
    The Cannes Festival, Cannes, France
  • awarded by the Ecumenical Jury
  • L’il d’or: best documentary movie
  • Best canine proficiency at the Trophée Chopard Palm Dog
  • Best LGBT-themed films, similar to Queer Palm
  • Soundtrack prize from Cannes
  • preference in Cinematography by Pierre Angénieux
  • Women’s Movement

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