For those of you unfamiliar, the Cannes Film Festival is the biggest and most important in the world.
Although Toronto, Berlin, Venice and Sundance are all important in their own right, nothing can quite match Cannes for the glamour, deals and networking.
It is estimated that between three to four thousand journalists attend every year, which probably makes it the most covered annual event in the world (the Olympics gets more, but that is every four years).
Although its roots remain in the film competition that culminates in a big awards ceremony, it has grown over the years into the most important marketplace for the film industry.
Filmmakers, distributors, sales agents and other people from all over the world meet up here every year to show their films, cut deals and make contacts for future projects.
So, if you are not familiar with the festival here is a guide to the history and importance of the festival.
The first ever Cannes Film Festival started in September 1939, but World War II and the not inconsiderable business of Nazis invading France got in the way of things.
It was only years later during the 1950s that it revived itself and gradually started to become what it is today. In 1955, the Palme d’Or was introduced as a prize and was won by the US drama Marty.
Coincidentally, that film also won the Best Picture Oscar and to date it is the only time that a film has won both – perhaps a sign of just how different tastes still can be on each side of the Atlantic.
With the scenic backdrop of the Cote d’Azur in late May and stars like Brigitte Bardot and Grace Kelly making celebrated appearances, the festival soon became established as the most high profile in the world.
Despite the glitz, glamour and business surrounding it, the core of the actual film festival is about films from around the world getting screened and competing for recognition from an international jury.
There are several sections to this side of the Festival: In Competition, Out of Competition, Un Certain Regard, Cinefondation,Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight. The most important strand of these are the films screening In Competition as they are all up for the coveted Palme d’Or prize.
Usually around 20 films are entered each year each year and victory can significantly boost the profile of a film and guarantee it distribution around the world.
Sometimes it can help launch a career such as Steven Soderbergh (who won in 1989 for Sex, Lies and Videotape) or Quentin Tarantino (who upset the odds in 1994 by winning for Pulp Fiction).
It might also give exposure to smaller and more artistic fare like L’Enfant, which scooped the prize in 2005 for the Belgian film making pair, the Dardenne Brothers.
At other times it can propel a film into a global news story, which was the case in 2004, when Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which won and went on to unlikely success at the global box office.
Whilst the films in the official competition get the red carpet treatment and a crack at the Palme d’Or, many other films come to the festival to screen out of competition.
They are here essentially for the exposure the festival provides. Some films will be looking for a distributor in a certain territory, some big Hollywood style films will be here to use Cannes as a launch pad for their European release, whilst others are just here hoping to make waves at such a huge festival.
In recent years huge blockbusters like Star Wars Episode III and The Da Vinci Code have had high profile ‘out of competition’ screenings. Reaction has been decidedly mixed as true cineastes feel the Festival proper gets tainted by such overtly commercial films.
However, the festival organisers (though wary of being mere stooges to Hollywood) know that the presence of big stars helps keep the status of Cannes in the news and could even help shine a light on the more uncommercial films screening here.
The other strands of the festival include Un Certain Regard which was set up in the late 70s to showcase more world cinema and to absorb smaller aspects of the festival. Although there are no prizes it is still a prominent strand to showcase films.
The french have a great tradition of film criticism with publications like Cahiers Du Cinema and Critics’ Week was founded way back in 1962. Run by the Union of French Film Critics, films in this section compete for the Grand Prix and it has often given new filmmakers their first taste of the limelight.
Directors’ Fortnight was established in 1968 after the famous strikes all over France that year shut down the festival. Features and shorts are shown together and it can often be the place to find a hidden gem away from the glare of the main competition.
Cinefondation came in to being in 1998 as a program to help young film makers. It shows several films selected by from all around the world and has its own jury which select three awards for the best films.
Gradually the exposure of the film festival led to the growth of the business side of Cannes. Almost anyone of note in the film world comes to town to network and do deals of various shapes and sizes.
The Marche du Film (or “The Film Market“) is the largest event of its kind in the world and it is where films and projects in development are pitched, bought and sold. For distributors and sales agents from around the world it is a vital place to meet as key rights in different territories are traded.
Although differing levels of business is done at other film festivals around the world, Cannes is unique in terms of its scale and importance.
The Marche is based next to the Palais du Festivals (the central venue where films are screened) and market screenings are held in smaller rooms within the same complex that also shows the bigger films in competition.
The business action also spreads out all over town as meetings are held on boats in The Old Port, hotels like The Grand (where many film companies book entire suites throughout the festival) and The International Village which is a series of small white pavilions situated on the beach near the Palais and stretches along the seafront of Cannes.
Many countries from all over the world have their small bases here. Delegates attend seminars, interviews and meetings during the day and later on they often hold drinks and receptions to promote various aspects of their country’s film industry.
I’ll be posting more photos and interviews from the festival but in the meantime check out the links below to find out more.
> Official site for the Cannes Film Festival
> Wikipedia entry for this year’s Cannes Film Festival
> A Beginner’s Guide to Surviving Cannes
> IMDb entry for The Cannes Film Festival
> Tales of Cannes from previous years