Cannes Film Festival: from Louis Lumiere to Spike Lee

Cannes Film Festival: from Louis Lumiere to Spike Lee

Scheduled: from 17 to 28 May 2022

Venice is thought to be the world's first major film festival. However, soon, a worthy alternative appeared in the industry, eclipsing everything that was before. Get ready as begins the journey into the history of the Cannes Film Festival.

Palme d'Or

The main prize of the Cannes Film Festival is the Palme d'Or, made of 24-carat (999-karat) gold on a faceted crystal stand. But it was not always so. First, the winners received the Grand Prix as a work of contemporary art by some famous author.

In 1954, the board of directors decided the prize should be some recognizable and original symbol. Between the jewelers, a competition was organized for the best project. And the very next year they handed over the same "Palme d'Or". The first was the film by Delbert Mann "Marty" about the bachelor Marty, who tried to make his life more colorful and interesting. Probably, the choice fell on the palm branch because it is the main symbol on the coat of arms of Cannes ― only there it is silver.


The world, including the Venice Film Festival, is gradually being taken over by Nazi control in 1938. The work of Mussolini's son, as well as other propaganda films, is winning. Then, in France, on the initiative of Jean Zey, Minister of Education and the Arts, the idea emerges to stage a counter-event to the Nazi-influenced gathering.

Louis Lumiere, one of the Lumiere brothers who invented the cinematograph and produced the first commercial film display in 1895, takes up the issue. He was going to be the festival's next chairman.

They planned to open in 1939, but only had time to show William Dieterle's picture "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," based on Victor Hugo's novel, before the Second World War broke out. In September 1946, the first grand opening took place in Cannes. The evening opened with a showing of Yuli Raizman's Soviet documentary "Berlin." The festival's rules were not at all like the ones we're used to.

As a result, the award was split among 11 candidates at the same time. There were already six the second time around, and nominations materialized, which grew and altered year after year. Initially, the event was hosted at the Casino de Cannes. The Palais des Festivals, commonly known as the Palais de la Croisette, was first opened in 1949 to host it.


The Cannes Film Festival lacked stability and funding in its early years. As a result, the tournament was postponed twice, in 1948 and 1950. The event has been conducted in May since 1952, and this tradition has continued to this day (unlike many others).

For some time, the participants themselves chose the film with which they went to the film festival, which caused many problems and conflicts. Some participants considered the picture of another contestant to be offensive or slanderous. So, the film left the festival. "The delegates often slammed the doors and left the festival, saying: "How could you allow such a slanderous picture to be shown?" told Gilles Jacob, director and president of the Cannes Film Festival from 2001 to 2013.

As a famous cultural event, the Cannes Film Festival drew a significant number of celebrities and served as a great venue to make contacts for future collaborations. In 1959, it included the film market (that is, the international market where films are commodified) into the structure of the festival. But some leftist filmmakers saw the move as over-commercialization — Cannes is no longer a story about art for art's sake. A whole confrontation began, because of which, in 1969, the section "Director's Fortnight" appeared, independent of the main review. There is no competition and no jury.

The 1950s were full of amazing (in varied ways) stories. "Around the World in 80 Days", directed by Frank Coraci, was selected for the competition program in 1957. Producer Michael Todd, like the live lions he brought to the celebration, appears to have been dazzled by success. The creatures attempted to attack the guests, who fled in terror. Warning: there were no injuries.

The Cannes Film Festival of those years was a little like the current one. The difference is the composition of the jury. In the first half of the 20th century, it included not only people whose professions are closely related to cinema, but also writers and scientists.

The French bohemia perceived the festival as a prestigious social event, an opportunity to relax with good company, and watch new films. For example, the director and writer Jean Cocteau (he headed Cannes in 1953, 1954 and 1957) could stand up while watching the tape and say that it was time to eat. And the film was really paused ― they went to dinner.

After already inspecting the picture. Significant changes took place in the festival's structure in the 1960s. A variety of programs have emerged that have allowed film professionals to exchange experiences and knowledge. For example, "Director's Biweekly" (which we talked about above), "International Film Critics' Week" for debutant directors and a short film competition.


As the new decade began, the jury was still made up of people who had no connection to the film industry. For example, in the 1970s, Gilles Jacob learned that the artist who was on the jury had last been to the cinema in 1937.

So in 1972, the formation of the competition program became the exclusive right of the leadership of the Cannes Film Festival. In the same year, the film festival was recognized as a cultural event of public importance ― initially, according to French law, it was considered an association. In 1978, on the initiative of Gilles Jacob, the nomination "Golden Camera" was established for debut full-length films ― and it still exists.

Jacob also came up with the idea to create an out-of-competition Un Certain Regard program, which has also survived to this day. The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, on the same Croisette, opened in 1982 as a new location for the Cannes Film Festival.


The 1990 ceremony was remembered for the brilliant success of Russian cinema. Pavel Lungin became the best director, Gleb Panfilov's drama "Mother" took the prize for outstanding artistic achievements, and Vitaly Kanevsky's film "Freeze - die - rise!" won the Golden Camera for the best debut feature film.

In 1993, the ACID parallel program appeared ― it was established by the Association of Independent Filmmakers. It involves mainly those films that do not yet have distributors. There is no separate prize. In 1994, Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" became the winner.

In 2002, the event received its familiar name ― "Cannes Film Festival" (instead of "Cannes International Film Festival"). A year later, the "International Village" was launched: the competing countries opened their pavilions, where they promoted their native cinema.

True, the Russian pavilion appeared only in 2008. In 2004, for the first time, the Cannes Classics program was held, dedicated to retrospectives of films from different countries, restored films and documentaries about cinema.

Initially, the festival was led by two people: the president and the general manager (this is both the general director and the executive director, and responsible for working with actors and directors). The first was chosen by a council of representatives from the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Senate, the Union of Cinematographers, the Authors' Society and the Theater Union.

The president appointed the general manager. In 2001, Gilles Jacob, already familiar to us, became president and changed the rules of the game. He divides the position of a general manager into general and artistic directors.

The first handles the organization, the second ― for the selection of contestants, the formation of the jury and celebrities. True, in 2007 everything was mixed up again, because the general director Veronica Kayla resigned and her duties were transferred to the artistic director Thierry Fremaux. He now remains the general director and artistic director of the film festival.

2010s and present

The closer to our days, the less large-scale changes occur in the structure of the Cannes Film Festival ― it has finally gained permanence and has become the way we already know it. Every May, in the French resort city of Cannes, at the Palais des Festivals and Congresses on the Croisette, the Palme d'Or is awarded to outstanding works of cinema.

2014 was distinguished by the victory of Andrey Zvyagintsev's script for the film Leviathan. In 2017, the 70th anniversary ceremony was held, in honor of which the edges of the leaves of the Palme d'Or were inlaid with diamond "dew".

After the departure of Gilles Jacob from the post of President of the Cannes Film Festival (that is, since 2014), the position passed to Pierre Lescure. The management is engaged in the jury's formation. In 2021, the American director Spike Lee became the chairman of the jury.

The structure looks like this: there is a main competitive program and an out-of-competition program. In the first version, you can get the Palme d'Or, Grand Prix, Jury Prize, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Special Jury Prize.

The out-of-competition sections include Un Certain Regard for originality (the winner receives support at the French box office) and Cinefondation, which supports emerging directors (mainly in short films). In addition, a separate "Palme d'Or" goes to the best short film, and the "Golden Camera" ― the best feature debut.

The Cannes Classics program has also been preserved. "Week of Criticism", "Directors' Biweekly" and ACID are parallel programs. "Fortnightly" often takes place in the former Palais de la Croisette, which is now part of the Marriott hotel complex.

2022 Cannes Film Festival

The 75th annual Cannes Film Festival is an upcoming film festival scheduled to take place from 17 to 28 May 2022. The program and the nominees can be found on the official website of the film festival.

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