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Cannes Film Festival History – is it all binge and bling?

Nicole Kidman at Cannes film festival

A review of the Cannes Film Festival – it isn’t all bling and binge, it’s also an event in which cultural and political influence are evident says journalist and fan of the festival Mohammad Reza Amirinia…

pretty street in cannesCannes in the south of France has gained great importance from being home to one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, the Cannes Film Festival. The city, which hosts no other significant feature, has long been considered a luxurious resort attracting not only filmmakers, artists and investors but numerous tourists and paparazzi.

Cannes Film Festival History

The Cannes Film Festival emerged as a result of fascism in Europe and in competition with the Venice Film Festival. In 1938, the French film “La Grande Illusion”, an anti-war film, was disregarded for the top prize, despite being favoured by jury members and critics. The official selection committee gave the honour to a German film, “Olympia”, which documented German success at the 1938 Olympics. The festival clearly favoured the countries of the Fascist Alliance. The French withdrew from the festival and other jury members also resigned in protest that artistic appreciation was being shunned in favour of political and ideological ambitions.

Venice’s bias led to a turning point and victory in the history of Cannes. The film makers and critics persuaded the French Government to sponsor a new festival to compete with Venice. The Cannes municipal authorities agreed to build a dedicated venue for the festival. The Cannes Film Festival was eventually born on September 1939 but it was immediately closed after the opening night due to the outbreak of war. The festival emerged again in 1946 and despite financial problems in the early years it has been celebrated continuously every spring since 1950.

cannes harbour

Cannes Film Festival – is it all binge and bling?

In the past decade, the image of the festival has been associated with lust, binge and bling. The off-screen activities of celebrities and festival attendees including extravagant parties in expensive hotels, luxury villas and yachts boosted this image. It over-shadowed the real quality of the festival which has presented a range of top films and intended to be a place of business for the film industry. The glamour and networking in parties are an integral part of the festival; the intellectual aspects of the festival and its cultural and political influence go beyond that image.

In the 1960s the Official Selection of the festival was a showcase for Cannes alumni to present their best films every year. However, it was making it increasingly more difficult for new filmmakers to have their films screened at the festival. As a result, “International Critics’ Week” was founded in 1962 in parallel to the Official Selection to enable first and second time directors to present their films.

Michael Douglas Matt Damon Cannes Film Festival

As the festival is sponsored by the government, it has always been subject to political and diplomatic influence. The disputes between authorities and filmmakers in 1968 led to the emergence of a new forum as a sidebar to the festival’s line up. A group of film makers formed “Directors’ fortnight” which was intended to be free from all forms of censorship and political influence.

In the 50s and 60s, the films were nominated by the participant countries and the idea was to promote all the films and award them accordingly. In 1972 the board of directors of the festival made a radical change to its policy and decided to move towards processing the selection of films by itself. Then the festival adopted a competition style and labelled the Palm d’Or as the top prize for the best film.

Despite all the criticism Cannes Film Festival can still be considered a gathering of intellectuals and visionaries beside artists and entertainers. Filmmakers lead our modern world with their ideas and philosophies by way of moving images. Cinema is a powerful tool which can be utilised in the right hands for good causes, or in the wrong hands to promote immorality, violence and self-destruction. It is common to find films that appeal to a wide variety of tastes and several films whether high or low quality which are placed in the selection line up.  The festival provides a platform for acclaimed critical and judicious films to premier and boost their appeal. There is a wide range of films in different categories which are carefully selected.

cannes paparazzi

It is obvious that as the festival is organised in Europe, European vision dominates the selection process which is different from Hollywood and the rest of the world. Hollywood high quality blockbuster films are made commercially with very high budgets targeting a worldwide audience. Their producers are mainly looking at commercial success. However, the Cannes Festival looks more for arty films.

cannes film festival view of the city

There is always much speculation and debate about which titles are going to be screened in the Big Show on the Croisette each year. And as ever, whatever the line-up of films is going to be, there are sure to be surprises and controversies.

Mohammad Reza Amirinia is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for documentary photography, street photography and photojournalism

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