The Cannes Film Festival grew out of the Venice Film Festival which was designed as a competitive event between countries rather than a festival celebrating individual filmmakers. By 1938, the festival had become dominated by German and Italian Fascists who wanted to promote films representative of nationalist and fascist ideology. In reaction to this, the British, Americans and French withdrew from the festival and the French decided to establish their own festival. The rather sleepy little resort town of Cannes was chosen over Biarritz in part because it was the French Riviera but, more pragmatically, because the town’s citizens were willing to contribute financially to ensure the festival committee would choose Cannes.
It was originally slated to open on September 1, 1939 and a galaxy of Hollywood stars arrived for the opening night gala on August 31st, including Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Mae West, Norma Shearer and Spencer Tracy. However, the next day, September 1st, Hitler invaded Poland and three days later Britain and France declared war against Germany, resulting in the cancellation of the festival.
It wasn’t until 1946, after WWII, that the festival finally opened with films from filmmakers such as Billy Wilder, George Cukor, Roberto Rossellini, Alfred Hitchcock, Walt Disney and Jean Cocteau. Since then the festival has been held every year except for 1948 and 1950 because of financial constraints. In 1951, the festival dates were moved from September to May so as not to compete with the Venice Film Festival which takes place in the fall.
During the fifties and sixties, the Palm d’Or was created and the Marché du Film (Film Market) was founded. In 1968, the festival was once again interrupted due to student and labour strikes in France. It wasn’t until 1982 that the present Palais des Festivals et des Congrès was constructed on La Croisette and the iconic red carpet wasn’t introduced until 1987.
From Brigitte Bardot to Angelina Jolie, from Cary Grant to George Clooney, the Cannes Film Festival has been a glittering icon of beauty, talent and celebrity since its inception. But it is not just a center of cinematic glitz and glamour, the Festival is also a serious venue for films from countries around the world, offering opportunity to lesser known filmmakers from countries outside the United States and Europe to showcase their films.
Once again this year (2020), the film festival has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus. But, rest assured, the festival will return in 2021, full of hopeful directors, glittering celebrities and engrossing films.