Cannes Film Festival History


Every year, movie stars, famous directors, and other film industry heavyweights come together at the Cannes Film Festival to celebrate some of the year’s best cinemas. Developed as an alternative to the Vienna Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival has become one of the most famous international film festivals in the world.

Cannes Film Festival

It all began on Sept. 1, 1939, but was canceled the next day in response to the beginning of World War II. From Sept. 20 to Oct. 5, 1946, the first official festival was held at a former casino in Cannes, France. Forty-six movies were screened here, and eleven of those films won the Grand Prix of the International Film Festival that year. Famous films that competed in that year included “Notorious” by Alfred Hitchcock, “The Lost Weekend” by Billy Wilder, and “Gilda” by Charles Vidor. Nine other awards in different categories were given, including a prize for best director, the International Jury Prize, and the FIPRESCI Prize.

Palais des Festivals

In 1949, the Cannes festival was held in a new building specially designed for the event. The Palais des Festivals, also called the Palais Croisette, lost its unfinished roof due to high winds the first year it was used. After a few decades, the increased popularity of Cannes led to the need for additional space. In 1979, officials decided to build a new Palais des Festivals. The new building was first used for the 1982 festivities and was expanded in 1999. Currently, the Palais des Festivals has eighteen auditoriums and 25,000 square feet of space for exhibitions.

The Palme d’Or

Until 1954, the top prize conferred at Cannes was the Grand Prix of the International Film Festival. Each year, this award was represented by a different sculpture designed by a contemporary artist. In 1954, officials decided to create the Palme d’Or as a tribute to the coat of arms of the City of Cannes to substitute for the original award. The board of directors for the festival asked jewelers to submit designs for the new award. Lucienne Lazon’s design was chosen, and a trophy was made by artist Sébastien. Director Delbert Mann won the first Palme d’Or in 1955 for his film “Marty.”.

Beginning in 1964, Cannes officials decided to award the Grand Prix of the International Film Festival instead of the Palme d’Or. However, the board of directors reversed their decision in 1975 and once again decided to use the Palme d’Or. The 1975 Palme d’Or was modified from the original 1955 version and was presented in a red leather case with a white suede interior. The design of Palme d’Or has been modified several times since its 1975 reintroduction, it still retains its iconic leaf design.

Over the years, critically acclaimed directors, such as Roman Polanski, Robert Altman, and Martin Scorsese, have won the Palme d’Or. New Zealand director Jane Campion won a Palme d’Or for her 1993 film “The Piano.” She remains the only female director to win the award.

Six male directors have won the Palme d’Or twice. Francis Ford Copolla won for “The Conversation” in 1974 and “Apocalypse Now” in 1979. Michael Hanake, Emir Kusturica, Bille August, Shoei Imamura, and the Dardenne brothers are the other directors who have achieved this milestone.

Other Prizes

While the Palme d’Or is considered the most prestigious award, twenty films chosen to compete at Cannes can be recognized with one or more of seven other prizes. The Grand Prix, which was once called the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury, was first awarded in 1967. It is considered the second most prestigious award. The Prix du Jury is considered the third most prestigious award and has been awarded continuously since 1969.

Best screenplay, best actor, best actress, best director, and best screenplay prizes are also awarded to other films officially chosen to compete at the festival. Other prizes may be awarded to films other than the twenty chosen to officially compete at Cannes. These prizes include Caméra d’Or for best first feature film and the Cinéfondation prizes for student works.

Lasting Impact

Originally conceived as an alternative to the increasingly fascist Vienna Film Festival, Cannes has grown into one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world. Over 30,000 people visit Cannes in the spring to see some of the year’s best films. Twenty films chosen to compete at Cannes often go on to win Academy Awards, BAFTA Awards, and prizes at other festivals.