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The Cannes Film Festival

Every May, Cannes becomes the centre of the cinematic universe for 12 days as more than 30,000 producers, distributors, publicists, stars and entourages flood the town. There's no question that the Cannes Film Festival is the most prestigious of all the international film festivals and certainly the most glamorous. Images of stars dressed to kill and slowly mounting the red carpeted stairs of the Festival Palace while photographers click away are flashed to media outlets throughout the world.

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History of the Film Festival

The first festival of film at Cannes was scheduled for September 1939 as a response to the film festival in Venice which had degenerated into a forum for Mussolini's fascist propaganda. Hitler's invasion of Poland and World War II suspended festival activities but it began again in 1946, running uninterrupted ever since.

Structure of the Film Festival

Official Selection

The Cannes Film Festival is best known for the 20 films presented "In Competition". At the end of the festival, the jury distributes awards for the best director, actress, actor etc. and the most prestigious award, the Palme d'Or.

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Also part of the official selection are the "out of competition" films which are often by well-known directors and the "Un Certain Regard" films which frequently tackle less-commercial subjects. Completing the official selection are "Special Screenings", (sometimes at midnight) attended by the film crews, "Short Films" which receive their own award, "Cannes Classics", showcasing the best of festivals past, and works from the Cinefondation, the festival-sponsored studio that helps young directors develop their films under mentoring.

Other Sections

Director's Fortnight showcases films by international directors that show promise. Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee were some of the prior "discoveries".

Critics' Week presents a carefully-selected program of seven feature films and seven shorts. It is the director's first or second film and the style tends toward the avant-garde.

Marché (Marketplace) is the strictly commercial section. Some thousand films are screened in and around the festival palace as producers and distributors try to strike deals. The entire ground floor of the festival palace is filled with stalls of various production companies.

Getting Tickets to Festival Films

Unless you are connected to the film industry and apply well in advance it is nearly impossible to see a "competition" film or a film in the Marché screened in the Festival Palace. But you may be able to see films in Critics Week or Un Certain Regard. Free tickets to films entered in those categories are available through Cannes Cinephiles association on a first-come-first-served basis. They also have the occasional ticket to a festival film screened in a local theatre. Look for the Cannes Cinephiles booth outside the Festival Palace. For Directors Fortnight you can buy tickets at a booth next to the Theatre Croisette where the films are shown. You can also try your luck with other hopefuls holding up a sign for a spare invitation outside the festival palace.

In recent years, the festival has put on nightly screenings on the beach. The program is usually a good selection of Film Festival classics plus an occasional premiere.

Other Festival Activities

Cannes is crowded and expensive during the Festival but only in and around La Croisette. The rest of Cannes goes on as normal so you can still enjoy the beaches and the hilltop Le Suquet section. To participate in the festival excitement, you can always watch the stars walk up the red carpet for the nightly screenings in the Festival Palais.

Related Pages

Cannes Travel Guide

Festivals & Events on the French Riviera


Further Resources

Official Cannes Film Festival site

Director's Fortnight

Critics' Week


Cannes Cinephiles

Cannes Film Festival Blog


Cannes Festival Palace
Cannes Festival Palace: The red carpet

Festival Palace entrance
Entrance to the "Marché"

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