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The History of the Cannes Film Festival

For those in the film industry, and even those outside of the film industry, we associate the Cannes Film Festival with excellent filmmakers and their unique creations; however, do we know the history and purpose of this world renowned event? Let’s take a journey through the history of Cannes:

After French film director, Jean Renoir’s film, La Grande Illusion was snubbed at the Venice Film Festival in 1938; the French withdrew from the festival. Realizing that the festival favored the fascist countries, such as Germany and Italy, the British and American jury members also resigned from the festival.

Film critics and filmmakers joined forces and approached the French Government with a petition for their own international film festival; one, in which, films would be judged on their artistic and creative ability versus politics and ideology. With the initiative of Jean Zay, Minister for Education and Fine Arts; and headed by Philippe Erlanger, Head of Action Artistique Française; Robert Favre Le Bret; and Louis Lumière, the co-inventor of cinema, the group persisted with the French Government until they finally got the green light for the festival.

On 1 September 1939 the “Festival International du Film” opened; however, it didn’t make it past the opening night due to World War II emerging the following day. The festival remained silent throughout the war. After the persistence they went through to get this festival approved and up and running; film connoisseurs were not going to give up that easy. With the likes of the French ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education and the president of the festival, Louis Lumière, the festivals official inaugural season began screening on 20 September 1946. 

This was an era of post-war, film noir, period pieces, and fantasy films. Some of the first films screened at the Cannes Film Festival displayed this variety of picture style. The audience and jury were romanticised with David Lean’s Weekend Encounter and fanaticised with Walt Disney’s Make Mine Music as well as, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. Film noir features also made their presence with films such as, George Cukor’s Gaslight and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. There were still signs of the Fascist era in the limelight with Italian Neorealist films, such as Roberto Rossellini’s Rome Open City.

Both 1946 and 1947 proved to be successful years for the international festival; however things got a little rough from there. Due to financial troubles, the event did not take place in 1948 or 1950; but, took place in between with a stellar list of filmmakers in 1949. Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Amorosa Menzogna, Carol Reed’s The Third Man and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s House of Strangers were among the line-up.

Today, the Cannes Film Festival is considered to be one of the biggest media screening events in the world. The event attracts filmmakers from over 100 countries and brings in over 1,500 films each year.