The festival, which started back on 1 September, 1939, as a response to the increasingly fascist-leaning Venice Film Festival, only lasted opening night before World War II broke out. Undaunted, industry officials pushed forward after the war and it became an annual event at the Mediterranean resort.
What started out as a showing of a handful of movies has grown into a multi-faceted film festival with new divisions added every year.
The official selections are eligible for the Palme d’Or, or the Golden Palm, which is awarded by a jury for the best film that year.
That award began in 1955. Other prizes given to the official selections include Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and the special Prix du Jury, given for an outstanding film in competition.
The Un Certain Regard section began in 1978 as a way to showcase films that transmit a different sort of vision from more conventional movies. A jury selects the best film in this category as well.
Within these two categories are a number of directors who are showing their first full-length feature film. The best first-time director will receive the Camera d’Or, or Golden Camera, a prize which is also selected by a jury.
The Cannes Film Festival believes that those who begin in short film can (and do) go on to produce Palme d’Or material. This year, award-winning director Michel Gondry [Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), and Be Kind, Rewind (2008)] presides over this competition.
This year, cinema heavyweight Bernardo Bertolucci receives the Palme d’Honneur, given to an important director who has never won the Palme d’Or.
The Italian filmmaker, known for his epics, including Novecento (1976) and The Last Emperor (1987), will be honoured opening night, 11 May.
While the general critique of this year’s selections is the lack of Latin American films in the official selection and in the other categories of the festival itself, there are other venues associated with the 12-day event where international work is promoted.
Cannes has positioned itself, not only as an awards festival, but as a showcase for film industries from around the world.
Participating for the first time this year in the Cannes International Village are Azerbaijan, Belorussia, Estonia, and Montenegro. The Village promotes the global film industry worldwide.
Other industry tools include Le Marche du Film, or Film Market, on the sidelines of the festival, where 10,000 buyers and sellers come to do business.