I was lucky enough to be invited to France this May and dropped into 68th Cannes Film Festival as a spectator, not a participant. The seaside town in France’s southern Cote d’Azur exhibited a film feeding frenzy with red carpets, lines of people pining for entrée to screenings at les Palais des Festivals, glitzy automobiles cruising the boulevard, and cafes overflowing with cineastes (filmmakers).
“The Festival de Cannes is a celebration of cinematographic art. We exist to showcase the new writing, new genres and new visual innovations of our time. Every year in May, Cannes gives a sort of snapshot – both ephemeral and lasting, when one adds up the years – of what constitutes the art of cinema.”
Pierre Lescure, President, and Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate, April 1, addressing the French National Assembly’s Commission for Cultural Affairs
The 12-day invitation-only Cannes Festival encompasses a rich array of film activities. In addition to providing screenings of current and classic films, Cannes is a Marché du Film (a film market) which attracts over 10,000 buyers and sellers from around the globe each year. Indeed in a town nearby the next day at a balcony restaurant I met Michael Shoel, President-CEO of Ariztical Entertainment who was traveling around France after scouring Cannes for LGBTQ films.
Official 2015 Poster
Le Festival de Cannes also includes “Leçons du Cinema, de musique, d’actrice, et d’acteur” – master classes on directing, composing, and acting taught by famous professionals such as Gena Rowlands, Lalo Shifrin, and Sydney Pollack. The non-profit festival also features beaucoup de interviews of current and esteemed directors and actors and cast and crew of the current year’s films.
There are also many special events such as Diversity Day – “because all stories matter” – as the flyer read that a teenager handed me. He was one of the fourteen aspiring filmmakers that Dana Glover brought to the festival. Glover, a stranger pointed the way to the parking garage’s elusive entrance and we chatted. He told me that he wears two hats: Director at Midian Films and Executive Director of the pro-diversity Cinema du Cannes Project (and yes, he’s Danny Glover’s cousin).
The festival’s Board of Directors selects over 300 artists from all over the world based on their work and peer recognition to serve on juries which determine who wins in each category.
They award prizes for best film, best actor, best actress, best director, and best script as well as a special jury prize. They select films and filmmakers from around the world as 2015’s awards attest.
Cannes also recognizes student and seasoned cineastes, short films and long and is considered a showcase for European and international films. Editors, cinematographers, sound designers and the rest are omitted in this high octane review and recognition of filmmakers.
The Palme d’Or (golden palm frond), the biggest prize of all, is awarded the last day. The Prize Un Certain Regard is for students and comes with 30,000 euros. This year the Palme d’Honneur (honorary prize) went to Agnes Varda (pictured below).
The first Cannes Film Festival was planned for 1939 with Louis Lumière as President. It never happened due to WWII. The festival debuted in 1946. The attendance of big stars such as Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, and Cary Grant in the 1950s popularized the festival.
I’ll leave the last word to one of France’s pre-eminent cineastes:
“The Festival is an apolitical no-man’s land,
a microcosm of what the world would be like
if people could make direct contact with one another
and speak the same language”