While the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival is taking place as we write this, British Herald takes a look into the journey of one of the most prestigious film gatherings. Festival de Cannes or the Cannes Festival religiously follows the tradition, of raising the profile of deserving films. It also contributes towards the development of cinema, promoting the film industry worldwide, and celebrating cinema at an international level.
Here is how the reputed festival of the film came into being.
Threat from Fascists
In 1938 the major pre-war film-producing countries gathered for the sixth edition of Venice Mostra. (The Venice Mostra or the Vienna Film Festival was organised for the first time in 1932.)
At the Awards ceremony, the jury members, which included the French diplomat, Philippe Erlanger, were spellbound by an American movie. But due to the pressure from Hitler, the Nazi propaganda film Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl, and Italian films Luciano Serra, and Pilot by Goffredo Alessandrini bagged the accolades.
This provoked outrage among the members, especially the democratic countries. France, the United States and Great Britain left the Mostra.
Philippe Erlanger envisioned an event to replace the Mostra as he returned to France. To offer the world a festival that was free of pressure and constraints.
The then Education Minister Jean Zay, and Minister of the Interior Albert Sarraut, supported the idea of a film festival for Europe; where art is not influenced by political pressures. In June 1939, the media announced the creation of a film festival in France. The initiative was supported by various film-producing countries, led by the United States. It was scheduled to open on 1st September, the same day as the Mostra
France clearly had to create a setting as prestigious as Venice for its rival festival. Out of a list of ten French towns, Cannes won with the support of a municipal councillor from Paris. There was also support from the directors of the Cannes hotels and the crowd in and around George’s Parade, Cannes.
1939: The Festival is Cancelled
The first Festival of 1939 was initially scheduled from 1 to 20 September 1939 at the Municipal Casino Hall. The festival was to be held under the honorary presidency of Louis Lumière, the father of cinematography.
To uphold the universal spirit of the event: each country was free to choose its own films to present. And the jury represented all the participants. All the nations in attendance would receive a Grand Prix, in the spirit of artistic objectivity and absolute impartiality. France invited all film-producing countries. But Germany and Italy declined the invitation. Because of the ongoing global political crisis, only nine nations lined up to take part in the first-ever festival.
Two thousand invitations were sent out. A transatlantic liner rented by Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) docked in the Bay of Cannes. American stars Tyrone Power, Gary Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks and George Raft were among the passengers on the liner.
However, the event never took place. On 23rd August, the German-Soviet Pact resulted in most of the tourists leaving Cannes. Despite the grave situation, the Festival committee organised a private screening of the only film to feature in the festival, the first-ever film in Competition, The Hunchback of Notre Dame by William Dieterle.
On the day of the inauguration, Germany invaded Poland. Though the event was postponed to 10 days, the festival never got off the ground as war was declared on 3rd September and a general mobilisation got underway.
The First Festival
In early 1940, despite the declaration of war and national mobilisation, the authorities, led by Philippe Erlanger, tried to keep the Cannes Film Festival project alive. It was not until 1946, with post-war France in a benighted state, that the International Film Festival, initially launched nine years earlier by Philippe Erlanger, finally took place for the first time, beginning on 20 September.
“The world threw itself into this first festival in a state of near-intoxication, under a sun that shone constantly until mid-October,” Philippe Erlanger said.
The festival opened in the gardens of the Grand Hôtel by the American singer Grace Moore, with a host of entertaining events which created a cosmopolitan, festive atmosphere around the first Festivals, with fireworks, torchlit parades, promenades, doves released into the sky, flower battles on the Croisette, air displays, fashion shows and the election of the first Miss Festival, to name but a few…
The organisation of the Competition, based on the principles laid down in 1939, featured 19 countries and an international jury presided by Georges Huisman. The Festival de Cannes or the Cannes Film Festival came into existence to feature the greatest names in cinema.