Mon, May 25, 2009
Entertainment > Movie > 62nd Cannes film Festival

Cannes 2009: why does Cannes matter?

2009-05-25 08:46:36 GMT2009-05-25 16:46:36 (Beijing Time)

Cate Blanchett at Cannes 2008

  Why does Cannes matter?

It’s what the Oscars wish they were. It’s the ultimate film festival, the place where the world’s greatest come to pit themselves against their peers. From Jean-Luc Godard and Wong Kar-Wai to Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz, Cannes matters to everyone who cares about cinema. Among the movies will be masterpieces from established auteurs, discoveries from new talents, and films from parts of the world that you didn’t even know had cinemas. Despite competition from other festivals, Cannes premieres the biggest proportion of the year’s best films, year in, year out.

  Who goes to Cannes?

It’s a tight squeeze on the Croisette, the beachfront strip where it all happens; about 30,000 film professionals are accredited each year, including 1,000 directors and 4,000 journalists. Because it’s such a magnet for movie people, Cannes is the place to be if you’re trying to hustle your film project off the ground. Many go just for the networking, and don’t see a single screening. In compensation, they attend a lot of parties.

  Is it incredibly glamorous?

Only if you’re an A-list celebrity. If you’re a normal mortal, you spend your time pushing through crowds, being penned into hour-long queues, and then fighting for that all-important seat in that preposterously small, over-heated screening room. But it’s all worth it when the lights go down.

  Can members of the public see the films?

Not really. A few tickets are made available to locals, but most screenings are open only to accredited festival-goers. Different accreditations secure different levels of access. There’s a strict hierarchy in which people are admitted, brutally enforced by the blue-coated security staff. The only exception is the beach cinema, which is open to all.

How about celeb-spotting?

The best place for this is the red carpet staircase of the Palais des Festivals. This is where stars and directors enter their screenings, and where the paparazzi gather.

  How did Cannes become what it is?

It began in 1939, when outraged Frenchmen withdrew from the Venice Film Festival, which they felt had been hijacked by Fascist politics, and set up their own festival at Cannes. After the Second World War, it grew rapidly in stature; by the 1960s, it was widely associated with quality films and glamorous sex symbols.

The festival’s history is a who’s who of the movies. Past winners of the top prize, the Palme d’Or, include Federico Fellini, Luis Bunuel, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Akira Kurosawa, Steven Soderbergh, David Lynch, the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Mike Leigh, Abbas Kiarostami, Lars Von Trier, Roman Polanski and Gus Van Sant.

Acting prizes have been won by Edward G Robinson, Bette Davis, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Jeanne Moreau, Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Jack Nicholson, Isabelle Huppert, Isabelle Adjani, James Spader, Holly Hunter, Sean Penn and Bjork.

There seem to be several competitions going on at once. Why?

The Official Competition is the flagship event. It’s here that the Palme d’Or and most other prizes are won, though even getting selected for Competition is an achievement. The festival also screens films Out of Competition. These are typically special events, big premieres, and other films that don’t fit elsewhere in the programme.

Alongside the Competition, there’s an official selection called Un Certain Regard, which provides a survey of current world cinema. It’s here that discoveries are often made. There are also two competitions for short films: an official one, and the Cinefondation competition for film school efforts.

Running in parallel to the main festival are two other programmes of feature films and shorts, organised separately. Directors’ Fortnight screens work from new and cutting-edge directors, while Critics’ Week shows a further selection from young filmmakers. Both have been great launch pads for careers in the past.

  Is selection rigged?

About 4,000 films are submitted for Cannes each year. As only about 50 make it into the festival, the process is inevitably controversial. Some believe it favours films that have a French business partner. The trade journal Variety reported in 2003 that 18 of the 20 Competition films had at least one French business partner. A French film won in 2008 (The Class) but France hadn’t previously won since 1987.

Does the Palme d’Or improve a film’s box office?

It’s debatable. The Palme winners that went on to reach big audiences - Pulp Fiction, The Piano, The Pianist - would probably have done so anyway. Smaller films that won the prize - The Son’s Room, Rosetta, Eternity and a Day - hardly crossed over into the mainstream as a result. However, there’s no doubt that winning the Palme massively boosts a film’s profile in terms of attention and distribution.

  How is the jury selected?

Juries are made up of directors, actors, writers and critics. The personality of the chair is often decisive. The 2009 jury is chaired by the French actress Isabelle Huppert. John Boorman’s diary Bright Dreams, Hard Knocks gives an entertaining account of the horse-trading that goes on within juries.

  Why are there always porn stars in Cannes?

Cannes is also a marketplace for selling films, good, bad and pornographic. Until 2001, an alternative film festival used to be held at exactly the same time as the main festival: the Hot d’Or, which was to pornography what Cannes is to art cinema.

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