The 61st Annual Cannes Film Festival was held between 14 and 25 May 2008.
At the end of the 1930s, shocked by the interference of the fascist governments of Germany and Italy in the selection of films for the Mostra de Venise, Jean Zay, the French Minister of National Education, decided to create an international cinematographic festival in France, on the proposal of Philippe Erlanger and the support of the British and Americans. Many towns were proposed as candidates, as Vichy, Biarritz or Algiers, although finally Cannes was the chosen one; thus, Le Festival International de Cannes was born.
In June 1939, Louis Lumière agreed to be the president of the first festival, set to be held from 1 to 30 September 1939. The German attack on Poland on 1 September 1939, followed by the declaration of war against Germany by France and the United Kingdom on 3 September, ended the first edition of the festival before it got to start.
The festival was relaunched after the War in 1946, in the old Casino of Cannes, financed by the French Foreign Affairs Ministry and the City of Cannes. Although the initial spirit of the French festival was to compete with its Italian counterpart, a secret agreement took place between both nations, so that they will celebrate their international festivals in alternating years. The first Cannes Festival had a considerable success, so when the Franco-Italian agreement was made public it was heavily criticised and considered as a "capitulation of France.
The next year, in 1947, the festival was held again as the Festival du film de Cannes, dropping the international nature, but only in name, as films from sixteen countries were presented. Moreover, the principle of equality was introduced, so that the jury was to be made up only of one representative per country. Also, this year the festival was held at the made-for-the-occasion Palais des Festivals, although the roof was unfinished and blew off during a storm.
The festival was not held either in 1948 or 1950 on account of budgetary problems, offering no competition to the Venetian festival those years. In 1951, owing to better relations between France and Italy, the Cannes Festival was moved to Spring, while the Mostra remained in Autumn.
In 1955 the Golden Palm was created, replacing the Grand Prix du Festival which had been given until that year. In 1959 the Marché du Film (Film Market) was founded, giving the festival a commercial character and facilitating exchanges between sellers and buyers in the film industry. Today it has become the first international platform for film commerce.
In 1962 the International Critics' Week was born, created by the French Union of Film Critics as the first parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival. Its goal was to showcase first and second works by directors from all over the world, not succumbing to commercial tendencies. In 1965 an hommage was paid to Jean Cocteau after his death, and he was named Honorary President for life. The next year, Olivia de Havilland was named the first female president of the festival.
The 1968 festival was halted on 19 May 1968. Some directors as Carlos Saura or Milos Forman had withdrawn their films from the competition, and on 18 May, filmmaker Louis Malle along with a group of directors took over the large room of the Palais and interrupted the projections in solidarity with students and labour on strike throughout France, and in protest to the eviction of the then President of the Cinémathèque Française. The filmmakers achieved the reinstatement of the President, and they founded the Film Directors' Society (SRF) that same year. In 1969 the SRF, led by Pierre-Henri Deleau created the Directors' Fortnight, a new non-competitive section that programs a selection of films from around the world, distinguished by the independent judgment displayed in the choice of films.
During the 1970s, important changes occurred in the Festival. In 1972 Robert Favre Le Bret was named the new President, and Maurice Bessy the Managing Director. He immediately introduced an important change in the selection of the participating films. Until that date, the different countries chose which films would represent them in the festival. Bessy created one committee to select French films, and another for foreign films. In 1978 Gilles Jacob assumed the President position, introducing the Caméra d'Or award and the Un Certain Regard section. Other changes were the decrease of length of the festival down to thirteen days, reducing the number of selected films thus; also, until that point the Jury was composed by Film Academics, and Jacob started to introduce celebrities and professionals from the film industry.
In 1983 a new, much bigger Palais des Festivals et des Congrès was built to host the Festival. It was nicknamed "The Bunker" and provoked many reactions against it. In 1984 Pierre Viot replaced Robert Favre Le Bret as President of the Festival.
It wasn't until 1995 that Gilles Jacob created the last section of the Official Selection: la Cinéfondation. Its aim was to support the creation of works of cinema in the world and to contribute to the entry of the new scenario writers in the circle of the celebrities. The Cinéfondation was completed in 2000 with La Résidence and in 2005 L'Atelier. Meanwhile, the Festival would obtain its current President, Gilles Jacob, in 2000, and in 2002 officially adopted the name Festival de Cannes.
The festival has become an important showcase for European films. Jill Forbes and Sarah Street argue in Booksources/0333752104, that Cannes "became...extremely important for critical and commercial interests and for European attempts to sell films on the basis of their artistic quality" (page 20). Forbes and Street also point out that, along with other festivals such as Venice and Berlin, Cannes offers an opportunity to determine a particular country's image of its cinema and generally foster the notion that European cinema is "art" cinema.
Additionally, given massive media exposure, the non-public festival is attended by many movie stars and is a popular venue for film producers to launch their new films and attempt to sell their works to the distributors who come from all over the globe.
Cannes on Television