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Glamour, drama and offbeat: 6 facts about the Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes Film Festival begins this week and runs until 26 May.

Kim Novak is hustled through the crowd of media to attend an evening performance at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956
Kim Novak is hustled through the crowd of media to attend an evening performance at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956
Image: AP Photo

THE CANNES FILM Festival begins this week and runs until 26 May.  Here’s six things to know about it.

1. LIGHTS, CAMERA… STOP! The first Cannes Film Festival opened on 1 September 1939 under the aegis of Louis Lumiere, who with his brother Auguste was the world’s earliest film maker. Fancy art-deco posters were commissioned, one of the Riviera resort town’s casinos agreed to act as the venue, and a clutch of French and foreign films was lined up for screening, including The Wizard of Oz.

But the date could not have been more fateful: World War II broke out and the festival was scrapped after less than 48 hours, with the screening of only one film, Hollywood’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The event was relaunched in September 1946, with British director David Lean’s Brief Encounter among the showings.

2. GLAMOUR AND GLITZ: Cannes’ reputation as a magnet for stars and jetsetters dates back to the mid-1950s, but in those days things were pretty relaxed. “The stars would walk along the seafront mingling with the public,” recalls Gilles Jacob, 82, the festival’s long-time president.

Today, the 12-day festival is a media whirlwind, with the stars making choreographed appearances with a police escort.

Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband Mike Todd surrounded by photographers at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955 (AP Photo/Babout)

3. NEW TALENT: Cannes prides itself on showcasing emerging directors. French “New Wave” icon Francois Truffaut walked off with the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) at the age of just 28 for his autobiographical The 400 Blows.

George Lucas, Ken Loach, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino all showed their first features at Cannes, respectively THX1138, Family Life, Sex, Lies and Videotape and Reservoir Dogs.

4. CANNES CONTROVERSIES: Polemic is as much a part of the Cannes scenery as empty champagne bottles.

In the Cold War of the 1950s, several provocative films about colonialism or Nazi death camps were hastily pulled to keep the diplomatic peace.

In 1968, a Czech-born film maker was unable to go home because of the Soviet invasion in Prague. That year, as student protests erupted in Paris, Jean-Luc Godard and Truffaut hung onto the curtains to stop a disputed screening, and the festival closed five days early.

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Actress Gina Lollobrigida signs autographs at Cannes in 1961.

5. FISTFUL OF PALMS: The Palme d’Or, created in 1955, has inspired many unofficial imitators.

They include the Palm Dog, which rewards canine celluloid talent and the Queer Palm, which is given to films that deal with gay, lesbian or gender issues. There has also been the Hot d’Or for the best pornographic movie, organised by a French magazine.

6. BOOS MAKE NEWS: A Cannes tradition is the media’s close scrutiny of how a film is received at a festival screening. Hisses and catcalls are characteristic of the event, reflecting deep passions about film-making — as well as partisan sentiments about favoured directors.

Getting booed at Cannes may be a director’s nightmare, but it does not mean a movie is doomed. Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), Truffaut’s La Peau Douce (1964) and Robert Bresson’s L’Argent (1983) are among the films that initially received a heckling but came to be regarded as masterpieces.

- © AFP, 2013

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