It’s officially spring, and this means one thing: Cannes season is approaching. Growing up in France, there was a sense of the cycle of life, always and never the same, in the yearly media coverage “en direct de la Croisette”, with all of our six national TV channels – those were the days – reporting daily on the films, the stars, and the topless starlettes on the beach.
For a strictly invitation-only event, ‘le Festival’ is big business: according to City of Cannes website, it “provide[s] both the city council and all sectors of activity in Cannes with a very large proportion of their annual income. (…) Local businesses see a ten- or even fifteen-fold increase in turnover. Shops stay open longer – some even for part of the night – and employ twice the number of staff. This increase is not only noticeable during the Festival period, but also during the various conferences held each year at the Palais, and more broadly in the million tourists who visit the city throughout the year. Cannes is second only to Paris as the French city that hosts the greatest number of conferences, and this favourable position comes as a result of the film festival.”
Cannes Film Festival was created to make up for the lack of tourists in low season. The first festival, planned for 1939, was postponed by the war and eventually took place in 1947. The original vision included right from the start a purpose-built venue, the first Palais des festivals, opened in 1949. The new Palais, inaugurated in 1982, has a total surface of 35,000 m² and spaces for all purposes, from a 2,000+ theatre to multiple reception rooms for cocktails and galas, huge exhibition halls and a terrace overlooking Cannes’ marina.
The Palais plays host to many other festivals and events throughout the year, such as the MIDEM, a 7,000-delegate international music industry conference; the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, an 11,000-delegate advertising festival; and major events programmed by the Palais itself, such as the Festival International des Jeux, a free fair all about gaming which attracted 175,000 visitors over 3 days in March 2013; the Festival de Danse, a contemporary dance biennial ; and an annual performance series, “Sortir à Cannes“, which 2012-2013 season highlights included Alvin Ailey II, Amadou et Mariam and the stage version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses directed by John Malkovich.
The management structure of the Palais des festivals is a public-private partnership quite common in France: a single entity, called the Société d’Economie Mixte pour les Evénements Cannois (SEMEC), is in charge of managing the Palais des festivals, leading the municipal tourism strategy and programming cultural events. It’s run like a private company, but funded at 80% by the City of Cannes and under contract to deliver its public service mandate of economic growth and cultural excellence: in other words, a heavy public investment into the cultural life of the city, with the understanding that it will improve its reputation, bring visitors, increase spending and create jobs.
There’s a festival for everything in Cannes, from Flamenco to Fireworks, and even one dedicated to the art of shopping – which turns out to be a rather classic Fashion Festival with lots of coupons. Most of these festivals are publicly funded and managed, and the oldest and most famous of them, a non-for-profit organisation created upon the suggestion of the pre-war Minister for Education and Fine Arts, Jean Zay, sees half of its €20 million budget provided by the Ministry of Culture (via the National Cinema Centre), the City of Cannes and other regional authorities. Cannes Film Festival’s economic impact was estimated between €130 million and €200 million in recent years.
Pierre Viot, Festival President from 1984 to 2000, has a simple and pragmatic way of describing this impact:
“Le Festival, c’est la culture plus l’économie.”
For a more poetic vision, Jean Cocteau has the perfect quote:
“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.”
And just for the absurdity of the analogy:
“The Festival is like the telephone. One may criticise it, but it is useful.” Louis Malle.
The City of Cannes website features a great selection of quotes, figures and anecdotes about the Festival.
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The 66th Festival de Cannes runs from 15th to 26th May 2013, with Steven Spielberg as Président du jury. The Great Gatsby by Australian director Baz Luhrmann will be screened on the opening night, in 3D (out of competition).