Cannes Film Festival: A Guide For Newbies

Cannes Film Festival

Ian Gavan, Getty Images

Film buffs, celebrities, and jetsetters the world over eagerly await the Cannes Film Festival each year. The 2011 season marks the festival's 64th anniversary and will be held from May 11 - 22, transforming the quiet French seaside town in to a cultural hub where thousands of films will be screened over a two-week period. Being new to the experience can be overwhelming, so here's our little guide to get you through it from star to finish.

When: May 11, 2011 - May 22, 2011.

Official Name: Refer to Cannes, the town, and people will often assume you're headed to the film fest. Typically called the "Cannes Film Festival" in English, the official French name is actually le Festival de Cannes. Seem like an insider and not a newbie by pronouncing the town like the word "can" (yes, a can of soda) instead of "cans" (plural) or "kahns".

History of the Cannes Film Festival

The first iteration of of the Cannes Film Festival was set to be held from September 1 through 30, 1939, but the start of World War II ended the first edition of the festival before it even began. The fest officially began in 1946 at the Old Casino of Cannes. By the second year, films from 16 different countries were presented and judged by an international jury. It wasn't until 1955 that the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm), the festival's highest award, was created. In 1959, the Film Market began, marking the festival as a platform for international film commerce. In the next few decades, the judging boards made numerous changes to the way that films are entered and judged. In 1983, the Palais de Festivals ed des Congres was built to host the festival, although numerous structures were used previously to house the film screenings. The Festival's current President, Gilles Jacob, was appointed in 2000, and in 2002 the Festival officially adopted the name Festival de Cannes.

Fun Facts:
  • The highest award given out each year is the Palme d'Or, or Golden Palm.
  • The President of the jury this year is actor Robert De Niro. Last year it was director Tim Burton.
  • The festival was not held in 1948 or 1950.
  • All of the films shown in the official program are preceded by the Festival de Cannes trailer. The track used on this trailer is called "The Aquarium" and it comes from a classical work called "The Carnival of Animals", written in 1886 by French composer Camille Saint-Saens.
  • The first weekend of the festival is generally considered the busiest and the best time to spot celebrity attendees.
What to Wear: It's time to bust out the best duds. The evening dress code for the Cannes Film Festival is totally black tie fabulous, and, judging by the number of celebrities in attendance, oversized ice and jewels will be de rigeur. By day, business casual or casual chic is typically accepted, as many opt to sunbathe on the massive yachts docked near the harbor or enjoy casual jaunts around town when not attending the film events.

Weather: Expect the warm and sunny weather that the French Riviera is known for, with temperatures often reaching into the mid-to-upper 70s. At night, you'll expect considerably lower temperatures (and necklines, as the dress code for evening is 100% black tie).

Who is Going to Cannes?: An official selection of films chosen for the 2011 festival won't be chosen until mid-April, but rest assured, you'll see many of Hollywood's glitterati in attendance. Films shown last year included Robin Hood, Blue Valentine and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

How to Nab Tickets: There are six types of accreditation for the festival, each with different criterion and fees associated. For most, you need to be a member of the press or related to the film industry. Aside from screenings at the Cinema de la Plage (beach cinema) which are open on a first come, first served basis, and a limited number of tickets for the Director's Fortnight, there is no access to festival screenings for members of the general public.

More Information: Visit the official Cannes Film Festival website.
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