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How could Cannes achieve this greatness?

It is that time of the year when film aficionados all over the world pour over the flight schedules to Nice in France and hunt for accommodation in a Mediterranean costal city which was once a small fishing village. As it happens year after year, they are getting ready for their annual pilgrimage to Cannes to pay their obeisance to the most respected film event in the world, the 71st Cannes Film Festival, that premiere International Film Festival slated from May 8 – 19, 2018.

In this digital era, when more than two International Film Festivals open every day around the globe, throughout the year, what is so special about Cannes that hard core film professionals clamour to be there without fail?

Cannes offers you the possibility of watching the best crop of films of the year from every nook and corner of the world in its official sections and the Marché and network with your counterparts from everywhere. It puts the spotlight on selected films and filmmakers that new talents turn to celebrities overnight. Cannes Film Festival remains “one of the world's most widely publicized events and certainly the most important film festival in terms of worldwide impact”. It kindles a sense of hope and aspiration among young film talents.

From our own Satyajit Ray, to Akira Kurosawa, André Téchiné, Stephen Frears, Leos Carax, Lars Von Trier, Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Emir Kusturica, Steven Soderberg , Iranian Abbas Kiarostami, China’s Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wong Kar-wai, Cambodian director Rithy Panh, Thailand’s Abichatpong Weerasethakul, Fillipino Brillante Mendoza and many more shone through the spotlights of Cannes to the whole world. It was their gateway, rather the legendary steps, to fame and eminence.

Way back in 1959, Cannes understood that while the public attraction can be films and stars, films are also an industry and business. Marché du Film became an official entity of the Festival wearing the mantle to promote the film industry. It encouraged industry professionals to network and the business of film became its mantra. Marché marched from strength to strength year after year, that from its original home in the ‘bunker’ it reached the newly constructed Riviera, stretched all across the Croisette hotels and apartments and in 2000 to the beach fronts in the name of Village International.

Let us remember that when it was decided to organize an international film festival to compete with, rather in protest against, Venice’s Mostra, the Festival could have very well gone to Biarritz, the beautiful Bosque coast, which was also a popular seaside resort. But it was left to the directors of Hotels in Cannes with the support from the Municipal Councilor of Paris Georges Prade to win the Festival for Cannes. So the hotels in Cannes understood the business possibility of the event and fought to bring it to the city. And the Festival has not disappointed them. The rooms that would fetch a mere 50 Euros a day are sold for 150 Euros and more. The restaurants are full of clients. The shops and other business establishments register a heavy foot fall of festival delegates. More than 25000 people, including film professionals, journalists and other support staff stay in Cannes and its suburbs during the days of the festival, paying rent, hiring transport and eating food besides using other services.

How could Cannes achieve this greatness? It had its own problems. It had to organize its first festival in September 1939 within three months. And that also had to be cancelled with war breaking out in Europe. It was revived in 1946 but had to be cancelled in 1948 and 50 due to lack of funds. It had to be cancelled in 1968 due to protests from filmmakers.

But the Festival was blessed with some visionaries at the helm of affairs. Like Andre Malraux, the Culture Minister who also took over as the head of the Festival in 1959. He opened the Festival for the Nouvelle Vague directors and also doors of the Marché to industry professionals. Robert Favre Le Bret, The Director of the Festival started visiting countries looking for new directors and new films and truly internationalized the Festival programming. He remained the Festival Director for thirteen long years and after that became the President of the Festival till 1985 when he was replaced by Pierre Viot. Robert Favre Le Bret kept his association with the Festival for 26 long years. Pierre Viot remained in this position till 2000, that means 15 years.

Jilles Jacob took over as the Director of the Festival in 1978 and held that position till 2000i.e for a term of 22 years. In 2000 he was made the President of the Festival till 2014. So, for 36 years he was at the top of the Festival.

It was during this period that Cannes grew in stature, and size, introducing new talents, opening new avenues for young talents and new technologies. Jilles Jacob introduced Un Certain Regard Section to the official selections, founded Cinefondation inviting the best of student films from across the world and later establishing Residency programme in which young filmmakers could develop their scripts under expert guidance.

In 2000, Cannes invented the Village International for the nations to show case their film industries. In 2005, Atelier was added to enable young film makers to find producers. Thierry Fremaux who came in as Artistic Director in 2000 became the Director of the Festival in 2007 and is holding forte (18 years and going). He introduced Cannes Classics in 2004 screening restored classics, Short Film Corner in 2010. Cannes understood the value of long tenures for the people at the helm of affairs to provide strength and dynamism, allowing them the freedom to innovate, improve and establish new benchmarks for the festival.

The Festival’s budget is said to be in the region of INR 380 crores of which almost 50 per cent is granted by the Federal Government. The Festival organization is left free of all interferences in programming and all other festival and creative activities. The Government and the City of Cannes extend all support to the Festival to make it a success. The residents of Cannes do not protest when a part of the Croisette is blocked for 13 days and they have to make long detours and traffic congestions build up. They all actively participate in the festivities surrounding the event. It is their festival, their showcase to the world and also their livelihood.

Is there any message for us in this?

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