Flags of Cannes

History of the Cannes Film Festival (Part 6)

By Benjamin Craig

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The 1990s kicked off in Cannes with a continuation of the independent theme set by "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" the year before. Early in the decade, the festival featured films from David Lynch ("Wild at Heart"), Ken Loach ("Hidden Agenda"), the Coen Brothers ("Barton Fink"), Lars von Trier ("Europa"), and Spike Lee ("Jungle Fever"). Other notable films included James Ivory's "Howard's End", Robert Altman's "The Player", Joel Schumacher's "Falling Down", Mike Leigh's "Naked", and of course Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction". In 1993, New Zealander Jane Campion also made festival history, becoming the first (and currently only) female director to win the Palme d'Or, for "The Piano".

Although most of the action during the 90s took place on-screen, the festival did pause in 1997 to celebrate its 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion, a host of previous Palme d'Or winners were invited back to pay tribute to half a century of film in Cannes (and do the obligatory photo call). The festival also presented legendary Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman, with a special award – the Palme des Palmes (Palm of Palms) – in recognition of his true mastery of the cinematic medium. The following year, the festival also created a new side-bar to acknowledge the role played by film schools in developing new talent. Now a permanent fixture in the official selection, Cinéfondation showcases the best work from film students around the world.

As the 1990s drew to a close, the festival was able to look back on an impressive record of presenting an eclectic mix of films from across the globe. Highlights included Emir Kusturica's "Underground", Larry Clark's "Kids", Lars von Trier's "Breaking the Waves", the Coen Brothers' "Fargo", Ang Lee's "Ice Storm", Curtis Hanson's "L.A. Confidential", Thomas Vinterberg's Dogme 95 offering, "Festen", Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother", and Takeshi Kitano's "Kikukiro".

The turn of the millennium was greeted in Cannes with one of the first official selections to highlight the importance of digital technologies to the future of filmmaking. In 2000, Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" became the first digitally-shot film to win the Palme d'Or, opening the doors for a whole host of films not originated on celluloid to take a seat at cinema's top table. Alongside the arrival of digital filmmaking, the 'noughties' also saw several other key changes at the festival. In 2002, the brand got a makeover, jettisoning the lengthy title, Festival International du Film de Cannes, becoming simply, the Festival de Cannes. Organisers also experimented with several new additions to the official selection. Some, such as Tous les Cinémas du Monde (world cinema programme), were short-lived. Others, such as Cannes Classics, a side-bar which presents a selection of old films of archival importance, have thrived and remain permanent fixtures.

On the film front, the decade experienced its share of triumphs and controversies. Films which received accolades included Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood for Love", the Coen Brothers' "The Man Who Wasn't There", Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge", Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People", Roman Polanski's "The Pianist", Walter Salles "The Motorcycle Diaries", and Gus van Sant's "Elephant". Michael Moore made history in 2002, when "Bowling for Columbine" became the first documentary to screen in competition, and Lars von Trier's "Dogville" challenged people's imagination with its chalk-line 'sets' and ink-black themes. Some odd choices also managed to crop into the official selection, perhaps the most notable being Vincent Gallo's sophomore effort, "The Brown Bunny". With Gallo not only starring and directing, but also taking on pretty much every major creative role on the project, the resulting film is the posterchild for unwatchable self-indulgent nonsense and received one of the longest standing "boos" in festival history. Closing out the decade, Von Trier was back to ratchet up the shock value with his 2009 follow-up, "Antichrist" - another extremely dark outing, this time featuring genital mutilation.

With the first decade of the new millennium done and dusted, a light wind of change blew through the festival. The official selection started to include more left-field work to keep audiences and critics guessing, also loosening its noted bias towards competition alumni. While films from usual suspects such as Pedro Almodóvar, Takashi Miike, Mike Leigh, and Ken Loach, got a look-in, former golden boy, Lars von Trier found himself ostracised as persona non grata (an unwelcome person) in 2011 after making some bizarre comments about being a Nazi-sympathiser at the press conference for his film, "Melancholia".

Other highlights from the early 2010s included crowd-pleasers such as Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist" (2011), Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" (2011), Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012), and Yórgos Lánthimos' utterly bonkers, "The Lobster" (2015). More serious fare included, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life", Michael Haneke's "Amour" (2012), Mike Leigh's "Mr Turner" (2014), Todd Haynes "Carol" (2015), Gus van Sant's "The Sea of Trees (2015), and Olivier Assayas' "Personal Shopper".

Today, as Cannes continues the march towards its 75th anniversary, it remains both the most famous of all film festivals and one of the largest media events on the planet. The festival has an annual budget in excess of 25m euro, half of which comes from the French government via the Ministry of Culture and Communications (through the CNC), with the rest from the City of Cannes, various regional authorities, and a whole host of corporate sponsors. Each year more than 1,500 films from over 100 countries are submitted to be considered for a very limited number of berths in the official selection. And although the festival has worked hard to distance itself from its former 'sexy' image, the stars still show up to bask in the limelight, the crowds still gather to watch, and Cannes' reputation as the king of film festivals continues to get stronger each year.

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