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Structure of the Cannes Film Festival (Part 1)

By Benjamin Craig

"In Competition", "Out of Competition", "Official Selection", "Critics' Week", "Directors' Fortnight", "the Market"... having been the first film festival to develop side-bar events, a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking Cannes now appears to be a bit of a confusing mess. In reality, there are actually five organisations overseeing eleven major sections that comprise what is commonly referred to as the "Cannes Film Festival'.

Festival de Cannes

Originally known as the Association Fran├žaise du Festival International du Film, the Festival de Cannes is the 'official' organisation which runs the event. Headquartered in Paris, the Festival de Cannes manages the six core film programmes (participation in any of which affords a film permission to be promoted as having gained "Official Selection" at Cannes). The six programmes are:

Compétition (Competition)
The competition is the festival's main event and where you'll find all the glamour, glory, and occasionally, controversy. Films screening in this section are referred to as being "in competition" and vie for an assortment of awards. The Holy Grail is of course the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) for best picture, one of the most prestigious film awards on the planet. Although it doesn't always translate into box-office gold like bagging a Best Picture Oscar, a win can still give a film a massive lift. For art-house films it can help secure a wider release and increased revenue; for foreign-language films it means worldwide distribution. Historically, the competition has only been open to narrative films, but documentaries have occasionally slipped in (such as Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11", which won the top prize in 2004).

Compétition - Courts Métrages (Short Film Competition)
The short film competition runs in parallel to its bigger brother, presenting a selection of films from around the world which vie for the Palme d'Or du Court Métrage (Golden Palm for Short Films) and a range of special jury prizes. The programme normally includes around 7-10 films.

Hors Compétition (Out of Competition)
Very early on in the festival's development, organisers realised there was value in inviting high-profile films to premiere at the event, even if they didn't necessarily qualify for the competition. More red carpets, mean more celebrities to pose for photo calls. In turn, this works to enhance the festival's image in the press and by extension, its reputation in the minds of the cinema-going public. And all without compromising the artistic value of the competition. Each year, the festival invites around 5 - 10 films to screen out of competition, ranging from highly-anticipated Hollywood blockbusters to the latest work from a respected European auteur. Recently this programme has also been expanded to include several 'midnight screening' slots, reserved for films which lean towards the cult end of the spectrum.

Un Certain Regard
Created in 1978 to roll-up several ambiguous programmes, Un Certain Regard (which loosely translates as "at a glance") is the main showcase section of the festival. Intended to be a "survey of current world cinema" it typically focuses on films from newer directors, films which use innovative storytelling techniques, and also work from countries which have a low cinematic output. Historically, Un Certain Regard was purely showcase, but these days the festival appoints a jury which bestows an award for the best film in the selection. They jury can also award Special Jury Prizes to other films as it sees fit.

Added in 1998, Cinéfondation is the festival's competition for short films made by students in educational institutions around the world. The Short Film Competition jury also casts its critical eye over Cinéfondation, making awards to the best films in the programme. Cinéfondation awards also come with a cash prize for the filmmakers.

Cannes Classics
In recognition of the importance of film heritage, the festival added a new section in 2004 which has become known as Cannes Classics. The programme is used to showcase new or restored prints of classic films and also rediscovered footage from days gone by. The festival works closely with major international archive collections and leading restoration companies to present around five films in the programme each year.

Séances Spéciales (Special Screenings)
Not strictly an official section per se, in recent years the festival has also screened a handful of films outside the official programmes (and rather confusingly, these have not been considered part of the Out of Completion selection).

Continue reading... Part 2: Other Organisations >

Cover of Cannes - A Festival Virgin's Guide, by Benjamin Craig

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