Cannes Film Festival: a breakdown for beginners

Sure you’ve heard of it but how much do you actually know about the world’s most prestigious and exclusive film festival?

Neil Churchill May 17, 2016

Where, why, when?
The Cannes Film Festival – or Festival de Cannes to be correct – is an annual festival held in the south of France that previews new films and documentaries from a kaleidoscope of genres, running this month from May 11-22.

Founded in 1946, anyone who’s anybody in Hollywood makes the trip to Cannes to promote their films, sign new roles and sip champagne on the glamorous Côte d'Azur. Quite simply, it's the mecca of film festivals. 

The awards
Cannes' most famous award is the Palm d'Or - the Golden Palm; think of it as the Best Film award. But also up for grabs are the Special Jury Prize - aka second place - the Queer Palm for LGBT-related films, Camera d'Or for best first feature film and Un Certain Regard, which recognises the most innovative and original work. The real highlight of course is the Palm Dog - yep, for the best canine performance.cannespalmdor As much as it is about celebrating new flicks, Cannes has a history of recognising arthouse movies over general populist films. 

As such the winners are quite often little known names outside of the industry and many of the winning films go unnoticed by the masses. For instance, have you honestly heard of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), The Class (2008), or The Son’s Room (2001)? That said occasionally and deservedly so the winner becomes a household name, such as The Pianist, Pulp Fiction and Apocalypse Now.

Panned at Cannes
Although the festival is about celebrating new films - and that it does - it is equally known for its bombs. Yes Cannes may be prestigious but that doesn’t mean the great and the good of filmmaking are shy at booing a bad flick.

The Da Vinci Code, Taxi Driver and Inglourious Basterds have all received heckling when the reel stopped, despite one of those in hindsight actually being brilliant. This year's Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart received boos as the credits rolled, although many flocked to Twitter to defend the film. 

What to watch
If a film is well-received at Cannes it's often a sign of its quality, even if it doesn't rake in the big bucks on its Hollywood release. Films already being touted as ones to watch out for this year include: Jeff Nichols' period piece Loving about interracial marriage, Marion Cotillard's contemporary family drama It’s Only the End of the WorldSean Penn’s humanitarian drama The Last Face starring his ex-wife Charlize Theron, The Nice Guys (below) starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, Steven Spielberg's interpretation of Roald Dahl's The BFG and Woody Allen's Cafe Society, which opened the festival. 

Hotel or yacht?
When the great and the good of Hollywood roll into a glamorous town on the French riviera, it's not really surprising that the megayachts follow. However, maybe the boats should be saved for Monaco just up the coast because Cannes has some sumptuous hotels, namely Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc. Part of The Oetker Collection, few who have stayed there would argue against it being the best hotel on the south of France. If you want to act like Hollywood royalty - or just pure royalty for that matter - this is where you need to stay. 

The other Cannes festival
There's a little known secret about Cannes. While the great and the good of the movie business network away under the watchful eyes of the world's media, just one mile down the coast there is another film festival also taking place. One that is less mainstream, a lot less glamorous, more sleazy and undoubtedly more scandalous.

The Hot d'Or is the adult film industry's answer to Festival de Cannes, the dark sheep of the film awards family. So, now you know where to go if you find Cannes a bit dull.

Details: visit