For decades, the Cannes International Film Festival has attracted thousands of filmmakers from around the world to celebrate new cinema, lighting up the Riviera region in southern France for 12 days each May.

Cannes is one of the three most important film festivals in the world of cinema, along with Venice and Berlin, and the French festival carries a story and a long history.

What does Hitler have to do with Cannes?

Had it not been for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and World War II, we would have celebrated the 82nd edition of the festival this year. Curiously, if it weren't for Hitler as well, there might not have been a Cannes festival at all. Cannes was initially conceived as a confrontation with the Venice Film Festival, which fell under the influence of Benito Mussolini and Hitler.

In 1932, Venice saw the opening of the world's first international film festival. Over the next few years, the festival grew in popularity and attracted entries from more than 20 countries.

This coincided with Hitler and Mussolini's control of the festival. Hitler took over the Fans Prize and awarded it to his favorite director Leni Reifenstal's "Olympia," and the Mussolini Cup to an Italian film.

By 1938, the Venice Film Festival had become a vehicle for fascist and Nazi propaganda, Hitler and Mussolini controlled film choices and awards, and the situation had become abusive for the United States, Britain and France, and those countries were already heading for a clash with the two fascist powers.

The three countries, with the support of other countries, decided to boycott the Venice Film Festival. France went further and decided to hold a "fair festival" that could compete and surpass the Venice Festival, and the Festival de Cannes was launched in 1939.

Demonstration in front of the Palais des Festivals in Cannes in May 1968 (Getty Images)

Festival de Cannes Generator

In September 1939, Cannes was preparing to host its first film festival. Handouts were designed and invitations were sent, hotels were preparing to handle the crowds, and a cruise ship was hired to bring celebrities from Hollywood.

But the clouds of war remained hovering over Europe, and tourists fled home, yet the festival opened and after the screening of just one film (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame), Hitler invaded Poland and World War II broke out. All other films returned home without screening after the French government announced general mobilization and the cancellation of the festival.

World War II lasted until 1945, and a year later the French government agreed to revive the Festival de Cannes as a way to attract tourists back to the Riviera, which began in September 1946 with the attendance of 21 countries.

The festival schedule included films including Austrian-American director Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend, French director René Clément's The Battle of the Rails, British director David Lane's Brief Encounter, and 11 films were awarded first prize, led by Brief Interview.

Second birthday of the Festival de Cannes

The festival faced stiff competition from other festivals, and its career was hampered and the 1948 and 1950 editions were cancelled due to lack of funds, before the annual event was rescheduled to May beginning in 1952 with the Palais des Festivals as its permanent headquarters.

In 1955, the Palme d'Or was presented for the first time, and it went to Dilbert Mann's Marty, moving the festival to a new stage after previous editions were like community events, during which each film that was screened received an award.

With time and stability the festival has grown in popularity with the presence of celebrities such as Kirk Douglas, Sophia Lauren, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, Carrie Grant, Romy Schneider, Alain Dillon, Simon Senioret, Gina Lolobrigida and Pablo Picasso.

The Last Bump

In 2020, the pandemic led to the cancellation of the event, although the festival continued its work in the film industry by selecting and supporting 56 feature films and 28 short films. The following year, the festival was organized virtually and allowed film professionals from all over the world to participate.

This was the latest stumbling block of the festival, which opened its 76th edition on Tuesday with the French film Jeanne du Barry, continuing its long journey in search of greater success every year.