Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Film Festivals Work

Festivals Around the World
Cannes Film Festival logo
Cannes Film Festival logo
Image courtesy Festival de Cannes

Visit just about any big city in the world and you'll find at least one annual film festival. There are literally thousands of them -- from Albania to Zimbabwe. But the undisputed grande dame of international film festivals is Cannes, which for more than 50 years has lit up the French Riviera with its glittering, star-studded spectacle.

Cannes Film Festival

Cannes is as much an event in itself as it is a showcase for some of the best films in the world. Its red carpet is graced by some of Hollywood's A-list celebrities, and its roster of past winners reads like a film buff's bible: "Easy Rider" (1969), "Taxi Driver" (1976), "Apocalypse Now" (1979), "Pulp Fiction" (1994) and "Fargo" (1996).

The winning feature at Cannes each year walks away with the prized Palme d'Or along with worldwide recognition. Other awards given out include the Grand Prix, the Jury Prize, Best Performance by an Actress and Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay. There are also individual prizes given out to short films. For more information, see How the Cannes Film Festival Works.

Berlin International Film Festival

Berlinale logo
Berlinale logo

The two other big names in the international film festival circuit are the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) in Germany (see General Regulations for Entering Films in the Berlinale 2005 to find out about submitting and Berlinale: Tickets to learn about attending), and the Venice International Film Festival (Venice Biennele) in Italy.

The Berlin Film Festival was founded in 1951, just six years after the end of World War II, as part of an attempt to restore Germany to its former artistic glory. The first film screened at the Festival was "Rebecca," Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier's novel by the same name. The Berlin International Film Festival quickly gained momentum, and by the mid-1950s, it rivaled Cannes and Venice as one of the premiere film festivals in the world.

Each February, an International Jury decides which films will be awarded the top prizes at Berlin -- the Golden Berlin Bear and the Silver Berlin Bear. Prizes are also given out for Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Outstanding Artistic Contribution, Best Film Music, Best European Film and Innovation in Film. Other awards are given by a separate jury to short films.

Venice International Film Festival

The Venice International Film Festival (see the Venice Biennele FAQ to find out about submitting and Venice Biennele: Tickets to learn about attending) has a much longer history than its counterpart in Berlin. In fact, it is the oldest film festival in the world. It evolved out of a Venice art exhibition that had its start back in the late 1800s. In 1930, the event was expanded to include music, theater and cinema. From 1935 onward, the film festival became an annual part of the Biennele. The famous filmmaker Federico Fellini once said that "entering the Film Palace of the Venice Film Festival was like passing a final exam."

The Venice International Film Festival lasts for 10 days each September. The biggest competition is the Venezia 61, in which filmmakers vie for the Golden Lion award for best film. Prizes are also awarded in several other categories including best short film and best first feature.

For more information on film festivals and related topics, check out the links on the next page.