The unique combination of ground-floor, first-time moviemakers and international stars creates an environment that is unlike any other. On the one hand, you have the very grand, art-above-all philosophy of the Cannes Film Festival, stated on the official Web site as an intent to be "a crossroads for world cinema," an apolitical "melting pot of creativity" in which the "linguistic boundaries should fade away in the face of universal images." On the other hand, you have the celebrities strolling down the red carpet at the main screening, the press snapping pictures at every turn, and festival guards who have been known to refuse admittance to people whose attire doesn't meet their standards.
This intense meeting of art, stardom and finance -- Cannes is the number-one international market for first-time films, and multi-million dollar deals are signed there every year -- attracts in the neighborhood of 27,000 film industry representatives and countless tourists. The perfect spring weather in Cannes doesn't hurt, either.
The international feel of the festival, the focus on erasing national boundaries in the name of cinematic art, goes back to the political mood of the 1930s. The fascist regimes in Europe were gaining influence, and this influence was affecting the art world. The main international film festival at that time was held in Venice, Italy, and in 1939, a French film was the shoe-in for first place. Instead, a German film and an Italian film -- both with political ties -- shared the prize. The French, British and American judges resigned in protest.
In response to what was perceived as the political corruption of the film festival in Venice, France started its own. The Festival International du Film began in 1939, though that one was cancelled after a single screening (William Dieterle's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") because Germany invaded Poland and France joined World War II. The festival gave it another try in 1946, and it stuck. Now known as the Festival de Cannes, what began as a protest has become the most widely recognized film festival in the world. To learn more about the festival's background, check out The History of the Cannes Film Festival.