There are two official juries at the Cannes Film Festival: the Feature Films Jury and the Short Films and Cinefondation Jury. Voting is by secret ballot, and majority rules. Members of the juries cannot have a film in competition.
Jury members are invited by the same selection committee that chooses the films. The official jurors are all people in the film industry, and more recently are almost exclusively directors or actors. It is an honor to be invited to sit on one of these juries -- an even greater one to be jury president. The committee invites actors and directors it wants to recognize for great achievement. Jury members for the 2006 festival include the Chinese film director Wong Kar-Wai (serving as president), the Italian actress Monica Bellucci, the British actress Helena Bonham Carter, the British actor Tim Roth and the American actor Samuel L. Jackson.
There are lots of awards at the Cannes Film Festival, but the biggest of them all is the Palme d'Or, which is awarded to the best feature film and the best short film in Competition. In general, when people refer to "the Palme d'Or," they mean the one for feature films. In the past decade, there have been two ties for the Palme d'Or -- "The Piano" and "Bawang Bieji" in 1993, and "Unagi" and "Ta'm e Guilass" in 1997.
The Camera d'Or is awarded by a separate jury to the best first-time film in the entire festival, including all sections of the Official Selection, the Directors' Fortnight and International Critics' Week. By Cannes standards, a "first-time film" is at least an hour long and its director has never before made a movie of that length for the cinema or TV.
One of the coolest things about the awards at Cannes is that they can be a little bit different every year. Juries have the freedom to add awards as they see fit, depending on the movies in the Official Selection that year. In 2000, "La Noce" by Pavel Lounguine won an award for the best ensemble of actors; in 1998, "Velvet Goldmine" by Todd Haynes was awarded the Prix de la meilleure contribution artistique au Festival International du Film -- the prize for the greatest artistic contribution to the Festival. In 1991, Samuel L. Jackson won a best supporting actor award for his role in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever" -- the first supporting actor award presented at the Cannes Film Festival. To view the entire archive of Cannes Film Festival awards, visit the official Web site.
While it is an extremely big deal to win an award at Cannes, there are other prizes to be had too. The screenings themselves are a major aspect of the festival, a place for new films, new artists and new artistic approaches to be seen by the people who matter in the film world. The Marche du Film at Cannes is the biggest international film market, and whether or not a movie wins the Palme d'Or, it has the chance of attracting the attention of critics and producers who can launch careers in the movie industry. Especially for an "indie" film, an invitation to Cannes can be a huge boost, and a win usually means serious dollars from producers who want to get in on the next big thing.
For more information on the Cannes Film Festival, including details on International Critics' Week and the Directors' Fortnight, as well as travel information, check out the links below.