History of the Cannes Film Festival – Part VI the 1980s Otesanya David April 3, 2022

History of the Cannes Film Festival – Part VI the 1980s

History of the Cannes Film Festival – Part VI the 1980s


Posted by Larry Gleeson

The Cannes Film Festival, until 2003 called the International Film Festival, is an annual film festival held in Cannes, France, which previews new films of all genres, including documentaries, from all around the world and is widely considered the most important festival in the world in terms of impact as it draws attention to and raises profiles of films contributing to the development of cinema, globally boosts the industry and celebrates film at an international level, As such, a ten-part series on the Cannes Film Festival is underway with the publishing of the History of the Cannes Film Festival – Parts I,   II,   III, IV, and V.



As the scandals of the 1960s subsided and the advent and sprouting of the Directors Fortnight during the 1970s, the decade of the 1980s promised hope and witnessed the emergence of foreign cinemas that theretofore had been forbidden to be exported, were now being screened. While the diplomatic barriers were being shaken, the festival’s reputation as a filmmakers’ forum emerged. Cannes had proven its commitment to defending the filmmaker’s freedom of expression.



In 1983, the choice of winners was sharply criticized, with the jury giving out additional Jury’s Grand Prix and a Grand Prix for art films at the last minute. The choice of films presented largely stressed committed cinema that never gives in to government pressure. This was also the decade that gave rise to socially aware young directors.


The Tin Dum


Françoise Sagan, the president of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival in 1979, sparked off a major scandal in Cannes by declaring: “It is true that I tried to put pressure on the jury. I did so simply because the day before, Mr. Favre le Bret completely stepped out of his role by trying to do the exact same thing.” Françoise Sagan was in favor of awarding the Palme d’Or to Volker Schlöndorff’s film The Tin Drum, while a number of jury members preferred Apocalypse Now. At the last minute, both films were awarded the Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival.


Apocalypse Now



In 1983, Robert Favre le Bret, after witnessing the birth and evolution of the festival, stepped down as President of the Cannes Film Festival passing the torch to Pierre Viot. Viot teamed up with the 1978 appointed Delegate General (Director of the Festival), Gilles Jacob. Jacob had created the Caméra d’Or prize for the best first film which could be awarded to a film from any one of the three parallel events (the Official Cannes Selection, the Directors’ Fortnight, and Critics’ Week). He also grouped together the non-competitive categories in a selection called Un Certain Regard.

In addition, the town decided the Palais de la Croisette had become too small for the event and ordered the construction of the Palais des Congrès. The municipality’s initial idea for expanding the Palais Croisette was not viable and, given the Festival’s growing success, there was a need to go big and build a new one.


Palais des Festivals et des Congrès 1983


Its time had come and in 1983 the new Palais des Festivals et des Congrès was ready. The stakes were high as the structure would host numerous events throughout the year. Upon opening, many complained the architecture was too boxy and many described it as “a hideous concrete blockhouse.” Yet, the bunker style was accepted though it wasn’t a perfect fit for the festival. Nevertheless,  the famous twenty-four steps decorated with the red carpet has welcomed tens of thousands of festival-goers, and hundreds of screenings, and helped maintain the ongoing popularity of the Film Market.


Palais des Festivals et des Congrès


In 1986 the 39th Cannes Festival was declared open by 14-year-old Charlotte Gainsbourg and 94-year-old Charles Vanel, hand in hand symbolizing the tradition of the past and the emerging talent of the present day.


Charlotte Gainsbourg and Charles Vanel (Image cr. AFP)


The duo of Viot and Jacob formed a well-balanced team, between boldness and tradition. The Festival continued its efforts to protect freedom of expression and promote cinema as a whole, but it also became committed to defending thematically the  Rights of Man and of the Citizen.


Say tuned for the barrier-breaking 1990s!




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