It was originally started as a rival to the Venice Film festival by Jean Zay, the French Minister for National Education in 1939. Then known as the International Film Festival, it had to be abandoned due to World War II. In fact, German troops invaded Poland on the very first day of the festival – September 1, 1939.
Here’s what the Cannes website has to say about that fateful day:
“The first International Cannes Film Festival was about to begin. The parties were in full swing and the guests clearly enjoying their experience of Mediterranean Dolce Vita. The Palm Beach and the villas were full of aristocratic tourists and the local gentry. Count d’Herbemont, in charge of the festivities, had organised a cosmopolitan series of events throughout the Festival, including a fabulous evening event at the Eden Roc hotel before the event got underway. High society also flocked to the Bal des Petits Lits Blancs, a charity ball in aid of children with TB. That evening, while Fernandel was getting ready in the wings, a violent storm broke out over the Croisette, as if to presage the events about to change this history of France.”
“War was declared on 3 September. The 26 films which made up the 1939 Selection were never shown to the public in Cannes,” the website further goes on to say.
In order to make up for this, seven films from the 1939 line-up were showcased at Cannes 2002, the 55th edition of the festival. The Palme D’Or was retrospectively awarded to Cecil B. DeMille’s ‘Union Pacific’. The official first edition of the festival took place in 1946, after the war ended.
The Palme D’Or wasn’t always the Palme D’Or
In fact, the award didn’t come into existence till 1955. Till then, the award that was given out was called the ‘Grand Prix du Festival International du Film’. The Golden Palm would go out of fashion again in 1964, when it was replaced with another version of the Grand Prix, this time called the ‘ Grand Prix du Festival’.
It made a comeback again as the Palme D’Or in 1974 and has stayed that way ever since.
But even though the Palm came into existence in 1995, according to the Cannes’ official website, “The palm symbol appears on official documents from the very earliest birth of the Festival in 1939. Down the years, the event has toyed with its emblem, creating various backdrops and revisiting its lines, ultimately making it the symbol of its visual identity.”
Winners and double winners
Till date, Jane Campion remains the only female director ever to win the Palme D’Or. The New Zealander won it in 1993 for ‘The Piano’.
However, there have been eight directors who have won the Palme D’Or twice –including Francis Ford Coppola.
Filmmaker Woody Allen won the first ‘Honorary Palme D’Or’ in 2002. This award was created to award those who had never won a competitive Palme D’Or. In 2015, French filmmaker Agnès Varda became the first woman to get the honorary Palm.