Festival de Cannes 1939

The Festival de Cannes 1939 was scheduled for September. However, due to the outbreak of World War II, it was cancelled and the 1st Cannes Film Festival was held in 1946 after the end of the war.

By Balthazar Malevolent

Festival de Cannes 1939

The first Festival was to take place in September 1939. Writer, diplomat, and member of the 1938 Venice Festival jury Philippe Erlanger, and Jean Élie Paul Zay, French Minister of Education, were the instigators of the Festival de Cannes.

The creation of the festival in France was in many ways brought about by the events of the pre-war Venice International Film Festival. As Hitler's regime in Germany strengthened and the Third Reich began to forge ties with Fascist Italy, their representation at the Venice Film Festival became increasingly dominant.

In 1938, under the pressure of the German delegation, the jury reversed its decision to award the main prize of the Mussolini Cup to an American film (this had been leaked to the press and exhibitors); two films simultaneously received the main prize: the Italian film Luciano Serra Pilota by Goffredo Alessandrini and the German documentary film Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl, which was not entitled to receive the highest award because it was not fiction.

As a result, France concluded that it was necessary to have its own festival with an independent jury and broad representation from all countries. Vichy, Biarritz, Lucerne, Ostend, Algiers and Cannes were all considered for the competition, however, Paris was not suggested from the start. After special commission visited the candidate cities, Cannes was chosen. The organisation of the Festival was entrusted to the Association for Democratic Arts and Philippe Erlanger was appointed as Film Festival Director. Louis Lumière became Honorary President of the Jury. The Festival was to be held from September 1st to 20th, 1939. The highest prize was the Lumière Cup, to be awarded by Lumière himself. In 1939, the French artist Jean-Gabriel Domergue, famous for his portraits of Parisian women and one of the founders of pinups, designed the poster for the film festival.

The USSR was to be represented at the festival with four films, although originally it was planned that only two films would participate, although political realities on the eve of the Second World War intervened in the selection. Soviet films were banned in France. Everyone was afraid of the spread of communist ideas. But Jean Zé made a political decision. The Soviet cinema was anti-fascist and that was more important. In a way, an anti-Hitler coalition was being formed in Cannes.

On 29 August 1939, the American film The Hunchback of Notre Dame was shown within the non-competition programme. However, the opening of the Festival was disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe and the general mobilisation in France.

The 1st Cannes International Film Festival took place in 1946 after the end of the war, although it was scheduled to take place in 1945. It was made possible thanks to the efforts of the organisers, led by Philippe Erlanger, and with the help of Jean Painlevé, director-general of the French Film Committee, a member of the Résistance, and a supporter and friend of Charles de Gaulle.

Promotional flyer by Marco De Gastyne
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