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1946 Cannes Film Festival

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A view of the casino gardens in Cannes, near where the first film festival was held in 1946. Gift of Sally Mays The National WWII Museum Inc., 2007.083.

 Sixty-five years ago today, the 1st annual Cannes Film Festival began in the south of France where it is still held today. Though films are perhaps first and foremost meant to entertain, they nonetheless remain politically significant.

The founding of the new festival was led in large part by the French Minister of Education, Jean Zay, with substantial British and American interest in and support of a nonpolitical film festival. The festival at Cannes was created in response to the slightly older Venice Film Festival, founded in 1932, due to the blatant politicization of the films shown and winners chosen. The highest prize, for example, was called the Mussolini Cup after the country’s then Prime Minister between the years 1934 and 1942. Directors and films with clear political motives that appealed to both the fascist Italian and German states and bolstered their causes were the prize winners at Venice. Directors such as the propagandist director Leni Riefenstahl and films including Der große König (The Great King), one of Hitler’s own favorites, were expectedly the winners.

The first Cannes Film Festival was set to open 1 September 1939. For the history-savvy, the reason why it did not is obvious: Germany invaded Poland and shortly thereafter France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. The festival was postponed until this day sixty-five years ago, 20 September 1946. The all-encompassing war, although officially over, would remain ingrained in the collective European mind for decades. Inevitably, films such as Rossellini’s Rome, Open City which dealt honestly and directly with life in wartime and under occupation were the big winners at the first ever Cannes Film Festival in 1946.

This post by The National WWII Museum Curator Meg Roussel.

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