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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Cannes: Glamour in the sun
palme d'Or winners
1999 Palme d'Or winners: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne with actress Emilie Dequenne
During the next few days thousands of film-makers, producers, directors, agents, journalists, photographers and actors will descend on the French Riviera for the 53rd Cannes Film Festival.

A select few hope to return home in two weeks time clutching the coveted Palme d'Or - the festival's top prize.

BBC News Online looks back to the origins of this glamorous celebration of film.

In the beginning
Past Palme d'Or winners
1999: Rosetta (Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgium)
1998: Eternity and a Day ( Theo Angelopoulos, Greece)
1997: Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran) and Unagi (Shohei Imamura, Japan)
1996: Secrets and Lies (Mike Leigh, UK)
1995: Underground (Emir Kusturica, Yugoslavia)
1994: Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, US)
1993: The Piano (Jane Campion, New Zealand) and Farewell my Concubine (Kaige Chen, China)
In 1939 Cannes beat Biarritz to host its own film festival in competition with Venice.

It was scheduled to begin on 1 September but only one film was ever shown - William Dieterle's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, starring Charles Laughton. The festival was called off as Hitler invaded Poland and World War II began.

It resumed seven years later. Eleven films shared the top award including David Lean's Brief Encounter and Roberto Rossellini's Open City. But the early years were tough going: the festival battled high winds - France's infamous Mistral - and a lack of funds. In 1948 and 1950 no festival was held.

Sex and chic
The festival became established in the 1950s and 1960s, picking up as much of a reputation for sex and glamour as for cinema. Each year for two weeks the small fishing village was transformed into a Mecca for the rich and infamous.

In 1953 a young woman in a swimsuit attracted a lot of attention - it was Brigitte Bardot's first appearance at the festival - but not her last.

Brigitte Bardot
Brigitte Bardot: Posed in her swimsuit

The following year aspiring actress Simone Sylva made a splash by unhooking her brassiere and posing for photographers alongside a startled Robert Mitchum. Mr Mitchum gamely tried to help Mademoiselle Sylva back into her underwear.

Over the next decade pin-up actresses Grace Kelly, Jayne Mansfield, Kim Novak, Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida all caused a stir on the Riviera.

Parties and politics
Excess has been a byword at Cannes since the 1950s. The actor Mike Todd's 1956 party for his film Around the World in Eighty Days is still reputed to be one of the most extravagant parties ever held there. Guests drank and danced the night away alongside lions on display in glass cages.

In contrast, French film-maker and critic Francois Truffaut condemned Cannes as elitist and was banned by organisers from attending the 1958 festival.

Ten years later Truffaut and fellow film-maker Jean-Luc Goddard refused to attend Cannes in solidarity with students and workers on strike all over France; most of the jury resigned and the festival was abandoned for the year.

What about the films?
Cannes showcases the latest in world cinema. While only a select few films are in competition for an award, hundreds of others are shown out of competition - most receiving their world premieres.

Kristin Scott Thomas:
Kristin Scott Thomas: Passing judgement
In the early days directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini and Orson Welles as well as Truffaut and Godard helped to consolidate Cannes' reputation.

Recent winners include the Belgian film Rosetta, which took the top award - the Palme d'Or - in 1999.

In 1998 Roberto Benigni won second prize for Life Is Beautiful. He went on to clinch best foreign language film and best actor at the 1999 Oscars.

In 1997 British actor Kathy Burke won an award for her performance in Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth and the previous year British director Mike Leigh picked up a Palme d'Or for his Secrets and Lies.

Among those selecting the winners this year are director Luc Besson, who is chairman of the jury, the writer Arundhati Roy, and British actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Jeremy Irons.

What else happens?
Cannes crush
Cannes isn't all parading down the Croisette and parties on the beach. Hard work is going on behind the scenes. The festival is where the film industry meets to do business.

Every year hordes of producers, directors, buyers and sellers and unknown hopefuls descend on the seaside town all eager to make the deal of a lifetime.

Many of them will spend their time wheeling and dealing in hotel suites across Cannes, and will leave with contracts and contacts but without having seen a single film in the competition.

See also:

09 May 00 | Entertainment
Movie buffs prepare for Cannes
09 May 00 | Entertainment
The Palme d'Or line-up
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