Cannes Film Festival as a place branding event

Cannes is where you lie on the beach and stare at the stars—or vice versa.
– Rex Reed, U.S. columnist and actor.

Cannes event

Tonight is the final evening of the Cannes Film Festival 2013, an annual event when the cinema industry descends on the small beachside town of Cannes on the French Riviera. Without doubt, Cannes is the world’s most prestigious film festival.

I have visited the festival in May every year since I moved to the area in 1997 and this time I was there last Friday, May 17th. Most years I go one evening or one afternoon during the twelve day long festival, and when I can, I stay for the evening screening on the beach of a classic film. This year, while waiting for the movie to start, I made some reflections on the festival and its impact on the place brand of Cannes.

Every year classics are shown for free at 21.30 and there are few cinematic experiences that can surpass this moment. The climate is warm, the breeze is soothing and there is a scent of saltwater in the air, the scenery is absolutely beautiful, the sound of the waves and the anticipation of a great cinematic experience of a classic movie that can otherwise no longer be seen on the big silver screen.

The men and the screen

People start to queue at eight and by nine, when the beach is opened and blankets are handed out, the audience run for the best located beach chairs and there is a moment of tranquillity for the half hour that remains until the show begins. The organisers make last minute adjustments to the lights and the screen.

Friday evening last week the classic movie of the night was “”That Man From Rio”, an exciting French thriller from 1964, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Françoise Dorléac. At the 37th Academy Awards the film was nominated for the Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. I like the movie as it has a magical innocence and beautiful images of a time and place long gone, from the streets and museums of sophisticated Paris  in the 1960s to the exotic sceneries of Brazil at a time when the Brazilians built their new futuristic capital Brasilia on cleared land in the Amazonas jungle and had an unbroken belief in rapid development. At 21.30 the organisers give a brief introduction speech and then the movie experience begins.

DSC06536 (Large)

Queuing for the event, one often see some (real) famous people and some (not-so-real) imposters, that anyway add to the ambience of the festival. Previous years I have seen Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman…

DSC06500 (Large)This year Charlie Chaplin was with us in the queue in person, chatting, asking questions and in a subtle way letting us know his opinion of the event. He left before the screening, no doubt having seen the movie already when it was fresh in the 1960s.

Beyond the beach, one can see the skyline of the famous hotels. Carlton, Martinez, Noga-Hilton, lined up along the Promenade de la Croisette. Both the Carlton and the Croisette were built at the end of the 19th century, during an incredibly expansive decade when the population of Cannes multiplied by ten.

Further from the beach, beyond the Croisette, The Belle Époque architecture of Cannes is as smart and elegant as the residents and visitors dress code. One can find posh brands on Rue d’Antibes, and intimate restaurants in the old town, also known as Le Suquet. There are plenty of places to sip some rosé, nibble on a salade Niçoise, or relax with a Café Noisette.

The Famous Hotels

Visiting Cannes during the festival, do not be surprised if you meet networking people you already have seen somewhere else. Major events, such as the Cannes Film Festival,  have spawned a global circus that continuously travels the earth, consisting of business executives, consultants, developers, service suppliers, socialites, media celebrities, and so on, attending the next conference on the economic benefits of the Pan American Games, the Mobile World Congress, the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, the Asian Games and the Biennale in Venice, etcetera. Also this week, one other major event in the world takes place in neighbouring Monaco, the Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 race.

Do festivals brand places? Yes they do. As a part of place branding, festivals are increasingly being used in brand promotion and Cannes is the ultimate example of a place being identified with its film festival. Festivals, like many other events, add to the economic development and vibrancy of the place. Thus festivals can be an important tool in place branding, as they enhances the “happening’” image of a place. An important function of branding a place is to create an image of the location that stands out in the global place-product market. Inherently, the brand asserts the place’s uniqueness.

The Festival Palace

In the picture above we can see the multitude of exhibition tents around the festival palace. Creating, preparing and setting up events has become an exercise in inventing and developing saleable traditions.  The preparations are often very hectic and the devil is in the details. Events are devised over a relatively short space of time and that means construction costs are immediately measurable, whereas income may trickle in over many years or decades to come after the spectacle of the event itself. On top of that, one should not neglect the intangible costs or benefits spectacular events may bring to the population close to the sites.

The Cannes Film Festival was one of the first film festivals in the world. Other famous early film festivals are listed in the table below. To how many of these places have you been, and how much do you, dear reader, connect them with the film festival event?

1932 Venice International Film Festival (Italy)
1935 Moscow International Film Festival (Russia)
1939 Cannes International Film Festival (France)
1946 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Czech)
1946 Locarno International Film Festival (Switzerland)
1951 Berlin International Film Festival – Berlinale (Germany)
1952 The International Film Festival of India (India)
1953 Donostia – San Sebastian International Film Festival (Spain)
1954 International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (Germany),
1954 Sydney Film Festival (Australia)
1954 Mar del Plata International Film Festival (Argentina)
1956 The Times BFI London Film Festival (England)
1958 Bilbao International Festival of Documentary and Short Films (Spain)

Cameras and yachts

As famous as the red carpet during the festival is the life on the beach. This year it is worse weather than normally, and thus less people seeking attention by their (often minimal) swimwear. Yet the photographers are there as usual.

Cannes is not just a festival that celebrates film, and it is far from all-glamour. It is a twelve day micro-cosmos of the worldwide film industry. The town becomes a temporary cinemaowned space, a place destination, populated by producers, sales agents, investors, institutes, councils, marketers, distributors, journalists, actors, directors, socialites and everyone else along the film chain.

Movie poster on wallOwnership is inherent throughout the wider festival experience too, an impression that spills across town with pop-ups, spaces, surfaces and experiences that are owned, hosted and presented.

From luxury apartment blocks that has became temporary offices to film sales agents and distributors to house walls with huge movie posters, like the one on the right, and entire luxury landmarks, notably the Carlton hotel,  its surface being a brilliantly aligned marketing canvas along the beachfront La Croisette.

Renowned institutions like the famous St Tropez resort, Nikki Beach, offers beachside and rooftop views from its styled, pop-up Cannes residencies.

In fact, the whole stretch of Cannes beach is spliced up into brand owned segments, hosted by hotels, film institutes and mobile network operators, with the grand finale at the end of they bay with the unique restaurant and club Baoli.

So during the twelve days, Cannes becomes a stage of opportunity for business dealings, marketing and self-marketing, with two distinct captive and targetable audiences.
The first: a cross-section of the global film industry and the second, anyone else in the world who may be watching, drawn by a love of film or celebrity glamour.

And thus the town of Cannes is painted with an image that remains as an attraction factor for visitors throughout the year. For business people this means that Cannes becomes an attractive destination also for other events, such as MIPIM, Cannes Lions, Cannes Yacht Festival and MIPCOM. For tourists the town is a must see for any visitor to the Riviera.

Now the time is 21.30. No more time for reflection as now comes the magic moment. The introduction speech is done, the sun has set, the movie is about to begin. Time to enjoy!

Film about to start

The Palme d’Or

The main award of the Cannes Film Festival is the Palme d’Or for best film. The table below shows the winners of the Palme d´Or since the award was introduced. How many of them have you seen?




Marty (United States), Delbert Mann


The Silent World (France), Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle


Friendly Persuasion (United States), William Wyler


The Cranes Are Flying (USSR), Mikhail Kalatozov


Black Orpheus (France), Marcel Camus


La Dolce Vita (Italy), Federico Fellini


Viridiana (Spain), Luis Bunuel
A Long Absence (France/Italy), Henri Colpi


The Given Word (Brazil), Anselmo Duarte


The Leopard (France/Italy), Luchino Visconti


The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (France), Jacques Demy


The Knack, and How to Get It (United Kingdom), Richard Lester


A Man and a Woman (France), Claude Lelouch
The Birds, the Bees and the Italians (France/Italy), Pietro Germi


Blowup (Italy), Michelangelo Antonioni


Festival cancelled because of political unrest


if… (United Kingdom), Lindsay Anderson


M*A*S*H (United States), Robert Altman


The Go-Between (United Kingdom), Joseph Losey


The Mattei Affair (Italy), Francesco Rosi


Scarecrow (United States), Jerry Schatzberg
The Hireling (United Kingdom), Alan Bridges


The Conversation (United States), Francis Ford Coppola


Chronicle of the Burning Years (Algeria), Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina


Taxi Driver (United States), Martin Scorsese


Padre Padrone (Italy), Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani


The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Italy), Ermanno Olmi


The Tin Drum (Germany), Volker Schlöndorff
Apocalypse Now (United States), Francis Ford Coppola


Kagemusha (Japan), Akira Kurosawa
All That Jazz (United States), Bob Fosse


Man of Iron (Poland), Andrzej Wajda


Missing (United States), Costa-Gavras
Yol (Turkey), Yilmaz Güney, and Serif Goren


The Ballad of Narayama (Japan), Shohei Imamura


Paris, Texas (Germany/France), Wim Wenders


When Father Was Away on Business (Yugoslavia), Emir Kusturica


The Mission (United Kingdom), Roland Joffe


Under Satan’s Sun (France), Maurice Pialat


Pelle the Conqueror (Denmark), Bille August


sex, lies, and videotape (United States), Steven Soderbergh


Wild at Heart (United States), David Lynch


Barton Fink (United States), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen


The Best Intentions (Sweden), Bille August


The Piano (Australia), Jane Campion
Farewell, My Concubine (China), Chen Kaige


Pulp Fiction (United States), Quentin Tarantino


Underground (Yugoslavia/France), Emir Kusturica


Secrets & Lies (United Kingdom), Mike Leigh


Unagi (Japan), Shohei Imamura
Taste of Cherry (Iran), Abbas Kiarostami


Eternity and a Day (Greece), Theo Angelopoulos


Rosetta (Belgium/France), Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne


Dancer in the Dark (Germany/The Netherlands/United States/United Kingdom/Denmark/France/Sweden/Finland/Iceland/Norway), Lars von Trier


The Son’s Room (Italy/France), Nanni Moretti


The Pianist (Poland), Roman Polanski


Elephant (United States), Gus Van Sant


Fahrenheit 9/11 (United States), Michael Moore


L’Enfant (Belgium/France), Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne


The Wind that Shakes the Barley (United Kingdom/Ireland/Italy/Germany/Spain), Ken Loach


4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Romania), Cristian Mungiu


The Class (France), Laurent Cantet


The White Ribbon (Austria/Germany), Michael Haneke


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand), Apichatpong Weerasethakul


The Tree of Life (United States), Terrence Malick


Amour (Austria), Michael Haneke




  1. Jörgen Eriksson,

    I found your article quite interesting by picking up my research topic, place branding, and relating it with the organization of events or hallmark events. I agree with your perspective. Events, are important for places, such as cities, the case with Cannes, or such as a country in case of a World Football cup (e.g) or an International Exhibition. Recently, I wrote 2 blogs posts about Guimarães European Capital of Culture (links below) where my perspective is to look to the events as place branding instruments.

    The events are most effective as instruments in a strategic policy, often as demonstrations that a change in direction has already occurred and will be maintained through other policy instruments. Events hallmarking, as a place branding instrument, need to fit the event and the place attributes, including the relation with the community.

    You wrote – “As a part of place branding, festivals are increasingly being used in brand promotion”- fundamental to understand that events should be part of a place branding strategy and never interpreted or taken as the ultimate goal. When well planned or strategically planned, events (…) “enhances the “happening’” image of a place” (…). I agree.

    In addition, I also liked your introduction on the book – “Place Managament” with Christer Asplund.


    Guest article: The European Capital of Culture – Guimarães 2012. Can we build a place branding strategy with it?

    Guest article: Guimarães after the European Culture Capital

    Eduardo Oliveira,
    Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen
    The Netherlands

  2. Nice holds very fond memories for me. When I exhibited my paintings in Paris many times, I used to paint the Flower Market in Nice.–Loved the vibrant colors and architecture.

    I invite you to enjoy my paintings, including NICE FLOWER MARKET on my professional website

    Regarding Cannes Film Festival, lucky you! I will invite you to attend in Cannes, when my screenplay for feature film (my life story) is on the screen.

    Warm regards
    Arden Rose

  3. Very nice excerpt indeed! What a wonderful idea to screen the classics on a beach. Your description sounded almost surreal! Thank you for the illustrative pictures (photos) too.

    As for the movie challenge, I can’t say I watched more than a handful and I think my latest/current favorite being Moretti’s The Son’s Room – a 2001 winner at Cannes.

    A quick search on Netflix didn’t yield much unlike my hoping to find at least a few from your winning entires. BTW, I had found and actually enjoyed thoroughly too, an adventure/detective mini series from Sweden called Annika Bengtzon.

    Anyway, always have this desire to make the Riviera home – just don’t know if, in this case what I would call, “The water looks bluer on the other side!”

    Best regards,

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