I've been coming to the Cannes Film Festival for a couple of decades, mainly to watch and, at times, to write about movies. And I've seen it grow and expand in many directions; commercially, artistically, and culturally, but it has generally maintained a degree of integrity and independence, notably from the inescapable dominance of American cinema.

How did CFF grow over the decades into an international cinematic and artistic powerhouse, featuring dozens of films, and hosting hundreds of production companies, thousands of journalists, tens of thousands of participants, and countless stars?

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France's determination to make it work withstanding, CFF's success goes beyond the 20 million euros ($22m) the Ministry of Culture and its commercial partners spent on the festival this year.

It has benefited enormously from a number of trade-offs with world cinema and its supporting conglomerates.

Win-win trade-offs

The first trade-off is French-international. CFF provides a truly global stage for non-American filmmakers, especially those from the developing world; it offers them a chance at international limelight, distribution, and finance, all in one.

In return, France gets to play cultural godfather for worldwide cinema, and it gets to feature a disproportionately high number of French films in the various competitions.

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For example, if you look carefully at this year's competition, you'll notice that French companies have partially or wholly produced the majority of the competing films, while four out of the 21 films seeking the Palme d'Or are French.

France gets to play cultural godfather for worldwide cinema, and it gets to feature a disproportionately high number of French films in the various competitions.


Paradoxically, as France champions international efforts against the Americanisation of Western and world cinema, it seems guilty of the same towards cinema in the developing world.

French-American trade-off

The second trade-off is French-American. Over the years, more big American studios have agreed to honour Cannes with their overrated presence, while CFF gets to host a truly global festival.

Hollywood powerhouses agree to debut their movies at the French Riviera; at times even before a movie is seen in the United States, as in the case of this year's Steven Spielberg, BFG.

In return, they sell their global rights and distribution, which over the past few years grossed more than their domestic distribution.

They also get pampered for a couple of weeks over champagne in the sexy glamour of the Cote d'Azure while making lucrative deals with financiers.

Martin Scorsese's new production, The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, has reached a $100m deal this week.

Cultural v commercial

CFF's third trade-off is between its artistic aims and commercial needs.

Director Ashgar Farhadi and cast members pose on the red carpet before the screening of the film Forushande at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes [Reuters] 

The festival offers French and Western beatification and fashion conglomerates an unparalleled international stage to promote their brands, and in return, they give CFF sponsorships, and the glamour and glitter that renders it ever more opulent and dazzling.

Artistic puritans might have an argument with the over-the-top commercialisation of the festival and its creative essence, but it's a compromise CFF seems happy to accommodate if it sustains and expands its cinematic mission.

Considering the increased commercialisation of culture and the arts, the French compromise seems as pragmatic as it is inevitable.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera. Follow him on Facebook.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera