(09/05/07) – Next week, the Cannes film festival, one of the most famous events of its kind in the world, and probably the one that attracts the bulkiest press coverage, arrives at its 60th edition. The programme includes the usual mixture of commercial mainstream fare mixed with a bevy of ‘prestige’ and ‘arthouse’ films that have made the festival a commercially successful affair and a tastemaker that dictates what cinema-goers in Europe and beyond will consume over the year following it. Unsurprisingly, Cannes also attracts its fair share of criticism over its content, opportunism (for example, Anne Nicole Smith’s last film,a schlock sci-fi called Illegal Aliens, which has already been released on DVD in the U.S on 1 May, will make its ‘European debut’ there) and commercialism.

Make a quick survey of the internet and a variety of critical voices arise. In a BBC forum discussing whether the festival still matters, most of the opinions were derogatory towards the event. One person called it an ‘exercise in standardisation’ while someone else pointed out that Cannes is the ‘puppy dog of Hollywood’. Bloggers don’t always have kind words to offer the event. David Poland of The Hot Blog (part of Movie City News) wrote that "the truth is, Cannes has become far worse than Sundance in terms of selling out. Yet, the unfamiliarity seems to be a condom from the contempt that has infected so many journalists and critics in recent years. And the studios are happy to be welcomed to abuse the credibility of the festival and to use it mercilessly as a platform to market their big, but not necessarily fine, movies to the … European and world market."

But Cannes is not new to controversy and opinions have always been divided because in reality, when you read about the history of the festival, the programme followed pretty much the same formula. Kamera’s contributor and editor of European-films.net, Boyd van Hoeij, who will be attending the festival next week, has a more positive outlook on the event. "Cannes will always be Cannes. Since its inception its organisers have always chosen their own path and this is one of the reasons why it is so respected. Another major reason is that it is the biggest film festival and that it is a ‘professionals only’ environment, taking place at the same time as the biggest film market. In Europe, at least, winning a big prize at one of the three big festivals (Cannes, Venice and Berlin) is roughly on par with winning an Oscar in terms of piquing the interest of the European arthouse crowds", he says.

Apart from the controversies surrounding the programme of Cannes each year, perhaps the real issue haunting the event is the actual role that film festivals play in the wake of the digital revolution and the changes in image consumption that it has spawned. In acknowledgement of these new modes of delivery and hyper-fragmentation of the market, Cannes is opening with a forum to discuss exactly that. Called ‘Cinema: towards the audiences of tomorrow’, the organisers say the forum will be a platformn to create a discussion on "the oppportunities and challenges of the next decade…focused on the evolution of audience practices and on the ties between cinema creation, new promotional and broadcast platforms." The fact that Neeraj Roy, the CEO of Indian mobile phone company Hungama Mobile is one of the debaters, gives a clue as to the direction the discussion will be heading towards.

One thing is certain: the internet has changed the rules of the game. Arguably there is an inflation of media in every format, including film, and people will always require ‘filters’ to help them sort the wheat from the chaff, despite the vested interests that inform the cultural filtering process. But the audiences of the digital age are much more discerning, fickle and less reverent to old tuxedo-clad totems that Cannes has become a symbol of. The cultural context and conditions out of which the festival was shaped are quickly waning and Cannes, like all other similar institutions, has to adapt, and constantly change, to stay relevant.

The 60th edition of the Cannes Film Festival takes place between 16 and 27 May 2007. For a full account of the history of the Cannes Film Festival, check out Kieron Corless and Chris Darke’s Inside The World’s Premier Film Festival, out on Faber & Faber. See links for more information.