Cannes Film Festival: who benefits from the Palme?

Holy Grail for filmmakers, international showcase for the festival, the Palme d’Or does not guarantee box office success. Researcher Chloé Delaporte analyzes the often more strategic than commercial value of this prize that has become a brand.

What is a Palme d’or really worth? Obviously a lot for a director, who sees his career transformed by the recognition of the most important film festival in the world. In his book The culture of reward, the researcher in socio-economics of cinema Chloé Delaporte has cleared the jungle of French demonstrations (nearly six hundred each year and almost as many prizes, from the Swann d’or, in Cabourg, to the Abrazo in Biarritz) which have taken place between 2018 and 2020. The university essay aims to analyze the impacts – symbolic, cultural or financial – of the prizes awarded there, to better understand their issues. The Palme d’Or remains apart, among the rare to have become, more than a trophy, a mark in itself. If a footnote of The culture of reward reveals that its cash value would be around 20,000 euros, this investment of the Cannes Film Festival is nothing compared to its benefits.

The work shows that the financial gain of a Palme d’Or does not come from the admissions of the films concerned but from the symbolic value that is granted to this prize, which will make it possible to total more sales of the film abroad. or increase its circulation, explains Chloé Delaporte. “From a strictly economic point of view, where we would consider the film as a product or a content, the Palme d’or then becomes an indicator that will allow us to determine its quasi-market value. Even if its prices are in fact only a philanthropic guarantee, a donation via a jury, Cannes remains above all a financial market place for cinema. The exchanges that take place behind the scenes, precisely at the Film Market, are colossal, much more important, in a way, than the Official selection, which is only a showcase, a ritual masking a fundamental activity for this cultural industry. »

Towards greater media visibility

But then, who really benefits from a Palme d’or? If it propels the filmmakers rewarded into an elite of cinema, it does not immediately guide them to the heights of the box office: from the almost seven million admissions in France from wages of fear, vintage 1953, to barely 90,000 of Best Intentions, webbed in 1992, the range is very wide and, overall, below one million tickets sold. The Cannes grail leads even less to the doors of the pantheon of a general public that identifies the trophy more clearly than the films that have received it. For Chloe Delaporte, “it is obvious that, from a macroeconomic point of view, its first beneficiary remains the Festival. We must also recall the history of this prize: in 1963, the Palme was replaced by a return to the Grand Prix du Festival, to highlight geopolitical issues. It will not return until 1975, when the proliferation of film festivals led to the duty communicate on prices. Which wasn’t easy with this one, especially when it was in the form of a simple diploma. A Palme d’or embodies an object, a visual identity”.

Added to this is now the question of a media strategy that can be used to climb the Palme steps towards wider visibility. The Cannes Film Festival has decided to entrust her at France Televisions and Brut, which succeeds Canal +. With the clear objective of reaching another audience via digital media. A fold already endorsed via, among other things, the virtual transposition of the event (and the award ceremony?) into Fortnite, video game darling of teenagers. A bold choice, according to Chloé Delaporte: “The visibility brought by Brut on social networks will lead to more definite reactions. It will be enough for the ceremony of the awards to know incidents to trigger controversies which could impact the image of the festival. Conversely, Cannes could benefit from the treatment of prices ancillary to its own. A subject broadcast by Brut or France 2 on the Queer palm [prix LGBT indépendant, ndlr] would undoubtedly give the Festival an image bonus with a generation focused on inclusiveness, while it has always refused to support this reward financially. »

Since we are talking about support, Cannes maintains a real ambiguity about platform films (the question of reintegrating them into official competition appeared at the last board meetings). The idea is still taboo but why not imagine, in the near future, a Netflix or Amazon Prime prize in one of the parallel sections which, unlike the official competition, authorize brands to sponsor their prizes? “I have already bet with friends that this price will appear within five years, says the author. This would allow the Festival to flirt with a young audience addicted to these platforms, to be part of the current movement, but also to extend its media coverage, since this would inevitably trigger numerous press articles. Strategically, that would be pretty clever. But perhaps one more stone in the liberalization of culture…”

To read
The culture of reward. Film competitions, festivals and awards, by Chloé Delaporte, ed. Vincennes University Press.

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Cannes Film Festival: who benefits from the Palme?