The films are in place, the private runways are cleared for the landing of corporate jets and all the rooms at the exclusive Hotel du Cap have long since been booked. The Festival - the official nickname that has now been recognised by the French organisers - begins on Wednesday May 17 wit controversy already surrounding the film version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The triple-A list talent, including Tom Hanks, Sir Ian McKellen and Audrey Tautou, are all invited and due to fly in to mount the famous red stairway…but more of that on Wednesday.

So why is the Cannes film festival so important and what do filmmakers get from it?

Ask many of the auteurs (film directors who are considered to be artists with their own unique vision) discovered in the Festival’s sideshow events over the years or those who have made it into official competition selection for the first time this year and most would agree that it is more prestigious to win at Cannes than to win an Oscar.

The Palme D’Or, a golden palm leaf fashioned every year by Chopard, is the top accolade at the festival and is decided by a jury of the filmmaker’s peers. The Prix de Jury is the name of the runners-up award. This is the official competition, but there are many other categories.

There is also the Quinzaine (Director’s Fortnight), Semaine de la Critique, (Critic’s week) and the Cinephiles (Young filmmakers). And there is the market which is a whole festival in itself, as films already made are shown to distributors with the aim of having them bought to be shown in different territories all over the world.

However, that doesn’t explain why the major studios are here showing their biggest summer blockbusters. It is what the major studios call a platform release. With red carpet, beautiful people, lots of photographers and the world’s media all in one place, it’s almost like a worldwide premiere in one night.

Many of the smaller and independent filmmakers in Cannes would kill for the budget it took to make the teaser trailer for The Da Vinci Code, to say nothing of the travel or catering budget. Or a chance to use a small proportion of the money it takes for CGI geniuses to turn Hugh Jackman into Wolverine in X-Men III. If they are successful in Cannes they may well be able to command those budgets some day. After all X-Men director Bryan Singer made his name here with The Usual Suspects in 1995.

The 2006 Cannes Film Festival runs from May 17 until May 28 when the Palme D’Or is awarded.

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