The Cannes film festival is an extremely important moment in the filmic calendar both nationally (in France) and globally, yet despite this it has to date been given very little serious academic attention. There are a number of French works devoted to the festival. Notable amongst these are Pierre Billard's historical survey D'or et de palmes; le Festival de Cannes (Gallimard, 1997), and a recent attempt to produce an ethnographic study of the festival in a collection edited by Emmanuel Ethis entitled Aux Marches du palais: le Festival de Cannes sous le regard des sciences sociales (La Documentation francaise, 2001). Within Anglo-American academia the festival is even less visible. Kenneth Turan's useful overview of film festivals Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made (University of California Press, 2002) does include a chapter devoted to Cannes which provides a lucid distillation of the festival's changing identity. However, as film critic for the Los Angeles Times Turan avoids sustained analysis in favour of rather light-hearted reports. Whilst his work provides an engaging and suggestive depiction of the workings of the festival and what it feels like to be part of this "grueling, crowded, complicated, unforgiving [event] ... likened by a survivor to 'a fight in a brothel during a fire'" (13), it makes little contribution to an understanding of the place of the festival in French and global film cultures, its particular constructions and representations of cinema and the competing discourses which have shaped its agenda. Strikingly Cannes is very rarely mentioned in academic accounts of film history. Even those works devoted specifically to French cinema make little or no mention of the festival. It seems likely that this absence is partly a symptom of the festival's increasingly international and commercial reputation which sits uneasily with the tendency exhibited by the majority of these works to focus on the national and the non-commercial (the construction of a distinctly French auteur or art cinema). Indeed this apparent paradox--the fact that arguably the most important date on the French film calendar is an international, commercial festival--lies at the very heart of my interest in Cannes. It poses a whole series of questions about what we mean by French cinema, its place in a global film industry and how it sets out to construct and maintain an identity within this context. Before embarking upon a discussion of the festival it is, I believe, necessary to say a few words about French cinema and the various discourses which have shaped its identity and indeed to underline the central role cinema plays in French cultural life. This is evidenced by a number of factors including long-standing government sup port for the film industry and attempts to claim cinema as a part of a specifically French patrimoine. Whilst most countries marked the centenary of cinema in 1996, France celebrated a year earlier, tracing the birth of the medium back to the first screenings of the Lumiere brothers in 1895. Although the notoriety of Cannes may tend to eclipse other cinematic gatherings in France, it is in fact one of around 170 film festivals currently held annually in metropolitan France. The diversity of these events, both in terms of subject and geographical location, is striking indeed. Festivals include the Rencontres du Cinema Italien held in Bastia in February, the Festival International du Film Documentaire sur la Ruralite in Ville-sur-Yron in May, the Festival du Film Marin in Saint-Cast-le-Guildo in September, and the Festival International Train et Cinema held in Lille in November.