Top 3 biggest film festivals in the world

by Barbara

Film festivals play a critical role in the cinema world, providing a platform for filmmakers to showcase their work, network, and receive critical acclaim. Among the myriad of film festivals globally, three stand out due to their historical significance, prestige, and impact on the industry: the Cannes Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, and the Berlin International Film Festival. These festivals are not only cultural events but also crucial market places where films secure distribution deals and gain international recognition. This article delves into the history, significance, and current stature of these three cinematic giants.

Cannes Film Festival

Historical Background

The Cannes Film Festival, officially known as the Festival de Cannes, was founded in 1946 in the picturesque resort town of Cannes, located on the French Riviera. Initially established as a response to the Venice Film Festival’s political manipulations under the fascist regime, Cannes was envisioned as a free, international, and apolitical showcase for films from around the world. Its inaugural event, held in September 1946, featured films from 16 countries, and despite facing early organizational challenges, it quickly grew in prominence.


Significance and Prestige

Cannes is arguably the most prestigious film festival globally. Its significance lies in its ability to set trends and influence the trajectory of the film industry. The festival’s Palme d’Or, awarded to the best film in competition, is one of the most coveted prizes in the film world, often propelling the winners to international acclaim and commercial success. Directors such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers have all seen their careers bolstered by successes at Cannes.


The Event and Its Components

Cannes is a sprawling event that includes several sections:

  • Competition: This is the main event where films vie for the Palme d’Or. A jury of internationally renowned artists, critics, and filmmakers judge these films.
  • Un Certain Regard: This section showcases films with unique stories and innovative styles, often highlighting fresh and emerging voices in cinema.
  • Cinéfondation: Dedicated to short films and works from film schools around the world, this section focuses on discovering new talent.
  • Out of Competition: Features high-profile films that are not in the competition but are expected to draw significant media attention and audience interest.
  • Special Screenings and Midnight Screenings: These offer a variety of films, including documentaries and genre films that might not fit into the main competition categories.

Influence on the Industry

Cannes serves as a major networking hub for filmmakers, producers, distributors, and critics. The festival’s Marché du Film is one of the largest film markets, facilitating deals and co-productions that shape the industry’s future. Moreover, the media coverage of Cannes is unparalleled, ensuring that films premiered here often receive global attention.

Venice Film Festival

Historical Background

The Venice Film Festival, known as Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica, is the oldest film festival in the world. It was established in 1932 by the National Fascist Party in Italy, part of a broader effort to use art and culture to promote the regime’s ideals. Despite its controversial origins, Venice has evolved into a critical cultural event that celebrates artistic excellence in film.

Significance and Prestige

Venice is renowned for its emphasis on artistic achievement. The Golden Lion, awarded for the best film, is one of the most prestigious awards in the film industry. The festival has been instrumental in launching the careers of many directors and in premiering films that go on to win major awards, including the Oscars. Directors like Ang Lee, Sofia Coppola, and Guillermo del Toro have all benefited from the exposure and acclaim received at Venice.

The Event and Its Components

Held on the Lido di Venezia, the festival combines glamour with a rich appreciation of cinematic artistry. Key components include:

  • Main Competition: Films competing for the Golden Lion, judged by an international jury.
  • Out of Competition: High-profile films screened to attract media and public attention.
  • Orizzonti (Horizons): Focuses on new trends in world cinema, showcasing innovative and cutting-edge works.
  • Venice Classics: Dedicated to restored classics and documentaries about cinema.
  • Venice Days and Critics’ Week: Independent sections that highlight avant-garde and experimental films.

Influence on the Industry

Venice’s timing, typically late August to early September, positions it as a key platform for films that are aiming for awards season success. Many films that debut at Venice go on to be significant contenders in the Oscar race. Furthermore, the festival’s focus on artistic merit over commercialism sets it apart, making it a vital event for cinephiles and industry professionals alike.

Berlin International Film Festival

Historical Background

The Berlin International Film Festival, or Berlinale, was founded in 1951 in West Berlin during the Cold War. It was initiated by the American film officer Oscar Martay as a cultural response to the city’s division and a demonstration of the free world’s commitment to cultural development. From its inception, Berlinale has emphasized diversity and internationalism, reflecting Berlin’s position as a crossroads of East and West.

Significance and Prestige

Berlinale is one of the “Big Three” film festivals, alongside Cannes and Venice, and is known for its inclusivity and public engagement. The Golden Bear, awarded to the best film, is a highly respected prize. Berlinale is also notable for its political engagement, often selecting films that address social issues, human rights, and political themes. Directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Asghar Farhadi, and Jafar Panahi have been honored at the festival.

The Event and Its Components

Berlinale is one of the largest public film festivals, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year. Key sections include:

  • Competition: The main section where films compete for the Golden and Silver Bears.
  • Berlinale Special: Showcases new and extraordinary films, with a focus on major works and personalities.
  • Panorama: Emphasizes art-house and independent films that provoke discussion and controversy.
  • Forum and Forum Expanded: Experimental and avant-garde works are featured here, challenging traditional cinematic boundaries.
  • Generation: Dedicated to young audiences, this section is divided into Generation Kplus and Generation 14plus, catering to different age groups.
  • Perspektive Deutsches Kino: Focuses on new German cinema, highlighting emerging talents.

Influence on the Industry

Berlinale’s impact extends beyond film premieres. The European Film Market (EFM) runs concurrently with the festival, making it a crucial event for industry professionals to buy, sell, and co-produce films. The festival’s commitment to political and social issues also ensures that it remains a significant platform for films that might otherwise be marginalized in more commercially driven festivals.

Comparing the Big Three

While Cannes, Venice, and Berlin each have unique characteristics, they share several commonalities that underline their importance:

  • Prestige and Influence: All three festivals are highly influential, often setting the tone for the international film calendar and awards season.
  • Diverse Programming: Each festival showcases a wide range of films, from high-profile premieres to avant-garde experiments.
  • Industry Engagement: They serve as major networking hubs where deals are made, and future collaborations are forged.
  • Global Reach: Films that premiere at these festivals receive extensive media coverage and often secure global distribution deals.

Cannes: The Glamour and Prestige

Cannes stands out for its unparalleled glamour and the sheer volume of media attention it garners. The festival’s ability to combine high artistic standards with commercial success is unmatched. Winning the Palme d’Or is often a career-defining moment for filmmakers.

Venice: The Artistic Heart

Venice is celebrated for its artistic integrity and historical significance. It balances its glamorous setting with a strong focus on film as an art form, making it a vital event for both auteurs and emerging talents.

Berlin: The Social Conscience

Berlinale’s reputation for political engagement and social relevance sets it apart. The festival’s inclusivity and commitment to showcasing diverse voices make it a crucial platform for films that address contemporary issues and push the boundaries of traditional cinema.


The Cannes, Venice, and Berlin film festivals are cornerstones of the global film industry. Each festival offers a unique blend of glamour, artistry, and industry engagement, ensuring their continued relevance and prestige. They not only celebrate cinematic excellence but also influence the industry’s future direction, making them indispensable events for filmmakers, critics, and audiences worldwide.

As the film industry continues to evolve, these festivals will undoubtedly remain at the forefront, shaping trends, launching careers, and celebrating the art of cinema in all its forms. Whether you are a filmmaker seeking recognition, a critic in search of the next great film, or an enthusiast eager to experience the best in cinema, Cannes, Venice, and Berlin are the places where the magic happens.


Related topics:

The most important meaning of the Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Festival: A Celebration of Cinema

Cannes Film Festival 2023: Who’s Coming, What’s Showing, and Why We’re Excited


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