September 20, 1946. The first edition of the Cannes International Film Festival opens on the French Riviera. It was originally intended to offer an alternative to - and coincide with – the Venice film festival, at which fascist governments in Italy and Germany rigged the award of prizes for propaganda purposes. The first Cannes festival was set to open on September 1, 1939 but was cancelled as Germany invaded Poland that morning, sparking a national mobilisation of the army (France officially entered World War II on September 3.) In 1946, organisers picked up where they had left off seven years earlier. Eleven films, including Billy Wilder’s ‘Lost Weekend’, Roberto Rosselini’s ‘Open City’ and ‘Brief Encounter’ by David Lean shared the Grand Prix du Festival. The festival was moved to spring in 1951, with better relations between Italy and France meaning Cannes was no longer a direct rival of La Mostra. The Palme d’Or prize for best film was introduced in 1955 and the event itself has become arguably the most prestigious festival in the cinematic calendar.
Also on September 20: Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan departs Spain on what would become the first circumnavigation of the Earth (1519); an Anglo-French army defeats Russian forces in the Battle of Alma (1854); Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs in tennis’ second Battle of the Sexes (1973).
*Born on September 20:* Fernando Rey (1917), Sophia Loren (1934), Taro Aso (1940), Henrik Larsson (1971).
Back in the Day: curtain up at the Cannes film festival