The first Cannes festival was scheduled to take place in the first weeks of September 1939. Though many American and European celebrities set out to attend the festival and the Hollywood studios sent 10 films for screening, on the day the festival was to begin (September 1, 1939) Hitler invaded Poland. Only The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Charles Laughton was shown and the rest of the festival was cancelled because of the war.
Hawkins (S12) has stated that the early film festivals, including that held at Cannes, were relatively calm events at which one or two films were shown each day and interaction between the filmmakers, stars, journalists, and fans was commonplace. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, these festivals drew submissions from such diverse countries as the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and Belgium. Other countries, including Mexico, Greece, Sweden, Japan, Hungary, and Austria also participated in the early years of the Cannes, Venice, and other festivals. However, as Hawkins (S13) points out, Cannes quickly assumed primacy among the film festivals, eclipsing many smaller festivals.
In 1968, Cannes was forced to close halfway through because of political upheavals occurring in France that led to a nationwide general strike (McCarthy S4). The end result was that Cannes organizers were forced to rethink their strategies. At the same time, the Venice, Berlin, and to a lesser degree,