The Casino municipal begins the festivities

Whilst preparing for the first Cannes Festival in 1939, plans were already being made for future events. The organisers planned to build a venue exclusively for the film festival. Two years earlier, Venice unveiled the Palazzo del Cinema, a huge film screening venue during the Biennale. But it would take years to happen in Cannes. The project was delayed by the war and lack of resources.
The history of the first Cannes Film Festival dates back to the start of the last century. Hôtel Gallia closed its doors in 1898. It was home to Casino des Fleurs which also disappeared from the Cannes entertainment scene. The council decided to restore the town's gambling establishment. Tourism was booming and building new facilities became a priority.

The new casino opened in 1907. It was near Jetée Albert-Édouard at the start of the Croisette. It was extended after the First World War so it could host several society events. Its efficient manager, Mr. André, brought in renowned architects to give the venue an American bar and opulent Salon des Ambassadeurs among others. The renovated Casino became popular among tourists and gala events were rife.

When Cannes signed the contract to stage the International Film Festival in 1939, the government requested guarantees and a venue suitable for hosting the event. There was even a clause about the screening room's equipment which the government wanted to be a sign of France's leading technology. The council-run casino was the natural choice for a screening room for the films in competition. The lobby was selected to screen the films. The building's architect, Mr. Février, was asked to produce the design for the cinema equipment. Negotiations began with several acoustic and cinema equipment companies to secure a lease price.

The Cannes directors ordered a thousand chairs, sound system, screening equipment and a large screen for the cinema room. They also planned to hire an engineer and two operators to handle technical issues. The quote came to 140,000 Francs plus the cost of fabric to cover the walls for improved acoustics, three fans and carpet costing 65,000 Francs.

It only took two months to complete the work. The Mayor of Cannes, Pierre Nouveau, inaugurated the room and used the occasion to pay tribute to his fellow citizens, whose goodwill helped the major project come to fruition: "The Cannes businesses and workers who immediately realised why they were being asked to work so hard and completed the project in record time," announced Pierre Nouveau.

The room was richly decorated and could seat a thousand spectators. Seats were available for the public to hire in August. People could by single tickets or a book of tickets from any Cannes hotel and Havas offices in Nice and Monte-Carlo. Film screenings for members of the jury, foreign delegates and journalists were held in a neighbouring room 15 minutes before the ones for other festivalgoers. The only private screening held in this room in 1939 was for The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by William Dieterle, a few days before war was declared and the Cannes Festival was immediately suspended.

The organisers had pulled it off but they knew the hastily-made decisions wouldn't last. They envisaged building a real palace after the first festival; the site had been chosen, the models had been made and the number of spaces had been doubled. Everyone hoped everything would be ready for the 1940 event. Once again, the project couldn't go ahead because of the war; it was put on the back burner. But when the first Cannes Film Festival returned in 1946, so did the building project. It only took a few years for the long-awaited Palais to open its doors. The third Cannes Festival was held here despite the building not being finished.