The 1983 festival inaugurates the Palais des Festivals

The event was getting bigger and bigger and the Cannes organisers realised that the Palais Croisette didn't have a large enough capacity. There were plans to extend it by setting up the roof as early as the late 50s. But due to a lack of funds, plans were dropped one after the next.
The Palais could no longer accommodate the increasing numbers of guests for the fortnight-long Festival. Some of the organisation's offices even camped out in the city's hotels. And the need for space became more and more pressing every year, such as in 1963 when Unifrance Film and the Producers' Unions, which tended to use the shops at the Grand Hôtel, had to give up their spots for the Festival committee.

Managers didn't review the question until the late 1970s when they came up with a new plan to solve the issue of space. The idea of extending it was shelved. The new plan was to build a new Palais. The project was supported in 1978 by the Mayor of Cannes, Bernard Cornut-Gentille, then by his successor Georges-Charles Ladeveze.
Building work ended to make way for the 1983 festival that inaugurated the new Palais des Festivals. The building's completion, during Anne-Marie Dupuy's time as mayor, gave the city new prospectives in terms of tourism for pleasure and business. It cost 550 million Francs to build, which the council borrowed. The former Palais des Festivals which hosted the event from 1949 to 1982, was renamed Palais Croisette.

The new and imposing seaside Palais wasn't everybody's cup of tea. Journalists and festivalgoers soon nicknamed it the "bunker" because the modern architecture by Druet and Bennett felt cold and stiff, worlds away from the classic charm of the Palais Croisette. On top of that, safety rules inside the building were stricter.
But the council still had an issue: find a new role for the old Palais. The premises were given to the fifteen or so directors during the Festival itself but the building was almost empty for the rest of the year. The initial idea was for it to house an international museum for cinema, image and sound to enhance the city's prestigious image in the film and audiovisual sector. But the project never happened.

So to give the building a function, the council set up the city's technical departments here. But this hasty solution didn't suit the new Mayor of Cannes, Anne-Marie Dupuy. She thought it "absurd for the council services to be in a site as prestigious as the Croisette building," as she told her citizens.
There was another problem with the building too: its maintenance was expensive for the city and the compliance upgrade it required involved a huge investment that the council was unable to make. Anne-Marie Dupuy told the people of Cannes about the financial difficulties the Palais Croisette now presented. In a letter to them, the mayor wrote: "No matter how fond we are of it, the former Palais is no longer fit for purpose: a well-known lack of parking, venues that are unsuitable for the majority of cultural events, most of which not only bring nothing to the city but also incur expense. They deserve a site that better suits what they do."

After 1983, the council reviewed other projects such as turning the Palais Croisette into a municipal casino; they came to nothing. So the Palais Croisette was demolished in 1988 and the site was sold to a real estate company.
The building's demolition affected everyone; many people saw it as the end of a festival, the end of an era. Festivalgoers, managers and staff had got used to the Palais Croisette after 33 festivals; they had become set in their ways and the move to a new building sparked an outcry and great sadness the first year.
Discussions began about the Palais des Festivals' architecture in 1983 but attendees were less and less enthusiastic about the technical installations and space. This set-up was essential to the event's growth. The figures prove how important it was as within six years, 1980-1986, the number of accreditations soared from 8000 to twice that amount.
That meant the building required another update with extensions so the Festival could accommodate 29,774 accredited attendees and over 3000 journalists and technicians in 1997.

There are now two main areas in the Palais des Festivals. Firstly, the 2400-seater Louis Lumière Grand Auditorium where audiences watch the official competition's feature films. Unlike the former Palais, the orchestra seats are for the VIPs whilst the balcony is for the general public.

Then there's the 1000-seater Claude Debussy theatre which hosts films scheduled by the Un Certain Regard team. The Palais is also home to several other screening rooms, gala and reception rooms with 3000 seats, twelve auditoriums, a conference hall, press room, TV and radio studios, an exhibition hall and car park with 1000 spaces.

The Palais' new Riviera extension opened in May 2000 and added an extra 7000m2 to the seafront exhibition area. There are 8 new screening rooms taking the number of rooms available to professionals up to 28. Not forgetting the Village international on the Croisette beaches by the Palais and Marché du Film on the first floor of the building.
The red carpet rolls out over the 24 famous steps outside for the entire event. The extra space is a godsend for photographers and cameramen as they capture the moment when the stars climb up the legendary building, illuminated by projectors and camera flashes.

The Cannes Film Festival has become the star of international cinema production. The construction of the new Palais saw a flock of festivalgoers, a stream of screenings, the unstoppable rise of the Marché… and some misgivings among those who were nostalgic about how the Festival used to be. So, in 1986, the organisers addressed the issues and gave their event a new agenda: "Bring culture and business together with a sense of humanity and community", to revive the Festival's original spirit and "large family".

Palais des Festivals refurbishment and renovation

The question of extending or building a Palais des Festivals returned to the limelight on the event's 59th anniversary. Given the festival's ever-increasing success, the Marché du Film, official and parallel selections needed more and more space.

During the 2006 Cannes Festival, the city and event organisers signed a contract for Cannes to host the event for ten years. In terms of the Festival's planning, the document included additional measures such as hosting a post-festival party for locals, supporting Cannes Cinéphiles screenings and allocating the Town Hall a certain number of seats for its citizens. In terms of Cannes Town Hall, it provided almost two million Euros in funding in 2006. The amount is subject to each festival. The Town Hall also agreed to provide the Festival with its Palais, facilities and annex rooms.

After the winners were announced, the issue of the Palais returned to the limelight. Gilles Jacob, President of the Cannes Festival, said the current one was in the perfect location, its staircase was still legendary but that after 23 years of service, it had become "old-fashioned and, if nothing happens, will end up symbolising a faux pas for the city that hosts the cream of world cinema for twelve days a year."
Gilles Jacob decided the Palais wasn't suitable anymore. A renovation plan was needed. Cannes council would work hard to make it happen and provide a site worthy of France's worldwide renown as soon as possible.

Work to update and refurbish the Palais des Festivals began in March 2009 and external work was completed in 2012. The building never really needed to be closed whilst work was ongoing and it completely transformed. There were two objectives to the renovation:

  • Upgrading the site to meet drastic safety standards

  • Updating the infrastructure to make it more functional, better-looking and fit into its surroundings

The outer walls were renovated and painted white, the north side was given a new window wall, logistical equipment was updated and the forecourt was given a complete overhaul.
The most recent updates were renovating the Lumière Grand Auditorium and the famous stairs which, with the red carpet, are the Festival's signature.

The Palais des Festivals is now ready to host the Cannes Festival for the foreseeable time and outperform business tourism rivals around the world.