For its 65th anniversary bash, the Cannes filmfest will be wining and dining 700 of the film world's elite at a black-tie dinner, but for decades the movie showcase on the Riviera was a pretty laid-back affair.
Cannes' long-time chairman, the 81-year-old Gilles Jacob, first attended as a humble critic in 1964: "It was like a little colony," he told AFP in the run-up to the event, which runs from 16-27 May. "There was hardly any press, we all knew each other."
Right from the start, Cannes has been a magnet for glamour, a party place for jet-setters and stars from James Dean to Grace Kelly — who in 1955 met Prince Rainier at the Riviera fest, marrying him a year later.
Through the 1950s, Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren drew the paparazzi in their wake — but up until the 1960s, Jacob remembers Cannes as fairly relaxed.
"The stars would walk along the seafront mingling with the public," said the veteran chairman, who will be screening a special anniversary documentary shot backstage at the festival.
Everything changed, he said, with the arrival of television.
These days, Cannes is a frenzy, with 700 police on hand as its population triples to 200 000, 90 films shown in the main competition and sidebars and 4300 titles up for grabs at a giant film market.
Hollywood royalty descends each spring on the Riviera, with this year's crop including Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn to name but a few, their appearances chronicled by a swarm of 4600 journalists.
Stars with films in competition are ferried from breakfast photocall to press conference and back-to-back interviews, before the limo picks them up to whisk them to the ritual red carpet gala screening.
But the stars are a vital part of the equation at Cannes, now firmly entrenched as the leading showcase for world cinema with entries from three dozen countries in this year's line-up.
"It's thanks to them that we can afford to launch edgy directors," Jacob said.
Cannes has weathered the emergence of half a dozen rivals, from the Berlin Film Festival founded after World War II, to Sundance created in Salt Lake City in 1978, or New York's Tribeca, launched in the wake of the 2001 9/11 attacks.
But the Riviera showcase stands out for its international scope, its mix of independent and big studio productions — and for the giant market that makes it a strategic priority for film producers.
Over the years, Cannes has been a springboard for dozens of film-makers — most recently France's Michel Hazanavicius, whose silent flick The Artist went on from Cannes to glory at the Oscars.
French New Wave icon Francois Truffaut walked off with a prize aged just 28 for The 400 Blows while George Lucas, Ken Loach and Steven Soderbergh all showed their first features at Cannes — respectively THX1138, Family Life and Palme d'Or winner Sex, Lies and Videotape.
Quentin Tarantino's first feature Reservoir Dogs was screened at Cannes, and in 1993 New Zealand's Jane Campion became the only woman director to win the prestigious top prize.
Cannes was originally billed as the free world's cinematic answer to fascism, intended as a counter to Venice's Mostra, which in 1938 gave its top prize to a film on the Berlin Olympics, Olympia, slammed as Nazi propaganda.
The very first Cannes festival, held on 1 September, 1939, lasted barely 48 hours, with just one film screened — Hollywood's Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The lights went off on 3 September when Hitler invaded Poland, pulling the curtain on peace as well as the filmfest.
After the war, Cannes resumed with 21 countries sending films in 1946, among them David Lean's Brief Encounter.
Politics were very much an issue at the time as the Cold War loomed, and in the 1950s several films — about colonialism or Nazi death camps — were hastily pulled to keep the diplomatic peace.
Through the decades, international issues were often the backdrop to the glamour, as in 1968 when Czech-born filmmaker Milos Forman was unable to go home because of the Soviet invasion in Prague.
Domestic politics burst into the festival the same year with France's May 1968 student protests, when Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut memorably hung onto the curtains to stop a screening, and the festival closed five days early.
This year Cannes will mark its 65th anniversary with a gala dinner followed by a fireworks display at the half-way point of the event on Sunday, 20 May.