A Brief History of the Golden Camera Award at Cannes

By Dominique Gentil, AFC

by Dominique Gentil Contre-Champ AFC n°342

[ English ] [ français ]

Following the decision by the organizers of the Cannes Film Festival to approve the AFC’s choice of cinematographer Nathalie Durand to represent the Association this year on the Golden Camera jury, Dominique Gentil, AFC, thought it important to write up the history of this award, which is important to all directors of first films, in all selections.

The Golden Camera award recognizes the talent of a first film
This cinematographic award was the brainchild of Gilles Jacob who, in 1978, upon taking on the role of the Festival’s General Delegate, wished to specifically recognize the future talents of cinema.
The Golden Camera therefore recognizes the best first film in any section of the Festival:
- The Official Selection (and out of competition),
- Un Certain Regard
- Critics’ Week
- Directors’ Fortnight.

Over the years, the Golden Camera has drawn attention to many filmmakers: Romain Goupil, Claire Devers, Mira Nair, Pascale Ferran, Steve McQueen, Jim Jarmusch, Jafar Panahi, and others.

At the outset, Kodak was the main sponsor of the event, offering the awardee two prizes: a 16mm Aaton camera and a gift of filmstock. Martine Bianco, who at the time was a manager at Aaton, remembers the session where the camera body presented on stage was painted in gold; the real camera was handed over later.
Publicist Jacques Dauphin remembers the promotional advertising for the winning film.
In the present day, the jury presents the winner with a less rational but more media-friendly award: a trophy created by the jeweler Chopard…
The prestige of this award, which is presented the same night as the Palme, in the Grand Théâtre Lumière at the Palais des Festivals, is certainly the highest recognition a young filmmaker can hope to obtain.

The Golden Camera Jury
In 1982, the rules for jury selection took on their current form: at that time, the jury stopped being composed of only critics, as was the case prior, but came to include other personalities from the 7th Art (professionals, technicians and artists).
The latter are currently chosen by their associations or societies:
- SRF (French Film Directors’ Society)
- FICAM (French Federation of Cinema, Audiovisual and Multimedia Industries)
- SFCC (French Society of Film Critics)
- AFC (French Cinematographers’ Association).
Besides these jurors, who serve only once, the president and two guests are currently chosen by Thierry Frémaux, general delegate of the Festival.

The AFC, a member of the Golden Camera jury
Gilles Jacob came up with the innovative and fair idea that the technicians who make films can also be cinephiles. Trusting our expertise to judge a first work, which might be fragile but reveals talent, is a gage of esteem for our professions.
Serving as a juror on the Golden Camera adventure is part of a personal commitment, but it also means serving as an ambassador for our profession of cinematographers.
The currently perennial participation of an AFC member in the Golden Camera jury has been acquired thanks to the participation of certain of our members. Pierre-William Glenn, Robert Alazraki, Gérard de Battista, Armand Marco, and Jean-Noël Ferragut all argued in 1997 for the legitimacy and representativity of our association to the directors of the Cannes Festival, Pierre Viot, president at that time, and Gilles Jacob.

Neither a bear, nor a frog, nor a palm, is given to the prizewinner, but a camera, one which used to be real and now is symbolic. The Golden Camera celebrates the essential object, the one we use to make our films, and which is the true "heart" of filmmaking.

Nathalie, I wish you an unforgettable moment of partaking in cinema, as was the case for your happy predecessors.

(Translated from French by Alexander B. Raiffe)