David Lean Achieved It at the 1st Festival and Now You Cannes

THE 70th CANNES FILM FESTIVAL has always had an aura of glamour and cerebral quality about it, basking in its position as the cream of all festivals and drawing stars like a magnet to the South of France to its red carpet premieres. To the emerging film-maker seeking some sort of headway in the industry, it must seem a daunting challenge to get a film into a festival of this magnitude let alone obtain some meaningful work off the back of that festival circuit success.

When the first Cannes Film Festival was launched in 1946 English director David Lean’s Brief Encounter was one of the films selected for screening and he also walked away with the first ever Grand Prix. He is, without doubt, one of the nation’s greatest directors and many will be inspired by the fact the Croydon-born Lean reached such heights with classics such as Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago. What every struggling new filmmaker dreaming of festival acclaim and Hollywood glory might be asking is ‘ how did he do it?’

Admittedly, by the time he arrived on the shores of southern France he was already established in the industry so Brief Encounter was certainly not an independent feature film by a naïve but passionate first time director. But his route to the top showed even back then in the 1940s when opportunities were, if not more plentiful, certainly more accessible, that nothing but hard graft secured his place at the top of British cinema.

His interest in cinema kicked off when his uncle bought him a Brownies box camera for Christmas. It was a simple cardboard box model introduced by Kodak in 1900 and it enabled the 10-year-old to make his own films. Other than that he spent a lot of time in the cinema and had no passion for academic study. He left school in his mid-teens and was fortunate enough to land an unpaid month’s internship at Gaumont Studios. It was here he found his vocation because even though he had previously been seen as a bit of a dreamer where studies and work were concerned here he excelled, working his way through the ranks from teaboy to clapperboy and eventually third assistant director.

Once he was promoted to editor in 1930 he made his mark in the industry, editing 25 feature films by 1942 and then switched to directing. His debut In Which We Serve (1942) was one of many Noel Coward plays he adapted but it was Coward’s Brief Encounter that won him the Grand Prix at the first Cannes Film Festival.

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About the author /

Eddie Saint-Jean is a London writer and editor whose editorials cover arts, culture, entertainment, food/drink, local history and heritage.

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