Important art festivals in The South of France for Art Lovers
1) Festival de Cannes
Say ‘Cannes’ and most people will immediately think of the prestigious annual film festival, to which the city plays host, in the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès on La Croisette. Every year in May, film stars, directors and producers from all over the world descend on the high-end seaside resort to present their newest films – and to walk the famous red-carpet stairway of the Palais, of course. Starlets make the most of the world-wide media frenzy by getting their photo taken on the beach in varying states of undress. The most prestigious film prize is the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) for the best film. But the festival isn’t for film professionals only; every night during the festival the public flocks to Cinéma de la Plage for a series of open-air film screenings on the beach, often in the company of actors and directors.
2) Les Rencontres d'Arles
Les Rencontres d’Arles is the biggest and most important photography festival in the world. First held in 1970, the festival has since taken over the town of Arles every summer, with an overview of the best international contemporary photography. Different exhibitions are set up in dozens of locations in and outside Arles; 17th-century chapels and industrial buildings are exceptionally open to the public In 2019, the festival attracted 145.000 visitors for its 50th-anniversary edition. Besides exhibitions, you can also attend performances, talks, panel discussions and book signings. Every major name in photography, from Joel Meyerowitz, Annie Leibovitz, Andres Serrano, Martin Parr, to Nan Goldin, Harry Gruyaert and Hiroshi Sugimoto have been invited over the years.
3) Festival d’Avignon
Every year in July, Avignon becomes the theatre capital of Europe. The famous Festival d’Avignon, which was founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar as a modest ‘theatre week’, has since developed into one of the most important international performing arts festivals. Major theatre and dance productions are staged in the Cour d’Honneur, the vast courtyard of the Palais des Papes. At the same time, the festival fans out across the city, with performances in thirty different locations including gardens, chapels, schools and even quarries. Some of the world’s most famous artists have already performed here. Between 2004 and 2013, the festival has had a different artistic director every year, including Thomas Ostermeier, Jan Fabre, Valérie Dréville, Romeo Castellucci and Wajdi Mouawad. In 1966, ‘Off Avignon’ was established, which has grown into an independent festival with hundreds of performances, from cabaret and circus to dance and stand-up comedy. In 2020, the Festival d’Avignon was cancelled for the first time ever because of the coronavirus pandemic.
4) Festival Molière
Every year, the lovely market town of Pézenas pays tribute to one of its most famous residents with a festival: the playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (1622-1673), better known by his nom de plume Molière. After his first theatre company had gone bankrupt in Paris, Molière toured the provinces with an itinerant troupe between 1645 and 1658. They mainly performed comical plays, which were influenced by the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. In 1653, they stopped in Pézenas, where Molière met the Prince of Conti, who enjoyed these comedies tremendously. Conti, who became his patron, was a connoisseur of the genre and together he and Molière analysed the company’s performances and discussed the highlights of classic and modern comedy. That is how the foundation was laid for the famous plays that Molière would go on to write later in life, such as Tartuffe, Dom Juan, L’École des femmes and Le malade imaginaire. The annual Festival Molière in Pézenas stages dozens of theatre productions in the 19th-century theatre, in squares and courtyards and in the open-air theatre, in addition to talks, panel discussions and film screenings.
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The South of France for Art Lovers is one of the spin-off titles of The 500 Hidden Secrets series of essential city guides. This guide focusses on one particular aspect of the region of the South of France.
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