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(Reuters) - The Cannes film festival, which began on May 11, is expected to be a splashier affair this year than last, when financing woes for smaller productions and the lack of major stars cast a shadow over the event. Among the most hotly anticipated films in competition for 2011 is period drama "The Tree of Life" starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, directed by Terrence Malick.
Here are some facts about the Cannes film festival:
-- Originally conceived in 1939 as an alternative to the Fascist-influenced Venice film festival, Cannes has been held annually since 1946 apart from 1948 and 1950, when lack of funds led to its cancellation.
-- In 1949 the stars started coming: Tyrone Power, Orson Welles, Norma Shearer, Errol Flynn and Edward G. Robinson all appeared that year. Brigitte Bardot made her first appearance in 1953.
-- A year later, starlet Simone Silva dropped her bikini top beside Robert Mitchum in front of the photographers, resulting in the kind of racy coverage that secured the festival's reputation.
-- In 1960, the first Cannes Market opened its doors to some 10 participants and one screen -- a canvas hung from the roof of the old Palais Croisette. It quickly became a major meeting point for buyers and sellers from all over the world.
-- In 1968, film director Louis Malle, who was on that year's jury with Roman Polanski among others, was one of a group of film-makers who forced the festival to close in the midst of the student and worker uprisings across France. After an all-night debate marked by raging tempers and occasional fistfights, the organizers called it off.
-- Jane Campion became the first female director to win the Palme d'Or in 1993 for her film "The Piano."
-- In 1997, a "Palme des Palmes" -- a super-version of the Palme d'Or best film prize -- was awarded to Ingmar Bergman for the 50th festival. The Swedish director did not appear. -- In 2004, an actors' masterclass (Lecon d'acteur) was created and inaugurated by Max von Sydow.
-- Thai film "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," one of 19 entries in competition, took the Palme d'Or for best picture, delighting some critics but angering others.
"'Uncle Boonmee', Palm of Boredom" was one headline in French daily Le Figaro, which called the slow-paced examination of reincarnation by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul "dull, incomprehensible and hallucinatory."
-- "Of Gods and Men," by French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois, won the runner-up prize and would have been a popular winner.
-- The meditative re-telling of the murder of seven Trappist monks caught up in civil unrest in Algeria during the 1990s had won almost universal praise for its restrained examination of belief, courage and religious tolerance.
Writing by David Cutler, editing by Paul Casciato