In the U.S., mainstream coverage of the Cannes Film Festival focuses on the celebrity-strewn red carpet outside screenings of high-profile titles like Woody Allen's Cafe Society, Steven Spielberg's The BFG, Jodie Foster's Money Monster and Shane Black's The Nice Guys. But the heart and soul of Cannes is its Competition, where a small number of carefully selected titles — less than two dozen — from veteran directors and newcomers alike screen in an effort to earn the prizes that can dramatically raise their profile with arthouse audiences worldwide, not to mention the distributors who will take on the risk of releasing the films.

I, Daniel Blake

Director Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake, won the Palme d'Or, the festival's top prize.

1) Who were the winners?

Cannes awards can be inscrutable to newcomers. For instance, the Grand Prix is second place behind the top prize, the Palme d'Or, or "Golden Palm." The Prix du Jury or "Jury Prize" is, essentially, third place. Other awards include the Prix d'interprétation féminine (Best Actress), the Prix d'interprétation masculine (Best Actor), the Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director), and the Prix du scénario (Best Screenplay). Only films screened "in competition" at the grand Théâtre Lumière as part of the festival's Official Selection are eligible for these awards.

Palme d'Or I, Daniel Blake, directed by Ken Loach
Grand Prix It's Only the End of the World by Xavier Dolan
Prix du Jury American Honey directed by Andrea Arnold
Best Director Cristian Mungiu, Graduation
Best Screenplay Asghar Farhadi, The Salesman
Best Actress Jaclyn Jose, Ma' Rosa
Best Actor Shahab HosseiniThe Salesman

The Last Face

Critics are said to have turned on director Sean Penn's The Last Face before the opening titles were off the screen. 

2) Who were the losers?

Unquestionably the biggest loser of the 2016 Festival de Cannes was The Last Face, a love story set against the backdrop of civil unrest in West Africa, directed by Sean Penn and starring Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem. Reviewers are said to have begun laughing at the film during its opening moments, leaving it dead in the water. The Hollywood Reporter called it "A … stunningly self-important but numbingly empty cocktail of romance and insulting refugee porn." The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis observed that the festival would have done it a favor by keeping it out of competition, muting the inevitable belly-flop. As it is, The Last Face is saddled with one heck of an albatross as its producers try to find a buyer.

Only the End of the World

Director Xavier Dolan took harsh criticism of It's Only the End of the World seriously.

3) What's it like to watch a movie that you just spent the last two years of your life on bomb at its Cannes premiere?

You might think that a world-renowned cineaste who won the 2014 Cannes Jury Prize, returned last year as a member of the jury, and was back in competition in 2016 with another award-winning feature wouldn't care much what critics say. Not so for Xavier Dolan, who (perhaps unwisely) told a festival reporter that the prevalence of reviews like this one that called his film It's Only the End of the World "screechy [and] mawkish" and compared Dolan to a "sulking … teenager" made him contemplate abandoning his directorial career. You could say there's no such thing as bad publicity, and it's true that the story probably earned more attention for Dolan's film, especially from the mainstream press. But filmmaking is a tough job and a director needs to project confidence — if nothing else, for the sake of getting the next project funded. If you read your reviews, try to take something from them that you can use. But don't dwell on the bad ones, and certainly don't let them dominate the conversation about your own work.

Toni Erdmann

Many critics expected Maren Ade's well-reviewed Toni Erdmann to take the top prize, but it ended up winning nothing.

4) Wait — didn't you just say that Dolan's film won second prize at the festival? Couldn't they have chosen a film that more people liked?

The second-place finish for It's Only the End of the World was quite controversial, given how widely disliked the film was. Presumably members of the jury liked that movie a lot more than its critics did. But Cannes has something of a reputation for oddball award picks. Each Cannes jury is made up of a mix of actors, directors and producers, and they were led this year by director George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road). What kind of films did they favor? Well, top-prize-winner I, Daniel Blake is at least a safe pick, a social issues movie from director Ken Loach (KesThe Wind That Shakes the Barley), the long-standing master of social issues movies. But Loach already has a Palme d'Or, and many critics complained that the award should have gone to another film, perhaps Maren Ade's highly acclaimed comedy-drama Toni Erdmann or Jim Jarmusch's low-key Adam Driver film Paterson. Also very well-reviewed but locked out of awards were The Unknown Girl from Belgium's two-time Palme-winning Dardenne Brothers and The Handmaiden from Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook, who won the Grand Prix for Oldboy and the Jury Prize for Thirst.

American Honey

Director Andrea Arnold's American Honey was shot partially on 35mm film.

5) Were there any other big winners at the festival?

Maybe motion-picture film. Celluloid may be on its last legs, but when it comes to showcases for cinema as art, and the kind of films Cannes is known for, it's showing some staying power. According to Kodak, of 21 films in competition this year, only four were shot (in whole or in part) on film. But two of those — I, Daniel Blake and It's Only the End of the World — won the top two awards. That's impressive. Who knows? Maybe the filmed image swayed the judges, consciously or unconsciously, to favor those titles against their digital competition. Also shooting on film were leading French auteur Olivier Assayas for Personal ShopperMidnight Special writer-director Jeff Nichols for Loving, and Cannes veteran Andrea Arnold (her Red Road and Fish Tank are already Jury Prize winners) for American Honey, which won the Jury Prize and featured "a few" scenes shot on film, Kodak tells us. So there's one bulletproof argument for going the extra mile to shoot your next feature on film — just make sure it ends up in competition at Cannes!