If you were putting together a fantasy protest group, you couldn't do much better than Godard, Truffaut, Malle and Polanski as your back four. All were involved in the demonstration that brought Cannes to a halt 40 years ago.

The episode has become part of the hugely mythologised moment of French and European history that is evoked by a simple statement of the year, 1968.

The soixante-huitards at Cannes were ostensibly inspired by a relatively parochial event - the sacking by De Gaulle's government of the revered head of the Cinematheque Francaise, Henri Langlois. But that issue was merged into the wider debate. It became part of the myth of students, artists and workers together confronting the forces of a politically and culturally oppressive establishment that will be summoned up in various events on the Croisette this year.

The presence of Steven Soderbergh's four-hour Che is already stirring up the echoes of that street-fighting year. The revolutionary had been shot six months before the Cannes protest and was already an icon.

Political idealists might be revolted at the idea, but one of the reasons why 1968 will be back in a big way is that it remains box office. The interest in the political ideals of the leading protesters, or even Che himself, in the rich countries of the West may have waned but the stencilled iconography, the music and the movies remain cool.

Much of the attraction of Martin Scorsese's recent work with the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan is that sense of radical chic. It's not the old men pumping out the tunes on the stage but the long shadows that still suggest a lingering Sympathy With The Devil.

The red and black flags may not be hanging over the Croisette this year but finding a souvenir in a tasteful claret and gun-metal grey shouldn't be hard. Commerce and culture is what Cannes does better than anywhere else in the world, of course. The intense liberalism of the festival that has showcased some of the world's greatest radical art and political statements sits just along the road from the equally intense wheeler-dealing of the market.

So apart from a tasty marketing opportunity - and all credit to the festival for the inspired idea of showing some of the movies denied a screening because of demonstrators - is there anything more profound that can be picked up from 1968'

Cannes, like much of today's France, was changed by the events of that year. The cultural reactionaries against whom the protestors marched have been largely defeated.

The most passionate demonstrations of the last two or three years have been from the Koreans and the Czechs, angry about their own governments' tampering with incentives. The festival now belongs to the world.

Another of the demonstrators' demands retains some relevance - the desire to include new voices in film-making. Cannes has led the way, with sections devoted to encouraging new talent, but that has necessarily been within the confines of the medium and the limitations imposed by the cost of making a 35mm film.

How will Cannes cope with a new generation of film-makers now picking up low-cost digital cameras and potentially reshaping the moving image' Well probably in the way Cannes has done in recent years, it will find and champion the best.

The broader issue for Cannes and the industry as a whole isn't widening film-making; that will happen of its own accord and festivals will encourage it because they need and want new talent.

If there is something to feel passionate about now, it is widening the audience. In a mouth-watering line-up at Cannes this year, there is a wealth of creativity, imagination and passion invested in what remains the greatest art form ever known for expressing those ideas. But how can the reach of those films be extended and a new generation of fans of the challenging, life-changing film be created'

Cannes does not want to be the greatest festival for a cinema that simply grows old once it leaves the rarified climes of the Croisette, as relevant as fading images of the now grand auteurs swinging on the Palais curtains when they were the enfants terribles.