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Spielberg brings Hollywood eye to Cannes Croisette

Best Director nominee Steven Spielberg arriving on the red carpet for the 85th Annual Academy Awards. Steven Spielberg will head the jury of the Cannes' May 15-26 festival. (AFP/Joe Klamar)

LOS ANGELES: Steven Spielberg will bring a Hollywood veteran’s eye to the more art-house Cannes film Festival next week – but he insists he has no preconceptions and will be a strictly “democratic” jury head.

The legendary filmmaker, who first came to Cannes for the premiere of “E.T.” in 1982, says he is looking forward to being on the Croisette, even if he is a little “rusty,” not having served on a festival jury for over 25 years.

The 66-year-old – the third American to head the Cannes jury in four years – chairs a panel that also includes Nicole Kidman and Oscar-winning director Ang Lee to pick who wins the coveted Palme d’Or at the May 15-26 festival.

The prospect of watching and critically assessing 19 films in 12 days might be daunting to some, but Spielberg is unfazed.

“Not me! Every weekend I watch between four and six movies. I catch up on what I’ve missed during the working week. So two films per day in Cannes, I’m rather looking forward to it,” Spielberg said in a pre-Cannes interview.

“It’s a great honor, but it’s above all the promise of great pleasure,” he told the French arts magazine Telerama, in comments published in French.

The director, who has won only once at Cannes – best screenplay for 1974’s “Sugarland Express” – has had a disappointing run of late on the awards front, with his two latest Oscar entries “War Horse” and “Lincoln” coming up short.

But over the years Spielberg has made some of the biggest blockbusters and award-winning films of modern cinema, including “Jaws” (1975), “Jurassic Park” (1993), “Schindler’s List” (1993) and the “Indiana Jones” movies.

Asked if as jury head he would reward films with popular potential, or “more difficult” works, he demurred.

“I believe that, before they are shown, all films are equal. Whether they are small or big, they are a sum of the personal visions and collaborative efforts.

“Each time the filmmaker’s intentions are the same, whether it is Christopher Nolan or Michael Haneke: to express what he has inside,” he said, referring to the blockbuster “Dark Knight” director and Haneke, whose understated “Amour” won last year at Cannes.

The possibility of a cultural clash between Spielberg’s Hollywood sensibility and those of his fellow jurors – an international bunch, to say the least – has not gone unnoticed.

The jury also includes Indian actress Vidya Balan, Japanese director Naomi Kawase, Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, French actor Daniel Auteuil, Romanian director Cristian Mungiu and Oscar-winning Austrian actor Christoph Waltz.

“No roster of Cannes jurors in recent memory has been as stacked with influential, distinctive, high-profile global film industry figures,” wrote film critic Jon Frosch, in a piece published by The Atlantic online.

“The common strand running throughout Spielberg’s body of work is the filmmaker’s palpable desire to reach directly for the viewer’s emotions. Cannes fare, on the other hand, is often cooler, less accessible.”

“Spielberg and the Cannes film Festival should be a fascinating confrontation of cinematic and cinephilic tastes and tendencies,” he wrote.

Spielberg has been tight-lipped about what kind of jury chairman he will be when he takes his seat in the Palais des Festivals, where stars will hit the red carpet on Wednesday.

“Democratic!” he said, when asked by Telerama. “But give me a bit of time. I haven’t been on a jury since the Avoriaz festival in 1986, when we gave the prize to ‘Carrie,’ by Brian de Palma. I’m a little rusty,” he said.

U.S. jury heads at Cannes are not rare: there have been three or four per decade since the 1960s, before which they were French. Figures on Spielberg’s level have included Martin Scorsese in 1998, and Francis Ford Coppola in 1996.

Two of the last three were Americans: Tim Burton in 2010 and Robert de Niro in 2011. In that year the Palme d’Or went to “Tree of Life,” one of two American films in competition, but hardly a crowd-pleasing blockbuster.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 13, 2013, on page 16.

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