Steven Spielberg gave little away when he introduced his nine-strong jury to a packed press conference at the 66th Cannes Film Festival. Taking up his first presidential duties since 1974, when he judged entries at the short-lived Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival in France, the director commented, “Other people have been sitting in judgment of us; now it's our turn.”
Photos: Alpha Press
The panel he was referring to is one of the strongest Cannes has seen in quite some time: as well as Spielberg, it consists of Nicole Kidman, Life Of Pi director Ang Lee, Britain's Lynne Ramsay, Tarantino star Christoph Waltz, Romanian New Wave director Cristian Mungiu, Japanese director Naomi Kawase, French actor director Daniel Auteuil and Bollywood star Vidya Balan.
Though some were expecting sparks to fly, there were no uncomfortable questions for Ramsay, making her first high-profile public appearance here since news of her departure from the ill-fated Jane Got A Gun. Instead, there was something of a director love-in, with Lee professing his admiration for Spielberg (“He is my hero”) and the Lincoln director repaying the compliment.
One thing that quickly became clear, however, is that Spielberg will have a job on his hands handling the various personalities. Although they are directors with very different temperaments, both Lee and Mungiu voiced their concerns about being in the position of judging other's work, while a cheerful Waltz described his hopes for their upcoming debates as being a “successful psychoanalysis”.
At this stage, it is impossible to know quite how this jury will vote, but there were some subtle clues. For his part, Spielberg noted that in the festival environment they would all be free of the usual “campaigning” process – a clear reference to Oscar season – and said that each film would be judged solely on its own merit, regardless of the cast and crew's previous work.
It was also perhaps telling that many of the jurors spoke not of the films under scrutiny in terms of storytelling but as a means of reflecting global and cultural difference. The opinions of the nine individuals who make up the jury rarely relate to the media's interpretation of the films on offer in Cannes, so there are likely to be some surprises.
Indeed, first signs suggest that, with the likes of Ramsay and Kidman flagging up the role of film festivals in discovering new talent, the awards next Sunday will put a spotlight on emerging filmmakers and films from territories with smaller, or lesser known industries.
All will become clear over the next ten days, but keep checking back for more.