Choice seen as olive branch to Hollywood

PARIS — The Cannes’ Intl. Festival of Film offered Hollywood an olive branch Tuesday with the announcement that Jodie Foster will head the jury of this year’s fest.

The choice of an American star for the prestigious role as jury topper is widely seen as an attempt by fest president Gilles Jacob to patch up his strained relations with Hollywood as the festival enters a critical stage in its history.

Accused by some of turning his back on the U.S., Jacob is eager to appease his detractors — and to win approval for the new organizational structure he has put in place at the festival.

Having resigned as artistic director and taken over from the outgoing Pierre Viot as president last year, Jacob suffered a serious pratfall when Olivier Barrot, whom he had apparently hand picked to be the next artistic director, parted company with the fest within months.

The wounded Barrot publicly attacked Jacob, complaining that the ‘autocratic’ fest chief had refused to delegate any responsibilities to him.

Jacob’s solution was to appoint two people — Thierry Fremaux and Veronique Cayla — who with Jacob are supposed to form what the fest chief described as a “perfect musical trio”.

While Cayla’s responsibilities are managerial and administrative, Fremaux, long-standing head of the Lyon Cinematheque, is now artistic director.

However insiders affirm that Jacob will be omnipresent when it comes to selecting films for the fest.

“Everyone in the business knows that Jacob’s still the man in charge, he is still the guardian of the temple,” a French film industry source said.

Even fest sources balk at the idea that filmmakers from around the world might believe that someone else is now running the fest.

“Filmmakers who have Monsieur Jacob’s number will still be able to talk to him on the telephone,” said one.

An observer commented: “We know very well what films Jacob likes so the final Cannes line-up will reveal who was really responsible for the selection.”

After the Barrot embarrassment, observers believe Jacob has to get it right this time round, and the months leading up to the 2001 festival will be critical.

Jacob’s choice of Foster as jury president, approved by the festival’s board of directors Tuesday, suggests, at least, that he is off to a good start.

“Jodie promised me years ago that she would do it” Jacob said, adding: “She has won the highest awards, it was high time she came to Cannes to award some herself.”

Foster, who climbed the steps of the Palais des Festivals in 1976 for the screening of the Palme d’Or winning “Taxi Driver”, said in a statement: “I’ve dreamed of the honor of being president of the jury at Cannes since I was a child.”

As well as pleasing Americans, it will also go down well with the French who are very fond of the French-speaking Foster.

The actress, who went to school at the Lycee Francais in L.A., has spent a lot of time in France and once had an apartment on the Ile St Louis, in the heart of Paris.

She is also known by the French film community, having starred in Eric Le Hung’s 1977 “Moi, Fleur Bleu” and Claude Chabrol’s “Le Sang des Autres.”

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