Fest prez shuns claims; Foster a French fave

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

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

The chief denied that was the reason for his choice, saying, “We didn’t choose Jodie to please America, but the whole world. She is a very intelligent woman and we are confident she will handle the rest of the jury in a diplomatic way.”

However, 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 lost face when Olivier Barrot, whom he had 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.”

Cayla’s responsibilities are managerial and administrative, while Fremaux, longtime head of the Lyon Cinematheque, is artistic director. Jacob said his role now is to “advise” Fremaux on the selection of films.

The man behind the curtain

Insiders affirm, however, that Jacob will be omnipresent when it comes to choosing the lineup 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 notion that filmmakers might believe someone else is running the fest.

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

Taste will tell

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

After the Barrot embarrassment, observers believe Jacob has to get it right this time around, 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 on Tuesday, suggests he is off to a good start.

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

Foster, who first 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.”

French favorite

As well as pleasing Americans, the choice will go down well with the French, who are 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 also is well known in the French film community, having starred in Eric Le Hung’s 1977 “Moi, Fleur Bleue” and Claude Chabrol’s 1984 “Le sang des autres.”

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