If Cannes Fest main competition jury president Emir Kusturica is a true son of Cannes — he’s twice won the Palme d’Or and served as a juror — he’s clearly a wayward son who contrasts himself with such dignified past prexys as Luchino Visconti by noting “Visconti never played guitar on the beach in Cannes with his band.”

Kusturica, with his popular No Smoking Orchestra, will in fact augment his jury duty with band duty on Sunday. But, on the fest’s opening day he told Variety there’s no danger of his attention wandering from his presidential duties. The auteur couldn’t be more effusive about the importance of Cannes as an alternative to what he deems the “materialistic trash” of most contemporary mainstream culture.

Complains Kusturica, “Britney Spears has become an important person in my life and it’s against my will. If I leave the television on by mistake, unknown people come into my room like radioactive poison.”

Much the way Kusturica slings his guitar, he riffs on contempo blockbuster cinema with passion, fire and not a little ire.

“Hollywood created an idealistic world, and, especially in the ’70s, Hollywood films put the author of the film in the center of the filmmaking equation. As a result, the stories were about real American heroes, but since the ’80s there are no Hollywood films with real heroes, no films with the idealism we need to live. Today it is all perfect sound, perfect image, perfect effects but the end result is movies that kill you for two hours.”

The Cannes alternative is essential, says Kusturica, “because everything in cinema can’t be measured simply by box office. That’s just empty measuring empty.”

With a plethora of major-name filmmakers, including a couple of fellow Palme d’Or honorees such as Wim Wenders, Gus Van Sant and Lars von Trier in the competition, Kusturica sees Cannes ’05 as “proof that Bergman, Fellini, Visconti have European filmmakers who came after them and continued the tradition of film authorship. And Cannes is important as the place with this great record spreading the news about international cinema and making sure everyone knows about the new filmmakers from Asia, or Australia or Africa.”

Comparing the history of the foreign-language Oscar to the Palme d’Or — celebrating its 50th anni this year — Kusturica argues he “can’t remember many of the films in the foreign-language Oscars, but year after year Cannes has honored the most important international filmmakers.”

As for the Cannes jury service itself, Kusturica employs the wry humor that characterizes much of his filmic output, offering that he “comes from a country (the former Yugoslavia) that ranks along with Colombia as the most corrupt in the world. So it’s a great experience to see people from all over the world get together and be fair, to deliberate with dignity in a good atmosphere.”

After Cannes, Kusturica returns to the work of building his village (yes, he’s overseeing construction of an entire village in western Serbia) and finishing his documentary on soccer legend Diego Maradona.

In a wide-ranging and fast-moving critique of what he calls the “side-effects of globalization,” Kusturica compares the current state of cinema with that of soccer. “They are in the same condition. Like cinema, it’s 10 times faster, there are billions riding on it and there’s no sign of the individual and no beauty.”