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Tim Burton was moved to tears as he was given a lengthy standing ovation in the French city of Lyon where he received the Lumière lifetime achievement award at the eponymous festival named after the brothers who invented the Cinematograph. 

The U.S. filmmaker took to the stage looking as gawky and embarrassed as a character straight out of one of his films, overwhelmed by all the attention he was receiving.

As he was handed the prize by Italian actor Monica Bellucci, who was a honorary guest at the festival, he said: “All my life put together, I have never felt so much love as tonight. Welcome to the best funeral I ever had!” he exclaimed, adding: “It is such an honor to be in the birthplace of cinema. This is one of most beautiful, pure, simple festivals I have ever been to – it’s all about the love of movies. I am speechless, thank you so much.”

Among the celebrities paying homage to Burton were French actor Alice Taglioni who played several pieces on the piano for him including the theme song of Burton’s 2005 stop-motion musical “Corpse Bride,” and French singer Imany who performed a pitch-perfect rendition of Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O” in the memorable “Beetlejuice” scene. 

The Lumière Award was created in 2009 by the Institute of the same name, a Lyon-based organisation dedicated to the preservation of film heritage. 

Earlier in the day, queues in front of Lyon’s historic Théâtre des Célestins stretched several hundred meters as fans, many of whom were clad in Burtonesque gothic costumes, queued up for his masterclass. 

The filmmaker didn’t disappoint, as the session ran over time with Burton taking extra questions from the enthusiastic public. 

Asked about the films that inspired his unique imagery, Burton explained “many of the movies I watched growing up had something very European about them. It goes back to that fantasy fable, fairy tale, strong graphic imagery,” he explained. 

German impressionism, in particular, left its mark: “It always reminded me of the inside of your mind, it’s very personal and very internal. Something about the nature of German impressionism and the strong imagery tapped into my mind, my dreams, my vision of things. Something about the black and white, too – it is both exciting and calming, it has a strange effect on me,” he said, adding: “Even some of those Universal horror movies used German expressionism, so it came in many forms.”

Burton, who’s been known to say that he watched monster movies before he could even walk or talk, explained how he identified with them: “I never saw the monsters as bad, they were always beautiful, visual things that were different. Feeling different myself – like a lot of people do – I responded to monsters. 

“The word itself means something that’s scary, but I never saw it like that… Frankenstein or the Creature from Black Lake: they’re not bad, just different, that’s why I had a strong connection to them – both psychologically and visually.”

Burton’s unique cinematic world found its perfect match in actor Johnny Depp when the two first collaborated on “Edward Scissorhands” in 1990. The pair have famously gone on to make eight films together. 

I connected with him when I met him for ‘Edward Scissorhands’: He was similar to me, kind of suburban white trash. It was not even a verbal understanding,” he went on, “It was something I could feel. He liked the characters, he was interested in acting for the art of it, not the business of it. It was exciting to see somebody play different things, the idea of this transformation from film to film always excited me,” said Burton.  

While he firmly denied any rumors about a sequel to his 1988 hit “Beetlejuice,” Burton said he would still be making movies for a while, to his fans’ delight. “Definitely, as an artist, you should always try to see things in a different way, try to keep growing and creating. It’s an important part of life. Nothing I’ve done is perfect, but creating keeps you alive, and it’s something you’ll want to keep doing no matter how old you are,” he said. 

Ever the gentleman, Burton said he could not cite a favorite film by one of his contemporaries because “as filmmakers, you live in a fraternity, so I can’t say there is one person in particular.” As for a favorite among his own films, “it’s like my children, I love them all despite their flaws, even the ugly ones,” he joked. “They’re all like a special time capsule to me.”

Tim Burton is being awarded the lifetime achievement Lumière Award, following in the footsteps of the likes of Jane Campion, the Dardenne brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Jane Fonda, Wong Kar-wai, Catherine Deneuve, Pedro Almodóvar, Ken Loach, Gérard Depardieu and Milos Forman. 

The Lumière Film Festival runs until Oct. 23.

Tim Burton at Lumiere Festival 2022 Credit: Chassignole Olivier