Pete Hammond

Once rivals for Oscar in February and now fellow jurors in Cannes, Ang Lee called Steven Spielberg his “hero” as Spielberg praised Lee’s Life Of Pi, which won Best Director over Lincoln. This mutual lovefest took place as the jury for the 66th Cannes Film Festival was introduced to the world’s press this afternoon. Spielberg, who said he hasn’t served on any festival jury since 1974 (the beginning of his feature film career) is President and has been asked many times but said the timing was finally right. “I’ve been so consistently at work, especially in the spring months directing, that every time I’ve been approached to be on the jury I’ve been working so I suddenly found myself with an open year, and so that’s why this all came together this year. I am honored I was invited,” he said. Spielberg has been to Cannes many times before with films like E.T. and most recently, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull.

Asked about being on the Cannes panel with Spielberg after defeating him for the Oscar almost three months ago Lee said, “Steven and I are good friends. I worship him. I don’t know how he looks at me, but I worship him. I don’t think any result would change how I feel about him or even myself. He’s my hero.” Spielberg responding seemed at a loss for words. “I don’t know how to answer that, except to say Ang and I have been friends for a long time and we’ve never ever been competitors, we’ve always been colleagues and that will just contiinue. And certainly I worship Life Of Pi and therefore I worship Ang Lee as well.”

Juror Nicole Kidman was asked if husband Keith Urban, who ironically is also serving as a judge now on American Idol, gave her any advice. “No, but it is strange that we’re sort of back to back on doing this but at the same time we both love what we do, and we are huge fans so to speak of what we do, and that’s something that has encouraged me. Also I wanted to be a part of this jury and when I was asked I knew that Steven was going to be the President, and I’ve known Steven a long time but I never got to spend two whole weeks with him , so I’m looking very forward to that,” she laughed. Kidman is no stranger to Cannes. In fact she had two films, The Paperboy and Hemingway & Gellhorn in the official selection just last year. She was also here in 2001 for Baz Luhrmann’s memorable opening night extravaganza for Moulin Rouge (which won her her first Oscar nomination), so it’s just a bit ironic she will be back walking up those Palais steps again tonight as Luhrmann returns to Cannes for this year’s big opening, The Great Gatsby.

Another juror who was recently in Cannes for a film but now has come back in a very different role is Christoph Waltz. He has won two Oscars since being here for the first time in 2009 for Inglourious Basterds which also won him the Best Actor prize in Cannes. Waltz says he’s still getting used to being on the giving end now. “I have to admit that walking up the stairs to the photo call and then walking into (the press conference) I kind of forgot that I’m on a jury. The memory was still too strong, but I promise I will start to concentrate on being a juror,” he said to big laughs in the room.

Other jurors this year include French actor/director Daniel Auteuil, Indian actress Vidya Balan, Japanese director Naomi Kawase, Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (who has won prizes in Cannes twice including the Palme d’Or for Four Months, Three Weeks And Two Days), and British director Lynne Ramsay, who found herself available for jury duty after suddenly dropping out of helming the currently troubled shoot of Jane Got A Gun on the eve of principal photography. There were no questions asked about that or, considering the strong female presence on the jury which includes two women directors, why there are so few films actually directed by women appearing in the competition (none last year and just one – by Italy’s Valeria Bruni Tedeschi – this year).

Instead most of the action seemed to revolve around Spielberg naturally, and Ang Lee. Asked if the jury bonded at last night’s dinner Spielberg said, “I certainly think the great thing about such a multi-cultural group of people from so many different disciplines is that even though we don’t all speak the same language, we do speak a common language which is cinema. And cinema is our common language and that’s what bonds us, and everything else is going to be a direct result of how the films either bring us together or divides us. But the important thing is going to be the power of the films we are about to see and that is going to be the determining factor of what film really stands out among the rest.”

There was a lot of talk about the difficulty of judging completely different kinds of films competing against each other  and Spielberg and Lee were asked to compare this competition to the Oscars which recently pitted them against one another for Best Director. Lee had definite opinions. “Oscar is a very different thing.  Being a member of a jury selecting the best movie among art is something else. For me I have to separate them. Cannes is a prestigious film festival, it’s full of opinions and artistically driven, more highbrow. Oscar is kind of a competition of a particular group, 6000 Academy members. It has the element of popularity. But it’s sort of work…and you don’t know how the wind blows that year politically,” he said.

Spielberg added that it’s very different than Oscars in that there is no campaigning which he says is fine with him. “It’s such a relief that we are going to be seeing movies, and caucusing and then deliberating a final result or results and we don’t have to go through the campaigning, which as you know follows a large season in America like a political cycle. We had campaigning for the 2012 election and there’s always campaigning for the Oscar election. And there’s no campaigning here and that’s a breath of fresh air for me,” he said.

As to what his style will be as President, using a carrot or a stick, Spielberg said he may refer to a certain film set in a courtroom in order get a handle on things. “I might have to look at the Sidney Lumet film, 12 Angry Men again as a tutorial to prepare myself for the final day of deliberation”.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.