Cannes changed Spike’s world

Jury president reveals how Festival had a big impact on his career

by Richard Mowe

Jury duty at the Cannes Film Festival (from left) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausner, Mati Diop, Spike Lee, Mélanie Laurent and Mylène Farmer
Jury duty at the Cannes Film Festival (from left) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hausner, Mati Diop, Spike Lee, Mélanie Laurent and Mylène Farmer Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Spike Lee, the first black jury president in the history of the Cannes Film Festival, hasn’t always had the best memories of his sojourns to the south of France.

His connection reached a nadir when Do The Right Thing was presented in Competition in 1989, but controversially failed to win the top prize, the Palme d’Or, which went to Steven Soderbergh’s Sex Lies And Videotape. There was much dissent at the time in the media ranks, notably from critical doyen, the late Roger Ebert, who had championed the film.

Lee, who addressed those media this afternoon at the jury press conference, recalled that a couple of weeks ago marked the 32nd anniversary of the film’s release. “I wrote it in 1988. When you see brother Eric Gardner, when you see king George Floyd murdered. And you think and hope that 30 mother-fucking years later, the Black people will stop being hunted down like animals.”

Jury President Spike Lee: 'You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema'
Jury President Spike Lee: 'You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema' Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
Despite his fire and fury he doesn’t bear too many grudges and returned to Cannes two years later with Jungle Fever for which Samuel L Jackson received a best supporting actor award. Lee came back to the Competition two years ago with BlacKkKlansman winning a Grand Prix from the Festival as well as an Oscar the following year.

"To me the Cannes Film Festival [besides being the most important film festival in the world — no disrespect to anybody] has had a great impact on my film career. You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema,” he said. “It started way back in 1986 — my first feature film She’s Gotta Have It won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the Directors’ Fortnight.”

Lee has had seven films premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, including Jungle Fever (1991), Girl 6 (1996), Summer of Sam (1999), Ten Minutes Older (2002), and BlacKkKlansman (2018).

On the subject of streaming platforms Lee was conciliatory. He said: "“Cinema and screening platforms can co-exist. At one time there was a thinking that TV was going to kill cinema. This stuff is not new. It’s all cycle. And it’s well documented that She’s Gotta Have It, when it appeared at film festivals, was a launching pad for my career.”

Lee’s last film Da 5 Bloods about four African American veterans return to Vietnam decades after the war to find their squad leader's remains and a stash of buried gold, was released last year on Netflix.

Lee is surrounded by diverse jury members comprising Mati Diop, director (France, Senegal); Mylène Farmer singer, songwriter (Canada, France); Maggie Gyllenhaal, actress, producer, screenwriter, director (US) Jessica Hausner, director, producer, screenwriter (Austria), Mélanie Laurent, actress, director, screenwriter (France) Kleber Mendonça Filho, director, producer, screenwriter (Brazil), Tahar Rahim, actor (France) and Song Kang-ho, actor (South Korea).

The results of their deliberations will be revealed at the closing ceremony on 17 July.

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