Entertainment & Arts

Cannes Film Festival: Stephen Frears reveals jury secrets

Stephen Frears
Image caption Frears has been nominated twice for the Palme d'Or, for Prick Up Your Ears in 1987 and The Van in 1996

What is it like to be in charge of the team that will award the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival?

The jury - led by president Steven Spielberg and featuring Oscar winners Nicole Kidman, Ang Lee and Christoph Waltz - will spend 10 days in darkened screening rooms.

They are banned from talking to the press during the festival and their deliberations go on behind closed doors. So what is it like to be on the inside?

British director Stephen Fears headed the jury in 2007, when the Palme d'Or went to the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

How were you asked to lead the jury?

I don't know how many people had turned it down before me. They gracefully didn't tell me that and eventually [festival president] Gilles Jacob rang me. It was fantastic - I had a bodyguard for the first and only time, he was nice man. It was the greatest perk in life.

How did you view your role?

I don't know, you try and behave sensibly. I hear all those stories about people manipulating things, but there didn't seem to be any of that. There were no orders from above - nobody tried to interfere, but there were a few basic rules which you had to follow.

They were very anti-American, the jury. But I kept saying that American films are watched all over the world. This cut no ice with a few bolshy women on the jury.

Image caption Frears' jury included actresses Toni Collette and Maggie Cheung as well as film-makers Sarah Polley and Marco Bellochio

Is it a slog sitting though more than 20 films in competition in just a few short days?

What you're terrified of is going to sleep so I had coffee brought to me to stay awake - it was manageable. I didn't write notes but I had a friend with me and she and I would discuss the film afterwards.

Maybe we were rather dull. There were four things that I wanted shortlisted and I got three of them, someone more ruthless would have got all four. It was a very good film that we gave the Palme d'Or to but it wasn't unanimous, which shocked and surprised me. And then there was this hostility to the US films.

How do you even begin to compare films like Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof and No Country for Old Men with an animation like Persepolis or a drama like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly?

Image caption Cristian Mungiu, the winner of the Palme d'Or in 2007, will sit on this year's jury

You just know. You have your own values so that isn't difficult at all.

Is it democratic or do you, as the president, have the final say?

It's an odd number in the jury but I don't remember withholding my vote until the others had voted. I mean, sometimes a decision would be reached and you'd think: "Well, that wasn't a very good one."

There was one very heated moment of passion during deliberations that quite shocked me but I can't tell you what it was.

Do you think you gave it to the right film and do cinema audiences care who wins the Palme d'Or?

Oh yes, it was a wonderful, original film. I'm sure it benefitted from winning, it was a very accessible film. I'm sure if you spoke to distributors, I'm sure they would say Michael Haneke's film [2012 Palme d'Or and Oscar-winner] Amour has done really well.

But I'm sure it has been given to films where it hasn't made much difference.