Will Smith and Uma Thurman took some time off from Cannes jury duty to celebrate legendary producer Jeffrey Katzenberg on Friday night at a gala dinner, during which he received an honorary Palme d’Or.
The Dreamworks co-founder, adding the prize to his awards shelf, compared it to being bestowed an honorary Oscar in 2012.
Netflix head Ted Sarandos was present at the event, which took place at the InterContinental Carlton Cannes Hotel. Producer Brett Ratner, Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos, Timbuktu producer Sylvie Pialat and directors Naomi Kawase, Costa-Gavras and Joachim Lafosse were also on hand.
Festival head Thierry Fremaux said that Katzenberg’s submission of the “strange little film” Shrek in 2001 was a game-changer for the fest, allowing it to embrace more experimental films after the animated pic was given a competition spot.
“The history of the festival would not have been written without your contribution,” said Fremaux, adding that if the fest hadn’t had Shrek in competition that year, other animations, such as Persepolis, may not have had a presence in later years. “You showed what is possible for this genre.”
Fremaux said that when he took the reins of the fest in 2001, one of his goals was to strengthen ties with Hollywood, and Katzenberg’s faith in Cannes had helped that effort.
Sarandos, who was seated across from Thurman and Smith at a long table in the grand ballroom, received a bit of good-natured booing when Fremaux mentioned Netflilx.
“[Katzenberg] has something else in mind now, a little project on the internet that will get bigger and bigger, and I’m a little scared,” joked Fremaux. “It will be here in a couple of years, and I know I’m already in trouble because of the Netflix thing.”
Katzenberg also gave a nod to Sarandos, who had just walked the red carpet for the premiere of his streamer’s Okja, saying that that first red-carpet walk is something magical.
He also thanked Smith for encouraging Angelina Jolie to jump on an inflatable shark back in 2004 for Shark Tales, a moment that has become an iconic Cannes memory.
Katzenberg said he was “speaking from the heart” when accepting the award and said he grew up believing in the impossible back in New York, a town “roughly between Cannes and Hollywood.”
“Every single spring for almost 40 years, I couldn’t wait to come back here,” he said. “I think for anyone in the film industry, coming here is similar to what it feels like for an athlete to go to the Olympics. It is incredible, it is the best. Winning is actually secondary — simply being able to participate is the greatest of honors.
“Cannes is the most important and prestigious film festival. Cannes is exceptional because its leaders are exceptional,” added Katzenberg while thanking Fremaux, current president Pierre Lescure and former president Gilles Jacobs. “They’ve not allowed it to rest on its laurels — or should I say its palmes,” he joked, calling them the “true heroes” of film.