Steven Spielberg to Head Cannes Film Festival Jury

Steven Spielberg - H 2013
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UPDATED: The 66th edition of the fest takes place May 15-26.

Steven Spielberg will head up the jury at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Festival organizers said late Wednesday night that the Oscar-winning director will serve as jury president at the event's 66th edition, which runs May 15-26 on the French Riviera.

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“My admiration for the steadfast mission of the festival to champion the international language of movies is second to none," Spielberg said in a statement. "The most prestigious of its kind, the festival has always established the motion picture as a cross-cultural and generational medium.”

Spielberg, who takes the reins from Italian writer-director-producer Nanni Moretti, most recently directed Lincoln, which festival organizers noted is a box-office hit in France, where it has been seen by more than 1 million people.

Spielberg is no stranger to the Croisette. His first film, Sugarland Express, won best screenplay at Cannes in 1974, and his classic E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial had its world premiere at the fest in 1982 as the closing-night film. The Color Purple screened as a noncompetition film in 1986.

Festival president Gilles Jacob noted in a statement that Spielberg is a "Cannes regular" and that he's asked the director to head up the jury several times.

"But he’s always been shooting a film," Jacob said. "So when this year I was told 'E.T., phone home,' I understood and immediately replied, 'At last!' ”

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Thierry Fremaux, general delegate of the festival, said Spielberg actually accepted the responsibility two years ago "in principle."

“He was able to make himself available this year to be the new jury president and when meeting him these last few weeks it has been obvious he’s excited about the job," Fremaux added. "Because of his films, and the many causes he holds dear, he’s year-in year-out the equal of the very greatest Hollywood filmmakers."

Spielberg added that attending Cannes for the first time with E.T. 31 years ago "is still one of the most vibrant memories of my career."

Spielberg was nominated for his direction of Lincoln at Sunday's Academy Awards; the movie also was up for awards in 11 other categories, including best picture. It won best actor for Daniel Day-Lewis and best production design.

Spielberg previously won Oscars for directing 1993's Schindler's List and 1998's Saving Private Ryan and was the 1987 recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.