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The 62-year-old American filmmaker has had a long and at times fraught relationship with Cannes. Among his notable successes at the festival, Lee’s first feature She’s Gotta Have It, won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the Director’s Fortnight in 1986, in 1989 Do The Right Thing was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or and Jungle Fever played in competition in 1991. Girl 6 screened out of competition in 1996, and Summer of Sam was part of the Directors Fortnight sidebar in 1999. In 2002, Ten Minutes Older was in the Un Certain Regard selection. After a long gap, Lee returned to the Croisette with 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, which competed for the Palme d’Or and ended up winning the festival’s Grand Prix.
“In this life I have lived … my biggest blessings have been when they arrived unexpected, when they happened out of nowhere. When I got the call that I was offered the opportunity to be President of Cannes Jury for 2020, I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time,” Lee said in a lengthy statement.
He added: “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.”
As well as having success at Cannes, Lee has had his run-ins with the festival, most famously trashing 1989 jury head Wim Wenders when Do the Right Thing lost out on the Palme d’Or to Stephen Soderbergh’s sex, lies and videotape. “Wim Wenders had better watch out cause I’m waiting for his ass,” Lee said after the snub. “Somewhere deep in my closet I have a Louisville Slugger bat with Wenders’ name on it.” (He said in a 2013 interview with Pharrell Williams that the comment “was a very immature statement … it was stupid.”)
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, however, Lee maintained that Do the Right Thing was “robbed.”
Cannes has also been the venue for some of Lee’s most controversial statements. In 1999, he faced criticism for comments he made in France about actor Charlton Heston, then head of the National Rifle Association, and gun control in America. Speaking at Cannes in 2008, Lee criticized Clint Eastwood’s war movie Letters From Iwo Jima for its lack of black soldiers. And in 2018 at a press conference for BlacKkKlansman, Lee excoriated President Donald Trump for not disavowing the Ku Klux Klan after the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Lee succeeds Alejandro G. Iñárritu, whose jury last year awarded the coveted Palme d’Or to Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, which has gone on to win global acclaim and numerous awards, as well as scoring six Oscar nominations on Monday.
The rest of the jury for Cannes’ main competition will be announced in mid-April.
This year’s Cannes Film Festival is set to run May 12-23.
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