For De Niro, Cannes jury duty is work of improvisation
To hear Robert De Niro tell it, deciding who gets the highly coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival is pretty much an improv job.
The two-time Oscar winner is leading the nine-member jury that will, over the next 11 days, view all 20 films in competition at the world's premier cinema event, then vote among themselves on which one will get the top honour.
"I'm not sure what we're looking for," said De Niro, 67, who starred in past Palme d'Or winners "Taxi Driver" and "The Mission", at a news conference a few hours before the official start of the festival.
"We'll be sitting there, watching movies, then we'll figure it out... For me, there's no prescribed way. We go to the movies, then talk about them, discuss them."
Fresh off the plane from the Tribeca film festival in New York that he co-founded in 2002, De Niro called Cannes "a unique great festival" that he has been attending for more than 35 years.
He is the third American in four years to serve as jury president, after director Tim Burton in 2010 and actor-director Sean Penn in 2008.
Joining De Niro are Hollywood stars Uma Thurman and Jude Law, Hong Kong director Johnny To and producer Shi Nansun, French director Olivier Assayas, Chadian film-maker Saleh Haroun, Argentinian producer Martina Gusman, and Norwegian writer Linn Ullmann.
"We have a really exciting collection of films ahead of us," said Law, while Thurman got laughs when she recalled the day she saw Quentin Tarantino running around his house, brandishing the Palme d'Or he won for "Pulp Fiction".
Of the festival itself, "I came to get inspired," said Thurman, speaking behind a pair of big sunglasses.
Ullmann, daughter of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and muse Liv Ullman, recalled how her father would seat her in his personal cinema to see two films a day, every day, every summer, from childhood on.
"He'd turn around to me every time before the film started and say: 'This is your education'," she said.
Winning a prize at Cannes can radically lift the fortunes of a film and the people behind it -- something that Haroun said he discovered when his feature "A Screaming Man" won the Jury Prize last year.
Recognition at the "sacred temple" that is the festival "revolutionised things" in Chad, which now has its own proper cinema, a film school and a levy on telecoms to help finance new work in the Central African nation, he said.
Prominent among the 20 films in competition this year are "La Piel Que Habito" (The Skin I Live In) by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar; "Melancholia" by Denmark's Lars Von Trier, a Palme d'Or winner in 2000 with "Dancer in the Dark"; and "Le Gamin au Velo" (The Kid With A Bike) by Belgium's Dardennes brothers, who are two-time Palme d'Or winners.
There is also buzz surrounding "The Tree of Life," the first film in years from "Days of Heaven" director Terrence Malick.
Said Ullmann: "In two weeks, we're going to be a little different, and maybe a little wiser."
© 2011 AFP