President of the Jury
“To me the Festival de Cannes (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.” He’s the one raising his fist. It was he who paid tribute to Robert Mitchum with the words “love” and “hate” engraved on his rings when he made his remarkable entrance into the great hall of the Palais des Festivals in 2018. In 2018, after a 22-year absence, Brooklyn-based director Spike Lee returned to the Competition with BlacKkKlansman and offered up glaring proof of his still undiminished anger and virtuosity. By turns a scathing comedy, detective thriller and political tract, the film was garnered the Grand Prix followed by the director’s first Oscar for one of his films. Born in Atlanta in 1957 but raised in Brooklyn, New York City, Spike Lee considers himself first and foremost a writer – he works almost exclusively on his own screenplays. The maverick of US cinema stamped his personality on the cinema scene from the very beginning: bold and daring subjects, sharp direction, punchy dialogues, a mastery of sustained rhythm, and the perfect soundtrack to accompany each film. A fascinating mix of genres that his filmography has constantly reflected for nearly 30 years since his first film in 1986, She’s Gotta Have It. A sentimental satire in the guise of a sociological documentary, this inventive treasure trove set a pioneering tone. His subsequent feature films – Do the Right Thing in 1989 followed two years later by Jungle Fever – were shot through with New York’s urban culture. Both were fixtures on the red carpet at Cannes, where they blew audiences away with their brilliant acuity and corrosive humour. Behind his outsize glasses, Spike Lee’s determined gaze captures the issues of his time, such as machismo and the herd instinct (Summer of Sam), the representation of Afro-Americans in the media (The Very Black Show) or the loss of moral values (She Hate Me). Although he situates his stories in American society, he goes well beyond its confines to transcend borders and deliver a universal discourse on tolerance, fraternity (Get on the Bus) or forgiveness (He Got Game). Whether in a biopic (Malcolm X), a poem (The 25th Hour) or a thriller in the purest Hollywood tradition (Inside Man), Spike Lee asserts his expertise not just in fiction but also in documentary (4 Little Girls, Katrina). His work reflects the man who looks like an eternal teenager who’s never seen without his sneakers and cap: facetious and turbulent, voluble and provocative, occasionally enraged, always engaged.