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Cannes Film Festival underway in France

American director Steven Spielberg heads the jury at the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival which has opened on the French Riviera. There are 20 films vying for the top prize of the Palme d'Or.

Spielberg is joined on the jury by recent Oscar winners Ang Lee and Christoph Waltz, in addition to actress Nicole Kidman and Bollywood star Vidya Balan. The festival is celebrating Indian cinema this year and Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan was alongside American Leonardo DiCaprio as he declared the festival open.

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Cannes Film Festival opens

Festival president Gilles Jacob was proud of his achievement in getting Spielberg to preside over the jury. The American director first showed in Cannes 31 years ago. He said Cannes was like a "breath of fresh air" after the Oscars.

"There's always campaigning for Oscar election, and there's no campaigning here," Steven Spielberg told a press conference with his fellow jurors, the Australian star of Moulin Rouge, Kidman and Taiwanese director of Life of Pi and Sense and Sensibility, Ang Lee.

Festival artistic director Thierry Frémaux said: “This year's competition is proof that American cinema is currently very strong."

There are six French films in the running for the Palme d'Or. “There are many fine French directors who make beautiful movies that, by nature, are the kind of films typically shown at Cannes,” Frémaux said.

Directors including Joel and Ethan Coen, Steven Soderbergh and Roman Polanski - all previous Palme d'Or winners - are also coming to the Festival.

Only God Forgives, featuring Canadian Ryan Gosling, will premiere at Cannes. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are also due in town to promote the Coen brothers' Behind the Candelabra, a film about celebrity entertainer Liberace.

Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, about a group of teens who rob celebrities' homes, is to be shown on Thursday.

Opening gala

The first film to be featured, although it is not in the competition, is Australian director Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby. It stars DiCaprio and is a salutory tale of the American dream in the New York of the 1920s. It premiered last week in the US.

DiCaprio said he was “fascinated” by Gatsby as a character. “I was moved by him. It no longer became a love story to me it became a tragedy” about a man trying to become “the new Rockefeller and along the way had lost the sense of who he was.”

The Marche du Film, the world's biggest film market, runs parallel to the festival, through May 24. The Festival itself finishes two days later.

jm/jlw (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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