Cannes: Jeffrey Katzenberg Feted With Honorary Palme d'Or

Will Smith, Uma Thurman, Ted Sarandos and Jim Gianopolous turned out to celebrate the veteran producer’s festival prize.

Will Smith and Uma Thurman took some time off of Cannes jury duty to celebrate legendary producer Jeffrey Katzenberg at a gala dinner where he received an honorary Palme d’Or.

The Dreamworks co-founder added the prize to his awards shelf on Friday night, and compared it to being awarded an honorary Oscar in 2012.

Netflix head Ted Sarandos was present at the gala dinner, which took place at the Carlton hotel in Cannes. Producer Brett Ratner, Paramount CEO Jim Gianopolous, Timbuktu producer Sylvie Pialat and directors Naomi Kawase, Costa-Gavras and Joachim Lafosse were also on hand.

Festival head Thierry Fremaux said that Katzenberg’s submission of the “strange little film” Shrek in 2001 was a game-changer for the festival, allowing it to embrace more experimental films after the animated film was given a competition spot.

“The history of the festival would not have been written without your contribution,” he said, adding that if the fest hadn’t had Shrek in competition that year, other animations, such as Persepolis, may not have had a presence in later years. “You showed what is possible for this genre.”

Fremaux said when he took the reigns of the festival in 2001, one of his goals was to strengthen ties with Hollywood and Katzenberg’s faith in the festival had helped that effort.

Sarandos, who was seated across from Thurman and Smith at a long table in the grand ballroom, received a bit of good-natured booing when Fremaux mentioned Netflilx.

“[Katzenberg] has something else in mind now, a little project on the internet that will get bigger and bigger, and I’m a little scared,” joked Fremaux. “It will be here in a couple of years and I know I’m already in trouble because of the Netflix thing.”

Katzenberg also gave a nod to Sarandos, who had just walked the red carpet for the premiere of Netflix’s Okja, saying that that first red carpet walk is something magical.

He also thanked Smith for encouraging Angelina Jolie to jump on an inflatable shark back in 2004 for Shark Tales, a moment that has become a now-iconic Cannes memory.

Katzenberg said he was “speaking from the heart” when accepting the award and said he grew up believing in the impossible back in New York, a town “roughly between Cannes and Hollywood.”

“Every single spring for almost 40 years, I couldn’t wait to come back here,” he said. “I think for anyone in the film industry coming here its similar to what it feels like for an athlete to go to the Olympics. It is incredible, it is the best. Wining is actually secondary, simply being able to participate is the greatest of honors.”

“Cannes is the most important and prestigious film festival. Cannes is exceptional because its leaders are exceptional,” he said, thanking Fremaux, current president Pierre Lescure and former president Gilles Jacobs. “They’ve not allowed it to rest on its laurels — or should I say its palmes,” he joked, calling them the “true heroes” of film.

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