- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

CANNES, FRANCE (AP) - Seeing, and judging, 20 movies in just over 10 days is not everyone’s idea of a holiday. But not everyone is Robert De Niro.

The Academy Award-winning actor is heading this year’s Cannes Film Festival judging panel _ and said Wednesday he’s looking forward to the break from his usual routine.

“It’s a bit of a vacation,” said De Niro, who also has directed two features and is co-founder of New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. “I can focus on the films and not have the distractions I normally would have in my everyday life.”

De Niro _ famously a man of few words in interviews and press conferences _ said he had no firm guidelines to offer his fellow judges, who include actors Jude Law and Uma Thurman, Norwegian critic and writer Linn Ullmann and directors Olivier Assayas of France and Johnny To of Hong Kong.

Before the 64th Cannes film festival ends on May 22, they will pick a winner of the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top trophy, from 20 films that include new movies from Cannes favorites Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodovar and Terrence Malick.

“I’m not sure what I’m looking for,” said De Niro, who first came to Cannes in 1976 as the star of “Taxi Driver.” The film won that year’s Palme d’Or _ as did another film he starred in, “The Mission,” in 1986.

“I’m sitting there watching the movies and we’ll figure it out,” he said. “It’s all up for grabs at this point.”

Thurman _ who visited Cannes in 2004 as star of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” _ said she was looking forward to the whirlwind course in world cinema.

“I came to get inspired and remind me of the best of why we’ve devoted our lives to making movies,” she said.

Law, who appeared in a 2007 Cannes entry, Wong Kar-wai’s “My Blueberry Nights,” acknowledged that choosing a winner was daunting.

“Of course it’s a responsibility,” he said, “but I feel like I’m in good company to hold up that responsibility.”

The stars appeared alongside fellow jurors at a press conference Wednesday that _ in typical Cannes fashion _ veered between high-minded discussions of film art and startlingly odd moments.

The latter came when a French journalist asked De Niro _ in blunt four-letter terms that echoed dialogue from “Taxi Driver” _ whether the actor had had sex with the questioner’s wife.

“I don’t think so,” was De Niro’s typically terse reply.

It fell to another juror, Chadian director Mahamat Saleh Haroun, to remind journalists why Cannes remains the world’s most important film festival.

Haroun, whose “A Screaming Man” won last year’s third-place trophy, the Jury Prize, said coming to Cannes “is the dream for any filmmaker, anyone who loves cinema.”

He said that “the simple fact of my presence in Cannes and the prize we won revolutionized things in Chad” _ an impoverished Central African country with little established filmmaking tradition.

“Previously, we had no cinemas _ now we have one,” he said. “In 20 or 30 years’ time there will be new filmmakers who are here with films from Chad.”

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